Lo, C. K., Lie, C. W., & Hew, K. F. (2018). Applying “First Principles of Instruction” as a design theory of the flipped classroom: Findings from a collective study of four secondary school subjects. Computers & Education118, 150-165.


This study aims to provide a theoretical framework to guide the design and implementation of flipped classrooms. This research study integrated the meta design theory, “First Principles of Instruction” into the flipped classroom design. Three hundred eighty-two students and five teachers from four subject areas participated in the two-stage study. The two-stage empirical research study existed of a pilot study and a quasi-experimental study. Overall, students in three of the four flipped courses had improved course achievement after the course was flipped using the “First Principles of Instruction”. The next section highlights key points from the article.

Key Points

Conceptual Framework

  • Used Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction as it is the most highly cited meta-theory of instructional design.
    • Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction incorporate four problem centered learning phases: Activation, Demonstration, Application, and Integration
  • Flipped classroom approach involves out-of-class learning and in-class learning
    • Out-of-class computer-based learning
      • Pre-class video lecture followed by online exercise
    • In-class interactive learning
      • Brief review of out-of-class learning
      • Mini-lecture for some of the more complicated material
      • Problem solving activities


  • Challenges identified
    • Considerable start-up effort to create pre-class materials like videos and “tests”
    • Lack of students’ pre-class motivation
  • Pre-class work
    • Guided student learning
    • Informed teachers of in-class design
    • Students could review material at their pace
  • In-class work
    • Some amount of face-to-face lecturing still has value


  • The flipped classroom model used can promote learning in some subject areas
  • Teachers should allow plenty of time for transforming course delivery into a flipped format
  • Consider using digital game elements (points, badges, leaderboard) for pre-class motivation

Design Principles and Explanations

The article provides a four-quadrant drawing with the four quadrants (the four instructional phases) illustrating activation, demonstration, application, and integration. At the center point, where all four quadrants intersect, is the authentic “problem” that students are working to solve. Explained, this means:

  • Students should be engaged in solving real-world problems appropriate to their learning levels and resources.
  • The activation phase directs student to recall, relate, describe, or apply their previous knowledge from relevant experiences – which can be used as a foundation for learning new knowledge.
  • The demonstration phase prompts teachers to demonstrate the new knowledge through examples to illustrate concepts, demonstrate procedures, and visualize processes. Students should be provided with the appropriate guidance, such as being directed to sources of relevant information and to multiple demonstrations of applied practice.
  • The application phase means that students should use their new knowledge or skills to apply it to solving new problems. Teachers should design and arrange problem-solving exercises as sequences of varied challenges.
  • During the integration phase, students should be given a chance to publicly demonstrate their new knowledge or skills. Students reflect on, discuss, and defend their new knowledge or skills.

These design principles can be incorporated into a flipped classroom format by aligning instructional activities with the various phases. For example, using multiple examples from the article, I created a list of activities that align with the four phases of instruction built upon the “First Principles of Instruction”. Table 1 is the example I created from different pieces of information in the article.

Table 1

Examples of how the four phases of effective instruction can be incorporated into a flipped classroom model

Phase Pre-class activity In-class activity
Activation ·      Video lecture(s) ·      Brief review of out-of-class learning
Demonstration ·      Video lecture(s)

·      Student learning is guided by computerized feedback to online exercises

·      Mini lecture for more advanced material

·      Teachers circulate among students while they are working to provide necessary guidance.

Application ·      Online follow-up exercises ·      Students apply what they have learned to solve relevant problems
Integration ·      Students share and discuss their ideas on problem solving.


Guiding Questions

  1. Why is Merrill’s “First Principles of Instruction” significant to the flipped classroom model?
  2. What happens to the “First Principles of Instruction” if it is not problem-centered?
  3. Is it important that every flipped classroom lesson following this framework incorporate the all the phases of the “First Principles of Instruction”? Why or why not?
  4. What other solutions would you propose to improve pre-class motivation for students?
  5. Do you agree that Merrill’s “First Principles of Instruction” is a valid framework for you to use in a flipped classroom scenario? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources

Sergis, S., Sampson, D. G., & Pelliccione, L. (2018). Investigating the impact of Flipped Classroom on students’ learning experiences: A Self-Determination Theory approach. Computers in Human Behavior, 78, 368-378.

The Flipped Learning Network  https://flippedlearning.org/



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