Learner-Centric Design

In a lot of my work as an instructional designer I have naturally been drawn to using a layered approach. By layered, I mean that I layer the different levels of a particular topic by starting with something that is simple and building up to more complex exploration until the topic, or task has been explored. Through reading Merrill’s article, I discovered that the layered approach I use is similar to the “problem progression” he describes (2002, p. 46). He provides several examples, including Reigeluth’s “elaboration theory”, which prompted me to do some research. I found David’s (2014) description as, “…an instructional design theory that argues that content to be learned should be organized from simple to complex order, while providing a meaningful context in which subsequent ideas can be integrated” (para. 1). aligned with my ‘layered’ approach

I also use another approach that I describe as a theoretical/application methodology. For instance, at the organization I work at currently, the curriculum would include educating the learner on what a pension is (theoretical) and then explore the various pension options a member could select (application).

Combining the layered approach with regards to complexity, in conjunction with the theoretical /application methodology enables the learner to learn what a topic is about or what the task is as the theoretical component, and then applying the theory in the application component. This approach is usually supported in my work because learners are able to practice in a test environment that duplicates the production (real) environment. The gives learners the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without risk.

Building on my observations and the ideas explored in both articles it was clear to me that Merrill (2002) resonated the most with my work. In particular I learned about the idea of showing learners the completed task, first (p. 46). As David (2014) describes, “It values a sequence of instruction that is as holistic as possible, to foster meaning-making and motivation” (para.3). I think this idea has tremendous possibilities if the learner is a ‘big picture’ thinker like myself. The question would then be if I can design curriculum that provides big picture thinkers with what they need, while also providing more detailed thinkers what THEY need. Could I design curriculum that is truly learner-centric, offering learners options so they can choose what appeals to them?

It’s a very intriguing idea because learner-centric learning starts with identifying your audience needs first. And then, designing curriculum that effectively uses instructional theories and models that address the learning objectives. In my experience, there’s been a lot of ‘talk’ about learner-centric curriculum for some time. However, the final result is typically driven by other factors, such as organizational goals/strategy, budget constraints, project deliverables and so on, rather than meeting the needs of learners. Instead, learner-centric curriculum should not only put the needs of learners as the foundation of its design, but also be adaptable to learner’s needs as well as organizational objectives as they evolve over time and various iterations.


David, L. (2014). Learning Theories. Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth). Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/elaboration-theory-reigeluth.html

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, 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.


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