Location: Tobaccoville, North Carolina

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mergel: Instructional Design & Learning Theory

I really enjoyed the Mergel article. It reminded me of the readings from my Educational psychology class, but focusing in on the ID aspects of Educational theory. I chuckled to myself when I read the phrase “cognitive dissonance” in the introduction. I feel “discomfort” is necessary for learning. Discomfort forces us to stretch beyond our comfort zone (which is how I felt in my Ed Psych class.)

This article basically broke ID down into the three “main” educational theories and their ID history. I’m going to break my summary up by listing the definition, theorists, and personal comments on each of the theories.

Definition: “focuses on a new behavioral patter being repeated until it becomes automatic” pg. 2
Theorists: Pavlov, Watson, and Thorndike & Skinner
Evaluation: based on meeting specific objectives (pg. 10)


Thorndike summarized learning as the formation of a connection between stimulus and response. This is an interesting way to look at learning. This definition seems to fit well with “drill and skill” type teaching and assignments. A certain type of problem (stimulus) should automatically elicit a certain type of process (response). Drill and skill problems and supposed to focus on connecting recognition of a problem type with immediate recognition of what to do.

In the discussion on Thorndike it is stated in this theory of connectionism that “practice without feedback does not necessarily enhance performance” (pg. 4). Comments such as this remind me of why teachers need to return assignments as soon as possible. Picking up an assignment and holding onto it for a week is not in the best interest of students. Students need feedback. On form of this feedback should come in the form and promptly returned assignments. (Often easier said then done!)

I was glad to see Bloom’s Taxonomy mentioned. I have found Blooms Taxonomy, in particular a list of verbs or each domain of Blooms, to be very helpful to me when I write lesson objective and unit goals. As I read about behavioral objectives one of the notes I made to myself questioned whether or not such objectives would take away from the Mega goals. Specifically, when teacher using behavioral objectives in the classroom do theses objectives tie into the Mega goals of the school. Programmed instruction reminded me of what I’ve heard and read about the Saxon program.


Definition: “changes in behavior are observed and used as indicators as to what is happening inside the learner’s mind.” pg. 2 (Thought processes) “Cognitive theorists view, learning as involving the acquisition or reorganization of the cognitive structures through which humans process and store information.” (pg. 7 from Good & Brophy, 1990. pp. 187)

Theorist: Piaget
Evaluation: based on meeting specific objectives.

There are many aspects of cognitivism which I like. I can see what I would call “true learning” as the acquisition and/or reorganization of thoughts (cognitive structures.) My personal learning style/preference involves using many of the key concepts of cognitive theory such as creating meaning (meaningful effects), remembering through ordered lists (serial position effect), advance organizers, mnemonics or repeated practice.

On page 16 of my article printout there is a diagram entitled “Standard Systems View of Instructional Systems Design.” when I first saw this diagram it reminded me of the Power Train. This view of ID has the following sequence: conduct needs assessment; establish overall goal; conduct task analysis; specify objectives; develop assessment strategies; select media; produce materials; conduct formative evaluation, revise, conduct summative evaluation. This model encourages more of a focus on the learner and the thought processes of the learner and has more of a focus on moving from the simple to the complex.


“We construct our own perspective of the world through individual experiences and schema.” (pg. 2) “Constructivists believe that ‘learners construct their own reality or at least interpret it based upon their perceptions of experiences so an individual’s knowledge is a function of one’s prior experiences, mental structures, and beliefs that are used to interpret objects and events’” (pg. 8)

Evaluation: more subjective


Constructivism reminds me of qualitative research and the interpretivist paradigm’s notion that multiple views of reality are valid. I see this more in constructivism that I do in behaviorism or cognitivism because perceptions of experiences are based on an individual. Two people can perceive the same situation differently because of their prior experiences; hence both perceptions would be valid.

Constructivism “promotes a more open-ended learning experience where the methods and results of learning are not easily measured and may not be the same for each learner” (pg. 17). For some schools the idea of “not easily measured” learning can be hard to swallow. This statement reminds me that tests and quizzes are just a single snapshot in time. Learning is demonstrated in many ways not just by the results of a test. Teachers can help assess learning through conversation, project, presentations, group work etc. There are many different ways to assess, i.e. “measure” learning.

I really like the quote about instruction fostering but not controlling learning. I think this is a very important idea because everyone learns differently and at a different pace. Instruction should promote learning without forcing everyone to learn in a single manner. Instruction should encourage but not control. This once again brings me back to Perkins and the model of the teacher as coach/facilitator and not the sole source of knowledge.


I really feel Mergel summed up the role of the designer very well on page 21. “The instructional designer must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each learning theory to optimize their use in appropriate instructional design strategy.” A designer needs to know how to put the pieces together to fit the needs of the learner. A design should focus on meeting the needs of the user, not necessarily the needs or desires of the designer. A solid understanding of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism give the necessary tools to plan a practical, useful and successful design.


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