Instructional Design Principles

22 Worked Example Principle


Watch overview videoThe Worked Example Principle (4:00)


The worked example principle is based on using solved examples that guide learners through a step by step process to solve a task or a problem to reduce cognitive load as they are learning a new concept. Using worked examples allows students to build procedural skills such as setting up an Excel spreadsheet, and strategic skills such as how to negotiate. It focuses on two models: cognitive models, where an individual demonstrates how to solve a problem and an interpersonal skills model that uses an expert individual performing a task. The goal is to help learners transition from relying on worked examples to solving problems on their own. The evidence from research focuses on instructional methods to maximize the benefit of worked examples and can be categorized into five principles.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Transition from worked examples to Problems

The goal is to fade from a fully worked example to the learner solving the practice problem. Initially, a fully worked example is provided followed by a second example where most steps are solved, and the student is responsible for completing the final steps. Over time, through many faded worked examples the learner has to solve the assigned problem entirely on his or her own.

Guideline 2 – Promote Self Explanations

When reviewing worked examples, learners should explain key concepts and principles to themselves to understand it in a meaningful way. To ensure students can identify the rationale that underlies the worked examples, it is beneficial to add questions to worked examples and also encourage this practice through active observation.

Guideline 3 – Include Instructional Explanations of Worked Examples in Some Situations

Adding an explanation for the worked examples helps students form a concrete conceptual understanding shown in the example itself. It is very effective when there are no self-explanation questions provided. A good example of this in e – learning is having a “help” button for the student to learn more details on the worked example.

Guideline 4 – Applying Multimedia Principles to Examples

When needed it is important to provide visuals to complement the steps in worked examples. Complex problems contain a higher cognitive load thus, it is optimal when information is explained with audio alone and should be made the default modality as stated by the multimedia principle and contiguity principle respectively. Finally, students learn best when the content is segmented into smaller chunks and the associated illustrations are familiar to the learners.

Guideline 5 – Support Learning Transfer

The objective is to help learners achieve near transfer, where they can successfully apply the steps learned to similar situations in the work environment. To achieve near transfer, various examples from different contexts should be used to demonstrate the same underlying principles. Moreover, self-explanation questions and encouraging active comparison of given examples increase the likelihood of effective learning transfer.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Khan Academy

When learning about differential calculus, the video provides a worked example with audio and illustrations of how to solve a problem. It allows users to move through the screen at their own pace.

Example 2 – Iorad

This is a tutorial maker that allows teachers to record examples in real – time to create lessons or tutorials for learners.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 –  Teaching Strategies

This web article outlines different teaching strategies that can be used when applying the worked example principles.

Resource 2 – Video on the applications of Worked Example Principles

This 3-minute video by eLearningExpert provides an overview of real-world applications of worked example principles.

Resource 3 – Worked Examples at an Impasse

This paper offers an insightful perspective on the limitations of worked examples.


Atkinson, R. K., Derry, S. J., Renkl, A., & Wortham, D. (2000). Learning from Examples: Instructional Principles from the Worked Examples Research. Review of Educational Research, 70(2), 181–214. doi: 10.3102/00346543070002181

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Leveraging Examples in e-Learning. In E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (pp. 223–247). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Renkl, A. (2014). The Worked Examples Principle in Multimedia Learning. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, 391–412. doi: 10.1017/cbo9781139547369.020

Renkl, A. (2017). Learning from worked-examples in mathematics: students relate procedures to principles. Zdm, 49(4), 571–584. doi: 10.1007/s11858-017-0859-3


Submitted by Riya Patel


Twitter: @riya_08

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Bio: Riya Patel is an elementary school teacher and is passionate about fusing technology with education to bridge achievement gaps. She graduated from the University of Toronto, St. George, with a double major in Human Biology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Currently, she is perusing a master’s with Ontario Tech University and leveraging her experience as an educator to connect current research to practice.


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E-Learning Essentials 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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