Merrill’s Principles of Instruction Explained

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction Explained

Damian Hehire-learning, General

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction Explained

Instructional design is about creating learning experiences that ensure not only the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also their application. There are several instructional design models that exist to help in the creation of training content, including e-learning content. We’ve been looking at some of the most popular in this blog series. In this instalment, we are going to focus on Merrill’s Principles of Instruction.

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction were developed by education researcher David Merrill in 2002. There are five principles in the model, each of which aims to promote learning:

  • Problem and/or task-focused
  • Activation
  • Demonstration
  • Application
  • Integration

Problem and/or Task Focused

The central feature of Merrill’s Five Principles of Instruction is that training materials such as e-learning courses should be based on real-world problems and/or tasks. This means problems and/or tasks that learners can relate to.

Basing training topics and e-learning courses on real-world problems or tasks helps to capture the interest of learners, spike their curiosity, and encourage engagement. Not doing so can leave learners wondering why the training is relevant to them or worth their time. So, the starting point is to be problem and/or task focused.


The activation principle involves taking steps to activate the learner’s existing base of knowledge. In other words, using the learner’s experience or existing knowledge to introduce new topics or skills. The existing knowledge or experience acts as the foundation for the new learning.

One way to achieve this is through initial assessments to establish what the learner already knows. You can also include an element of revision or recapping of existing knowledge. This could be as part of the course or in pre-course materials such as introductory emails.

In unusual situations where the learner has zero or very little previous knowledge or experience, steps can be taken to establish a basic level of understanding before going into more complex topic areas.


The next principle in this instructional design model involves presenting the information you want to cover in the course. It is about demonstrating the skills or knowledge visually and through the use of examples such as case studies and real-world stories. For the best results, the information should  be presented using various types of media, including text, images, videos, and animations.

However the information is presented, the crucial element is to show rather than tell. This means avoiding the type of training content that has the appearance of a lecture, where learners are passive participants. Instead, learners should have a participatory role in the e-learning course where the information is demonstrated.

This doesn’t just mean using videos or images, as you can also demonstrate the information using text. So, instead of simply explaining a concept, explain it by telling a story or using a case study.


It is important that learners get opportunities to apply their newly acquired knowledge or skills as part of the learning process. The aims of this principle of instruction are to reinforce the knowledge or skills, and give individuals the opportunity to try, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This deepens their level of understanding of the topic.

Providing opportunities for learners to practice is often an important part of this principle in the Merrill-based instructional design model. This could be practicing in the real world, such as using a piece of equipment, but it could also involve practice within the e-learning course using features like branching scenarios.

Quizzes are also a relevant activity for this principle of learning, as they also give learners an opportunity to apply what they have learned.

Whatever approach is taken, it is important to also provide feedback to learners, as this principle of instruction is not about testing. Testing can be a part of what you are trying to achieve with a branching scenario or quiz, but the main aim should be to help people learn. Providing relevant and informative feedback is crucial to achieving this aim.


The last of Merrill’s Principles of Instruction involves encouraging learners to integrate the new skill or knowledge into their day-to-day tasks and experiences.

This principle is about more than simply sending the learner off on their own with the expectation they will apply what they have learned. That is part of it, but good instructional design also provides structured opportunities for integration.

For example, you could have a discussion group where learners discuss how they will use the knowledge or skills to help with their day-to-day responsibilities. You might also ask learners to complete a questionnaire a week or two after completing the course where they can explain how they have implemented the new knowledge or skill. Group problem-solving activities are another way of giving learners the opportunity to integrate what they have learned into practical tasks and responsibilities.

Applying Merrill’s Principles of Instruction in E-Learning Design

While Merrill’s Principles of Instruction are one of the newest instructional design models we have looked at in this blog series, it remains an effective approach. It also offers the designer great flexibility to deliver on the requirements of the customer while adhering to instructional design principles.

Finally, Merrill’s Principles of Instruction are ideally suited for training content where the delivery method is via e-learning courses. In fact, there are many features and capabilities that are available when designing an e-learning course that facilitates the use of Merrill’s instructional design model.