Instructional Design Principles



Watch overview videoThe Segmenting Principle (4:40)


The Segmenting Principle refers to the process of breaking down, or segmenting, complex lessons into smaller parts, which are then presented one at a time. The aim of this process within the context of e-learning is to help learners in managing the complexity of the content/tasks they are presented with, so as to not exceed the threshold of the learners’ cognitive system. Segmenting provides the learner(s) with the opportunity to manage essential processing; that is, they are able to efficiently and effectively engage essential processing. Most importantly, as the segments are not presented as a continuous unit, the learner is afforded the appropriate level of control to consolidate the information they are being presented with as they make their way through the material.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Gauging the Complexity of the Lesson

Prior to determining the best approach to take in segmenting a complex lesson, the complexity of the lesson should first be identified. Gauging the complexity of a lesson may be accomplished by determining the number of elements, or concepts, in addition to the interactions between these elements. Though this may imply that the complexity of the material may be alleviated by reducing the number of elements in the explanation, the accuracy (and perhaps even the intuitiveness) of the lesson in its entirety would ultimately suffer as a result.

Guideline 2 – Determining the Appropriate Delineation of Segments

An important instructional decision required within the context of segmenting is determining the most appropriate delineation between segments, as these segments must sequentially flow from beginning to end without sacrificing the integrity of the information. To facilitate this process, the lesson designer has several options, including breaking the lesson down into parts that convey between one to three steps in the process or procedure at hand, or instead explaining between one to three major relations or interactions among the elements.

Guideline 3 – Facilitating Learner Control

Learners should have sufficient control over the pace at which they proceed through the segments. Because the segments are inherently not presented as a continuous unit, learners should be able to identify when the appropriate level of knowledge consolidation has taken place and thereafter determine when they are ready to proceed to the next segment.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Gizmos (Cell Energy Cycle)

Gizmos are a collection of interactive math and science web-based simulations that develop conceptual understanding through inquiry-based learning processes. For instance, in the Cell Energy Cycle simulation, learners are given the opportunity to explore the biological processes of Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, as well as their cyclical relationship with one another. These processes are also further broken down into their sub-stages (e.g. the stages of Glycolysis, the Calvin Cycle, and the Electron Transport Chain that comprise Cellular Respiration). The delineation between segments is intuitive, and learners are given control over determining their readiness to proceed from one segment to the next.

Example 2 – Animated Overview of DNA Replication

This tool provides learners with an animated overview of the DNA Replication process. The animation is segmented for each step of DNA Replication, and learners can advance to the next step by clicking the “Next” arrow. Learners can also move back and forth between steps, should they choose to do so.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – Practical Application of the Segmenting Principle

This article describes the process of applying the Segmenting Principle to geography lessons, and the impacts this had on student performance.

Resource 2 – Relationship between the Segmenting Principle and the Modality Principle

This paper examined the possibility of the Segmenting Principle counteracting another principle of instructional animation, the Modality Principle.

Resource 3 – Video Explaining the Segmenting Principle

This is a video explaining the Segmenting Principle.


Cheon, J., Crooks, S., & Chung, S. (2014). Does segmenting principle counteract modality principle in instructional animation? British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(1), 56–64.

Clark, R.C. and Mayer, R.E. (2012). Applying the Segmenting and Pretraining Principles: Managing Complexity by Breaking a Lesson into Parts. In Clark, R. & Mayer, R (eds),  e‐Learning and the Science of Instruction. doi:10.1002/9781118255971.ch10

Johanna PG. (2018, April 1). Segmenting Principle Mayer [Video file]. Retrieved from

Mayer, R., Howarth, J., Kaplan, M., & Hanna, S. (2018). Applying the segmenting principle to online geography slideshow lessons. Educational Technology Research and Development, 66(3), 563–577.


Submitted by: Zahra Harbi
Bio: Zahra Harbi is a current Masters student at the Faculty of Education, Ontario Tech University. She received her Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include translanguaging, technology-assisted language acquisition, eLearning and in particular mobile-assisted language learning.




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