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Hungry Minds

Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

AKA: Merrill's Tips for Awesome Learning

Alright, let's break down what the researchers have to say about making instruction really hit home. So, there's a bunch of theories floating around out there, but how do we make sense of it all? Well, David Merrill, a big shot in education circles, went digging into instructional design theories and found some common ground. From his research, he came up with five key principles that can jazz up any learning program or practice to make it top-notch. They are called Merrill's Instructional Design Principles.

Merrill's Instructional Design Principles in a Funnel
Merrills Instructional Design Principles

Problem-Centered Learning:

This one's all about diving into real-world problems. Think of it like solving puzzles that actually matter. There are three stages to this approach: first, you show folks the task; then, you get them engaged at different levels of the problem; and finally, you crank up the complexity gradually, kind of like building with LEGO bricks.

funnel with 5 parts, modelling Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

funnel with 5 parts, modelling Merrill's Instructional Design Principles


Ever heard of activating existing knowledge? It's like priming the brain. Before throwing new stuff at learners, tap into what they already know. It's about linking the old with the new, so it all makes sense.

Demonstration (Show me):

Show, don't just tell. When introducing new ideas, give examples, demonstrations, and different perspectives. It helps learners connect the dots and apply what they've learned.

funnel with 5 parts, modelling Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

funnel with 5 parts, modelling Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

Application (Let me):

Learning isn't just about knowing stuff; it's about doing stuff too. Give learners chances to practice what they've learned in different situations. Start with guidance, then let them spread their wings and fly solo.


This is where the magic happens. New knowledge should blend seamlessly into learners' lives. Let them show off what they've learned, reflect on their progress, and apply it in real-life situations. It's all about making it personal.

funnel with 5 parts, modelling Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

So, next time you're cooking up a learning program, keep Merrill's principles in mind. They're like the secret sauce for whipping up effective and efficient instruction that sticks.

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions about Merrill's Instructional Design Principles

What are Merrill's principles of instructional design?

In a nutshell, Merrill’s principles highlight that learning is promoted when:

  1. Learning is problem-centred and learners are engaged in solving real-world.

  2. Existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge.

  3. New knowledge is demonstrated to the learner.

  4. New knowledge is applied by the learner.

  5. New knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.

How do you use Merrill's principles of instruction?

What are the 5 principles of instructional design?

What are the advantages and disadvantages in using Merrill’s principles?

What is the goal of Merrill’s principles of instruction?


Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instructional design. Educ. Technol., Res. Dev. 50: 43–59.

Bayat, S. (2012). Effects of problem-based learning approach on cognitive variables of university students. Elsevier.

Mossuto, M., (2009). Problem-based learning: Student engagement, learning and contextualised problem-solving.

Radford University (n.d.). Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Analytical Reasoning Skills Sought by Employers. Retrieved from

Mayer, R.E. (2001). Multimedia learning. London: Cambridge University Press.

Merrill, M.D., Tennyson, R.D. & Posey, L.O. (1992). Teaching concepts: An instructional design guide (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.


Hungry Minds Learning Group provide Learning Designs, eLearning Development and Instructional Design services. We have team members in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra.

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