Unit 2, activity 4 asked me to read the Ertmer & Newby and Merill articles, reflect on how these readings apply in my own work, and align with one of the learning theories (cognitivism, behaviourism, constructivism) by explaining why.

First, it is important to define some key terms since they can be confusing. In his article First Principles of Instruction, Merill (2002) attempts to identify common principles among representative instructional design theories. Hence, I believe it is important to define what instructional design theories are and what is their relationship with instructional design models.

Instructional design theory is a theory that provides prescriptive guidance on how to better help people learn and develop their abilities which may include cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual learning and development (Reigeluth, 1992). It offers guidance on what the instruction should include fostering cognitive learning (Perkins, 1992, as cited in Reigeluth, 1999). Merill (2002) suggests that there are “various instructional design theories” (p. 43). Instructional design theories are design-oriented, meaning they focus on the means to attain given learning goals, rather than being description-oriented (focusing on the results of given events). They utilize an Instructional Systems Design (ISD) model, which according to Andrews and Goodson (1980), it is a defined system or process that educators refer to when building the instruction based on one or more instructional theories.

I have utilized Gagne’s (1992) nine instructional events and corresponding cognitive processes (Figure 1), which I found that overlap with Merill’s 5 principles of instruction.

Figure 1. Gagne’s nine events of instruction.

Gagne identifies five major categories of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes. While Gagne’s theoretical framework covers all aspects of learning, the focus of the theory is on intellectual skills. However, the theory has been applied to the design of instruction in all domains (Granger & Driscoll, 1988). In my opinion, the value of Merrill’s phases of instruction is that it focuses on problem-solving. Merill (2002) argues that problem-centred instruction is more effective than topic-centred instruction because learners are “immediately engaged in resolving the task rather than discussing the task itself” (p.45). Nonetheless, instructional design models underpin learning theories of cognitivism, behaviourism, and constructivism.

The area of proficiency-based learning I’ve been working in the last few years requires the development and implementation of an ISD methodology to ensure learners demonstrate competency in performing procedure-oriented tasks. Consequently, the ADDIE ISD model (Figure 2) consisting of a prescriptive set of instructional design processes has been widely used in this field.

Figure 2. The ADDIE ISD model.

Instructional theories of cognitivism and behaviourism are used to design and develop performance-oriented learning objectives. During the analysis phase, learning objectives are determined using cognitive, affective, and psychomotor taxonomies. However, higher-order cognitive skills related to synthesis and evaluation tasks are challenging to acquire using cognitive and behavioural theories. In my view, constructivism theory supplements cognitivism theory, the former best suited when designing training for developing critical thinking and analysis, demonstrated through tasks requiring synthesis and evaluation skills. In that sense, I would agree with Ertmer and Newby (2013) that instructional designers should view the three theories in a “continuum” (p. 60) rather than in isolation. On the other hand, when knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSAs) are inexistent, it would be futile to utilize constructivist theories in learning design because it would take much longer to acquire such KSAs through constructivist-only design practices. For example, problem-solving requires higher order skills of cognitive synthesis and evaluation that “novice learners do not possess” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 60) due to lack of comprehension and application of basic knowledge required to solve that problem. Therefore, at this point, I will not be taking any position towards a learning theory, as it will be up to me to identify which theory is the most effective in transferring the specific KSAs to the specific group of learners (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 61).


Andrews, A., & Goodson, L. (1980). A comparative analysis of models of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 3, 2-16.

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(2), 43-71.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

Reigeluth, C. (1999). What is Instructional Design Theory and How Is it Changing? (93). ID Theories and Models. 2. 5-29.