David Merrill’s Component Display Theory

David Merrill’s Component Display Theory

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David Merrill’s Component Display Theory


David Merrill’s Component Display Theory is based primarily on the same assumptions as Robert Gagne’s Events of Instruction. They both agree that different types of learning require different types of procedures for teaching as well as different types of assessment means. However, the component display theory is primarily concerned with teaching individual concepts and arranges instruction to provide learner control (Braxton, Bronico, and Looms, 1).

What is the Component Display Theory?

The component display theory is design strategy for designing instruction. It focuses on a single idea or objective at a time. It is used mostly after a task analysis has been performed (Anglin, 1995). The component display theory provides a list of prescriptions for designing instruction for different kinds of instructional outcomes. The component display theory is a type of analysis that emphasizes on different components of instruction for different types of instructional goals. The component display theory is an attempt to create the best combination of instructional strategies to produce a particular learning outcome (Reigeluth, 1999).

The component display theory is divided into two parts: content and performance. The content dimension is comprised of facts, concepts, procedures, and principles. The performance dimension is comprised of remembering, using, finding, and generalities. (Merrill, 1). The different dimensions of the component display theory are related in a matrix format.

The component display theory is used to design an instructional strategy. The first step is to identify the performance level and content classification. This is accomplished by comparing the instructional objective with the content classification.

The second step is to examine the primary presentation forms. The four primary presentation forms are rules, examples, recall and practice. Depending on the performance level desired and then content classification, a different performance presentation is preferred. This also includes determining the practice requirements.

Rules: expository presentation of a generality

Examples: expository presentation of instances

Recall: inquisitory generality

Practice: inquisitory instance

*Definition Source: Merrill

The third step is to examine the secondary presentation forms. The secondary presentation forms include prerequisites, objectives, helps, mnemonics, and feedback. These "outline specific considerations which enable students to acquire the concepts more effectively" (Anderton, Parry, Twitchell, 1990). They are also more elaborative and supply more information than the primary presentation forms.

The three steps above provide a guideline for constructing an instructional design strategy. However, each step of this design process will involve different variables and constraints depending on the type of instruction being designed.

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Significance of Component Display Theory

The component display theory is a framework that lends itself to learner control. In other words, it is designed so learners can "select their own instructional strategies in terms of content and presentation components" (Merrill, 1). The component display theory outlines how to design instruction for the cognitive domain.


The main purpose of the component display theory is to "achieve and facilitate the learning of desired outcomes consistent with given objectives" (Anderton, Parry, Twitchell, 1990). The use of the component display theory is most effective when it includes both primary and secondary presentation forms. A primary presentation form includes rules, examples, recall and practice. A secondary presentation form includes prerequisites, objectives, helps, mnemonics, and feedback. The component display theory suggests that for a particular "objective and learner, there is a unique combination of presentation forms that result in the most effective learning experience (Merrill, 1)


Anglin, Gary J. (1995). Instructional Technology: Past, Present, and Future (2nd Edition). Libraries Unlimited, Inc. Englewood, Colorado.

Anderton, George; Parry, Kent; and Twitchell, David. (1990). A Simplified Approach to the Application of the Component Display Theory. Educational Technology. April 1990.

Braxton, Sherri; Bronico, Kimberly; and Looms, Thelma. Lessons Based on Component Display Theory. http://penta.ufrgs.br/edu/telelab/teclec/lesson_c.htm.

Merrill, M. David. Component Display Theory. http://tecfa.unige.ch/themes/sa2/act-app-dos2-fic-component.htm.

Reigeluth, Charles M. (1999). Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory (Volume II). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Tennyson, Robert D. (1994). Automating Instructional Design, Development, and Delivery. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg: Germany.

Twitchell, David. (1990). A Comparison or Robert M. Gagne’s Events of Instruction and M. David Merrill’s Component Display Theory. Educational Technology.
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