4CID: Using the Four Component Instructional Design Model for Your Training

Linnaea Marvell
Posted: April 21, 2017

What is 4CID?

Four Component Instructional Design (4CID) is a holistic instructional design model first proposed by Jeroen J. G. van Merrienboer* in 1997. His central thesis was that complex learning is an integration of skills, knowledge, and attitudes. These components, he claimed, could not be taught effectively in the traditional approach that separates skills and knowledge into fragmented chunks of learning — divorced from the connections between them and the task to which they apply.

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Sadly, the practice of separating skills and knowledge presents a serious problem when learners attempt to apply their acquired learning to their performance on the job.

Sally Newhire has just joined XYZ Corporation as a customer service representative. To ensure she gets the best possible training, her company requires her to take courses on product knowledge for the first few days. Next, she takes a class on the Customer Information System. She progresses in this fashion through courses that are intended to ensure she has all the skills and knowledge necessary to be a great customer service representative. Eventually, she finishes training and begins her first day taking live calls. As she sits down at her desk, Sally thinks, “I received all this training, but what’s my job and how do I do it?”

While Sally has been trained in all the things she needs to know, she is missing the connective understanding about how the things she has learned fit together in the day-to-day performance of her job. 4CID, on the other hand, offers a powerful model for supporting effective and lasting transfer of knowledge and skills to job performance. How is that accomplished?

Designing the 4CID Way

Instead of the traditional practice of lumping everything about a specific topic into a single course, van Merrienboer suggests that complex learning design should rely on four components: the learning task, supportive information, procedural information, and part-task practices.

The key to effective complex learning design lies in first determining the overall task of the job and then teaching the necessary skills and knowledge within the context of that task. In this kind of design, learners acquire knowledge through inductive learning from specific, real-world demonstrations and practicing the task.

Sammy Newhire has just joined ABC Corporation as a customer service representative. He begins his new hire training with an introduction to the whole task he will perform on his job — a customer call. His instructor demonstrates a simple call from beginning to end, describing the procedural flow of the call. Each day, Sammy practices taking different kinds of calls through simulation and role-play. By the time Sammy finishes his training, he has practiced more than 100 calls. As Sammy takes his first live call, he realizes, “Oh, I know how to do this! I’ve done it before.”

How did ABC Corporation design this training using 4CID? They used a simple, three-step process to create their design:

Identify the Task

They identified the task as a customer phone call (Learning Task Component) and decided on a consistent sequence of required actions that should take place for each call (Procedural Information Component).

Example: greeting > discovering > handling the request > closing the call

Identify the Variations of the Task

Next, they identified the different types of calls and organized them from simple to complex (Part-Task Practice Component).

Example: taking an order > canceling an order > tracking an order > handling missing orders > handing customer complaints

Identify Supportive Information and Procedures

Finally, for each type of call, they identified the minimum knowledge, skills (Supportive Information Component) and procedures (Procedural Information Component) the learner would need to complete that type of call. They constructed their training to offer the learner the specific knowledge, skills, and procedures necessary for the task.

For example: Just before learners practice taking orders for product X, they learn about product X’s features and benefits. Later, in the context of learning how to take orders for product Y, they learn about the features and benefits of product Y. They never take a course called ABC Corporation Products.

*Learners are encouraged to read the 2007 book, Ten Steps to Complex Learning by van Merrienboer and Kirschner.


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