I have had the unique opportunity to be on both sides of the education spectrum. Over the years, I have taken a number of professional development programs, and I have also been an instructor to a wide age range of learners. Through those experiences, I really resonated with the common theoretical approaches that Merrill (2002) summarizes and compares in his research. He centers around the five principles, which states that learning is promoted when:
1. learners are engaged in solving real-world problems
2. when existing knowledge is activated
3. new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner
4. new knowledge is applied to the learner, and
5. new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world
Upon examining these principles, it is clear to me that they are structured around adopting a learner centered approach to designing instruction. By doing so, the outcome will become a more comprehensive and enriching learning experience. In the past, there have been professional development sessions that I have attended which were strictly lecture based. This one-sided approach to instruction often leaves learners disengaged and unfocused. What I found particularly interesting in this reading, was Merrill’s mention of the activation phase. It is important for the instructor to gauge accordingly to see if learners have enough relevant knowledge and/or experience before beginning instruction (Merrill, 2002). Especially with adult learners, it is important to provide opportunities to draw upon their previous experiences and to find ways to “simulate mental models that can be modified or turned” so that learners are able to tap into their knowledge base (Merrill, 2002). In addition, he highlights that when the activation phase is forgotten or looked over, it can cause learners to feel overwhelmed or frustrated.
To design and piece together a variety of teaching tools and mechanisms that tie to the five principles listed above is the key to providing an enriching learning experience. As I continue my journey through discovering and learning about instructional design, adopting a learner centered approach is an important component of the overall process.
Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59. doi:10.1007/BF02505024