There are plenty of models of course design that have been developed and which attract their followers. They provide a recipe approach for designing courses. I’ve developed more than one of these myself. Those new to the field often ask Which model should I use?

It’s the basic principles that are important, and fortunately work has been done to isolate these basic principles. First principles of instruction is an instructional theory, created by M. David Merrill.

What’s particularly useful is that it is an attempt to broadly review instructional models and theories to identify the fundamentals that are common across most approaches.

The five principles of instruction (Merrill, 2006)

  • The task-centred principle
  • The activation principle
  • The demonstration principle
  • The application principle
  • The integration principle

Learning is promoted when:

  • the instruction is centred on relevant real-world tasks or problems.
  • when learners activate prior knowledge or experience.
  • when learners observe a demonstration. The knowledge that is demonstrated is both informational and skill-based.
  • when learners apply the new knowledge to perform real-world tasks or solve real-world problems and receive feedback and appropriate guidance during that application.
  • learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world

It’s not a big step to see how these principles help us organise a unit of work; help us select and sequence activities.

We develop activities that build on experience, that demonstrate what is required, provide opportunities for students to apply and integrate what they are learning, all in the context of the target task that will be assessed.