Merrill’s Principles of Instruction (MPI)

Dr. M. David Merrill is an instructional effectiveness consultant and emeritus professor at Utah State University. He has previously been a faculty member at George Peabody College, Brigham Young University-Provo, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, Utah State University, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, and Florida State University. Dr. Merrill has made major contributions to the field of instructional technology, including his development of the component display theory, elaboration theory, and instructional transaction theory. He has also published many books and articles in the field. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois.

MPI focuses on ingraining maximum knowledge from each course. Proposed by David Merrill in 2002, it it touted as the first principles of instruction. The framework holistically integrates the following five prescriptive design principles:

  1. Problem-centered – “work in cognitive psychology has shown that students learn better when engaged in solving problems” (Merrill, 2002)
  2. Activation – re-activating previous knowledge or providing a three-dimensional experience for the basis of what is about to be learned.
  3. Demonstration – do not just explain it, show it.
  4. Application – time for the students to use the acquired knowledge to solve problems.
  5. Integration – transfer the new knowledge and skills to their every-day life.

The learning model that I am most familiar with is the ADDIE Model. It seems to be a favorite around UNT, and it’s very similar to the Agile Model, which I use often for process development. If we look at the two side-by-side:

ADDIE Model Agile Model
Analysis Planning
  Requirements Analysis
Design Design
Development Coding
Implementation Unit Testing
Evaluation Acceptance Testing
Based on my own evaluation.

To me, they line up pretty well, and they make sense when the goal continuous improvement of the course (ADDIE) or a product/program (Agile). However, when the goal is to improve the lives of the students/users, I’m not sure if ADDIE works well. Most students won’t be re-taking the course, so improvements on affect future learners.

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction

Merrill’s Principle, on the other hand, doesn’t pretend to evaluate the course in an effort to make improvements for the future students. Instead, it focuses on maximizing knowledge gains, through problem solving, demonstrations, applications, and connections with both where the student comes from and where the student is going. I typically learn from doing, so I can relate to the strategy outlined by Merrill. I am going to try to integrate Merrill’s Principles into my future courses.

How is an Instructional Design (ID) model different from a theoretical model (i.e. social constructivism)? Why is this distinction important? Do you think such a differentiation will matter for a client?

As I understand it, ID models differ from theoretical models in that an ID model is a recipe for creating a course while an ID theory is an idea about how people should teach. As an IDer I don’t believe a customer will care about the model, theory, or terms used in a course as much as they will care about the performance of that course. However, they will definitely care if they ordered a course, and you tell them how they should be teaching the course.


Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 50(3), 43.

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