Is holistic design approach a solution to the existing problems in the field of education?  I believe, the success of this approach is based upon the user settings and ultimate implementation strategies.


Jeroen van Merrienboer’s four component instructional design (4C/ID) model is an example of holistic instructional design model. The Holistic design model proposes a solution for the existing problems in the field of education such as compartmentalization, fragmentation, and the transfer paradox. Firstly, to solve the problems of compartmentalization, the author

Four Component Instructional Design Model (4C/ID)
Four Component Instructional Design Model (4C/ID) – Modified figure.

argues for the implementation of whole task which is based on the real-time experience. Secondly, the author advocates the scaffolding of whole task performance; a move from single to integrated objectives to solve the problems of fragmentation. Finally the author proposes a solution for the transfer paradox by mathemagenic methods; a shift from teaching for test to teaching for transfer (Reiser and Dempesy, 2007, p.73). However, I believe the success of this approach is based upon the user setting and final implementation of strategies. The following paragraph analyzes the above three solutions and reveals the weaknesses of the assumptions of the solutions.

Compartmentalization Vs Whole Tasks

First, the holistic design model assumes, that whole task is a solution for compartmentalization and make a shift from the triplet KNOWLEDGE, SKILL and ATTITUDE to professional competence. The compartmentalization is a traditional instructional design model that focuses on one particular domain of learning (Reiser and Dempesy, 2007, p74). However, I believe the end learner attitude and condition has a tremendous impact in the instructional design. For example, a potter has to have a good knowledge about the clay; he needs to have the skill and attitude to make pots in an efficient way. Furthermore, if the potter has core competence (Hamel and Prahalad, 1994), that will distinguish him from other potters. The degree of core competence is achieved through the expertise or complex skills; which has both recurrent and non recurrent constituent skills (Reiser and Dempesy, 2007, p.74). The integration of declarative learning, procedural and affective learning in holistic model is a good way to face the complex learning environment. In addition, I think this whole task and professional competence approach is good for vocational and professional education; but may not be suitable for K-12 education because, the instructional design strategies for the K-12 has different user settings than vocational and professional user settings.

Fragmentation Vs Scaffolding

Second, the holistic model did not properly address the importance of single objectives in the instructional design process and avoids the complexity of integrated objectives. In the traditional Instructional design models the objectives are fragmented. The objectives are taught one by one, the skills are added gradually (Reiser and Dempesy, 2007, p.75). I believe the single objectives in the instructional design process would help to complete the project on time and at usually less cost. However, the integrated objectives may lead to lagging in the implementation of the project and increase complexities in the design itself. This holistic model proposes a solution by whole task performance for the fragmentation. But I do not think this approach is a good solution in all situations. For instance, in India till the high school level the students learn different subjects –similar to whole task performance; however, in college level they can concentrate on a single subject that leads to specialization in that particular subject. The competitive market is looking for specialists to perform tasks. The introduction of customized products and niche marketing are the examples of this trend. In addition the whole task approach has the coordination problems – to handle different constituent skills simultaneously. However, the whole task approach helps the instructional design process to see the whole process but may not be suitable at the implementation level.

Transfer Paradox Vs Mathemagenic

Finally, the theory omits the significance of teaching for test and promotes teaching for transfer. The transfer of learning occurs universally – recognized as fundamental to all learning and must occur all the time but this does not occur in the instructional settings (Haskell, 2001). The teaching for test has several advantages. For example, teaching for test can be used to impart knowledge in a very limited time. In time of emergencies such as war or other natural calamities, students and civilians can be trained on the basis of teaching for test strategy. Similarly, that type of training may not be considered for transfer learning. Those are designed only for that particular task. The mathemagmetic methods are to solve the problem of transfer paradox. In this method the learning goals are set above the specific objective to transfer learning (Reiser and Dempesy, 2007, p.76). This is related to learning task and transfer task. However, the performance of unfamiliar aspects of the tasks with abstract knowledge would not be good in all the situations. But the model says that it would create the mathemagmetic instructional methods that would eventually “give birth to learning”. But I do not totally agree to the concept of give birth to learning through an abstract knowledge, because learning with abstract knowledge in science subjects sometimes creates confusions among the students and that leads to wrong learning.


In conclusion, the holistic model is not completely sound. On one hand, the author argues that traditional instructional design process is not good enough to compete with the changing technological development; this requires complex learning and need for the development of professional competence. To address the problems of traditional atomistic approach, the holistic model makes an attempt to equip the students with problem solving, reasoning and creativity skills. Even though, this model did not exclude the relationship between the basic elements, I believe the success of this theory to solve the problems in the field of education is based on the user settings and the ultimate implementation strategies.


Hamel, G., & Prahalad, C. K. (1994). Competing for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Haskell, R. (2001). Transfer of learning: Cognition, instruction and reasoning Academic Press, San Diego CA.

Reiser, R., & Dempsey, J. (Eds.). (2007). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Prentice Hall.

van Merriënboer, J. J. G., Clark, R. E., & de Croock, M. B. M. (2002). Blueprints for Complex Learning: The 4C/ID-Model. Educational Technology Research and Development, (2), 39.

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