On Wednesday, November 15, 2023, the educational research and instructional design communities lost a true giant, Jeroen van Merriënboer. He will be sorely missed!

Jeroen J. G. van Merriënboer retired on March 30th of this year as Emeritus Professor of Learning and Instruction at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Before retiring, he was Research Director of the Graduate School of Health Professions Education (SHE) at Maastricht University and held honorary positions at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Open University of the Netherlands. He obtained a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (1984) and a PhD in Instructional Technology from the University of Twente (1990).

Jeroen specialised in cognitive architecture and instruction, instructional design for complex learning, holistic approaches to instructional design, and the use of ICT in education. He is one of the most highly respected and influential figures in the fields of cognitive psychology and instructional design with more than 58,000 citations (and an h-index of 100) at the time of this writing in more than 450 journal articles and book chapters on learning, instruction, and medical education. More than 50 PhD candidates completed their theses under his supervision. Jeroen has served on the editorial board of highly ranked scientific journals and was Educational Director and Scientific Director of the Interuniversity Centre for Educational Sciences (ICO), the Dutch graduate school and research network in the educational sciences.

His prize-winning monograph Training Complex Cognitive Skills (1997) describes his four-component instructional design model for acquiring complex cognitive skills, offering a systematic, theory-based approach to designing environments for complex learning. Along with the follow-up to that book, Ten Steps to Complex Learning, his work has had a significant impact on the way educators approach the design and delivery of instruction. His research on cognitive load theory has also helped shape how we think about how we learn and how we circumvent the bottleneck of working memory. His contributions in these areas have helped improve the quality of education and learning outcomes for countless students and professionals around the world and will continue to do so in the decades to come.

Not only his work, but also his way of working has touched and changed the lives of many. Characterised as inspiring, respectful, and steady, his leadership is an example for us all. He took all of his colleagues seriously, independent of their academic rank. Furthermore, he always demonstrated great generosity, for instance, with his time or by including colleagues in the numerous, often prestigious, activities to which he was invited. Throughout his career, he actively and effectively supported the personal and professional development of those around him. He was seen as a friend by just about everyone who had the pleasure of working with him.

Jeroen was a true pioneer and his contributions to the field will be remembered for years to come and will continue to shape how we teach and design instruction for generations. He inspired all those around him with his incredible blend of calm strength and clear-headed gusto.

Jeroen will be sorely missed by all whose lives he touched and changed.

Sleep softly, my dear teacher, mentor, role model, and above all, friend.

by Paul Kirschner


Vittorio Busato recorded the following beautiful video interview with Jeroen (in Dutch) for the Archive and Documentation Centre of the Dutch Behavioural Sciences Oral History Project.