Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning and Instruction Theories

The TIP database has a summary of learning and teaching theories. I dug into a few to see what it had to say:

Anchored Instruction
(John Bransford & the CTGV)

This concept encourages students and teachers to pose and solve complex, realistic problems using interactive video tools. "The video materials serve as "anchors" (macro-contexts) for all subsequent learning and instruction. As explained by CTGV (1993, p52): "The design of these anchors was quite different from the design of videos that were typically used in education...our goal was to create interesting, realistic contexts that encouraged the active construction of knowledge by learners. Our anchors were stories rather than lectures and were designed to be explored by students and teachers. " The use of interactive videodisc technology makes it possible for students to easily explore the content." (TIP)

Anchored instruction is closely related to the situated learning framework (see CTGV, 1990, 1993) and also to the Cognitive Flexibility theory in its emphasis on the use of technology-based learning.
It seems to me that this is a similar approach to PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING which I feel is very effective, particularly when the learner has at least some idea or foundation for the discipline. In this case it may be referred to as CONTEXT-BASED LEARNING where the context provides an anchor for the instruction. Medical schools are a great example of this type of instruction where they present patients (context/problem) and the students work together to solve the problem. However what anchored instruction seems to add is the ability to do this through the medium of video.
Cognitive Load Theory (J. Sweller)
"Short term memory is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously, Sweller builds a theory that treats schemas, or combinations of elements, as the cognitive structures that make up an individual's knowledge base. (Sweller, 1988)

The contents of long term memory are "sophisticated structures that permit us to perceive, think, and solve problems," rather than a group of rote learned facts. These structures, known as schemas, are what permit us to treat multiple elements as a single element. They are the cognitive structures that make up the knowledge base (Sweller, 1988). Schemas are acquired over a lifetime of learning, and may have other schemas contained within themselves.

The difference between an expert and a novice is that a novice hasn't acquired the schemas of an expert. Learning requires a change in the schematic structures of long term memory and is demonstrated by performance that progresses from clumsy, error-prone, slow and difficult to smooth and effortless. The change in performance occurs because as the learner becomes increasingly familiar with the material, the cognitive characteristics associated with the material are altered so that it can be handled more efficiently by working memory.

From an instructional perspective, information contained in instructional material must first be processed by working memory. For schema acquisition to occur, instruction should be designed to reduce working memory load. Cognitive load theory is concerned with techniques for reducing working memory load in order to facilitate the changes in long term memory associated with schema acquisition.


Specific recommendations relative to the design of instructional material include:

1. Change problem solving methods to avoid means-ends approaches that impose a heavy working memory load, by using goal-free problems or worked examples. (At least early on in the learning process when there is not a lot of schema built up)

2. Eliminate the working memory load associated with having to mentally integrate several sources of information by physically integrating those sources of information.

3. Eliminate the working memory load associated with unnecessarily processing repetitive information by reducing redundancy.

4. Increase working memory capacity by using auditory as well as visual information under conditions where both sources of information are essential (i.e. non-redundant) to understanding." (Based on the idea that working memory has two "channels" a phonetic and visual channel and when both are used you are less likely to overwhelm one of the channels hence more transfer of knowledge into long-term memory)

(Non-red text taken from TIP)

Conditions of Learning
(R. Gagne)

Different types or levels of learning:

"The significance of these classifications is that each different type requires different types of instruction. Gagne identifies five major categories of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes.


1. Different instruction is required for different learning outcomes.

2. Events of learning operate on the learner in ways that constitute the conditions of learning.

3. The specific operations that constitute instructional events are different for each different type of learning outcome.

4. Learning hierarchies define what intellectual skills are to be learned and a sequence of instruction."


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