Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoAn Overview of the Pre-Training Principle (2:15)


The Pre-Training Principle encourages instructors to introduce key terms and concepts before asking learners to engage with the actual lesson material to reduce cognitive load.  This process helps learners progress to more advanced thinking as a lesson or course proceeds. Evidence suggests pretraining can help improve knowledge transfer and retention. Instructional designers often implement the Pre-Training Principle in conjunction with the Segmenting Principle, which promotes the compartmentalization of lesson content into separate but related components.

Guidelines for Use

Identity important terminology and learning concepts during lesson preparation

What do learners need to know to accomplish the planned learning activities?  Does their learning environment contain new elements? Plan to introduce these ideas and vocabulary first – perhaps with a practice or review exercise, so students understand the lesson context before moving to higher-order thinking tasks such as problem-solving.

Incorporate the terms and ideas from the pretraining activity into the subsequent activities

Leverage the content introduced into the core learning events of the lesson or course so students can use them to inform their practice.

Consider learner’s knowledge level

While research on the pre-training principle is not yet robust, studies done to date suggest stronger effects for students at an introductory level in a particular subject.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – LinkedIn Learning

A large suite of business and technology self-directed tutorials, LinkedIn Learning starts most courses with short video chapters explaining the topic’s practical value, core principles, and key terminology.

Example 2 –

The non-profit organization provides free online lessons to promote computer science learning.  Many lessons start with an introductory video and notes that define key terms and offer screenshots to orient users to their learning environment by indicating the various areas of the screen, the available features and where users can find them.

Helpful Resources

How to Use Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning – Water Bear Learning

A simple guide to implementing Mayer’s principles, including the Pre-Training Principle with effective illustrations.

Designing Assistive Technology for Users with Learning Disabilities – IGI Global

This guide incorporates the Pre-Training Principle in its recommendations for creating effective learning technology solutions specifically for learners with disabilities.


Ayres, P. (2015). State-of-the-Art Research into Multimedia Learning: A Commentary on Mayer’s Handbook of Multimedia Learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 29(4), 631–636.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Mayer, R., Mathias, A., & Wetzell, K. (2002). Fostering Understanding of Multimedia Messages Through Pre-training: Evidence for a Two-Stage Theory of Mental Model Construction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8(3), 147–154.

Pate, A., & Posey, S. (2016). Effects of applying multimedia design principles in PowerPoint lecture redesign. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 8(2), 235–239.

Pollock, E., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2002). Assimilating complex information. Learning and Instruction, 12(1), 61–86.


Submitted by: Rich Freeman
Web Page:
Bio: Rich Freeman is a Professor of Computer Studies at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario and a Master of Education candidate at Ontario Tech University.


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E-Learning Essentials 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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