Don't Tell Me, Show Me! Wise Words from Dr. David Merrill

Written by Jenna Large
and by Jessica Travis

As a part of Vivayic’s virtual team meeting in September, one of our guests was Dr. David Merrill, Emeritus Professor at Utah State University, who wrote the book, “The Principles of Instruction.”

Dr. Merrill shared a story about crayons and the beauty of combining a few primary colors to create the spectrum of a rainbow. So, how does this connect to instructional design?

Choosing the colors for a piece of art is a lot like choosing the best design strategy for a learning experience.

There must be a primary foundation from which all instructional strategies are derived.

At Vivayic, our learning solution model is based on the principle that all experiences are anchored in proven learning theories. As learning designers, not a day goes by that we don’t find ourselves thinking about how to best present content in an authentic, tangible way, free from distraction. Our goal is always to have the content drive the design. We commit to learning about the need, content, and audience before selecting the design strategies to ensure our learning solutions are always learner focused.

According to Dr. Merrill, there are two things an instructor could do with content: present it or ask learners to use it. Well, of course we want learners to use it! Through the work that Dr. Merrill has done in his career, he has found the most effective model for instructional design is Tell-Show-Do”.


  • Tell information.
    • Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration of the skills to be learned.
  • Show the skills to be learned.
    • Look to see if the event has demonstration and, if not, add it! If you only do one thing, SHOW ME will make the biggest difference in the learning experience.
  • Do the newly acquired skill or apply the knowledge.
    • Learning is promoted when learners engage in application or, better yet, problem-solving strategy in the context of real-world problems or tasks.

What’s unique about this model is the variety of combinations to use based on the principles of instruction established by Dr. Merrill…but the key is to let the goal of the learning experience drive the strategy selection.

So, how does this apply to our purpose of building others’ capacity to do good in the world?

When designing and developing learning solutions for our clients, the learner is always top of mind. That means…

Number 1

We take a learner first approach: Finding ways to connect the experience back to real-world situations, where learners actually apply what they’ve learned. This is how we achieve meaningful knowledge or skill acquisition that leads to results like behavioral change and knowledge retention.

Number 2

We keep it simple: Don’t let the tools or technologies get in the way of the learning experience. Avoid overengineering the experience if the content doesn’t lend itself to that type of approach.

Number 3

We meet the learner where they are: Design the experience to give them what they need to “do good” – not more or less. To drive engagement and achieve positive outcomes, know what skill(s) or knowledge they need before designing the experience.

If there’s one thing to take away from our time with Dr. Merrill, it’s that, “You can do anything with anything.” Regardless of the circumstances, anything is possible when designing a learning experience.

Jenna Large
Learning Designer
Jessica Travis
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