Neuroscience behind Instructional Design Question

We were recently asked to put together a list of rules or standards if you will, for designing learning content. We were also asked to site the neuroscience that supports those rules. For example;  Graphics boost learning. Ruth Colvin Clark sites several sources in this article.

What rules or truths do you hold as true in Instructional Design and what sources would you site for support?


3 Replies
Adele Sommers

Hello, Jennifer!

The same source where you found the "visuals for learning" article by Ruth Clark also contains various others, some of which summarize aspects of the research by Dr. Richard E. Mayer that they have jointly documented in their book, "e-Learning and the Science of Instruction." (This book is a far more complete source of the experimental findings, as is Mayer's "Multimedia Learning.") Although the research is primarily related to eLearning, many of the same principles apply to instructional design in general.

For research on managing cognitive overload, consider additional sources such as "Working Memory Capacity" by Nelson Cowan, as well as some of Ruth Clark's other books.

On her Web site, you'll find links to additional articles here: 


Bruce Graham

From my experience and background I would say there are few learning "rules" in neuroscience, psychology, or any other research-based subject. There are only the currently supported or popular findings, many of which ebb and flow over the years.

In the future, I doubt we'll be so positive over "flat design", or many other things. "Rules" such as the pervasive "Learning Types" have recently been shown to be flawed, and even some of the stalwarts of social psychology quoted in learning theories have been shown to be untrue, fake, flawed and/or misunderstood - such as the Mehrabian Myth or 6 Degrees of Separation.

The only real learning truths IMHO are:

1. Did the learners learn as intended?

2. What was the behavioural change, and was it the desired effect?

Cary Glenn

Ruth Colvin Clark's book "eLearning and the Science of Instruction" is a great resource. It also cites the relevant studies, so you can read the original research. Understanding her work and Meyers work is important. Merrill is another researcher to read, his work helped me to clearly lay out my courses.

Remember that science is not "rules" it is an ever closer approximation of the truth. It will change and grow as time passes and new research comes to light.