A vast field of instructional design: narrowing down the conversation

[Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash]

According to Tony Bates (2014), “technology has changed from being a peripheral factor to becoming more central in all forms of teaching” (para. 2). Finding ourselves in the epicentre of this “paradigm shift” in education, as Bates (2014) calls it, and taking into consideration the specificity of the online learning environments, as well as the impact of other technologies, such as social media, on education as a whole, how do we approach instructional design process and what factors we, as instructional designers, need to consider in the process?  

Merrill (2002) offers 5 common instructional design principles based on the analysis of the theories in the field (p. 43).  These 5 principles also correspond to the phases of the effective instruction are represented below. They also constitute the method, which can be effectively applied in different educational settings.

From my experience, these principles are essential elements in my instructions as an instructional librarian, especially when students are taught how to use library tools effectively. In designing the instructions, many librarians don’t necessarily address the first essential step: identifying the issue that the students need to solve or their particular needs. Focusing on making the instruction relevant from the start can shift the process considerably and promote the effectiveness of the instructional activities, thus facilitating the development of the next 4 steps during the instructional process.

Adapting these principles to online learning environments can be a welcome challenge, which can further amplify the need for communication and understanding of the learner before the learning process can begin. I would love to add another step to this process (which partly remains invisible or possibly happens between stages 3 and 4). It is learner’s transformation when they step over the threshold concept and experience an irreversible shift in their knowledge and practice.


Bates, T. (2014, December 10). A short history of educational technology | Tony Bates. Retrieved from Online Learning and Distance Education Resources website https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/12/10/a-short-history-of-educational-technology/

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59. doi:10.1007/BF02505024


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