Anchored Instruction (John Bransford & the CTGV)


Anchored instruction is a major paradigm for technology-based learning that has been developed by the Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderb ilt (CTGV) under the leadership of John Bransford. While many people have contributed to the theory and research o f anchored instruction, Bransford is the principal spokesperson and hence the theory is attributed to him.

The initial focus of the wo rk was on the development of interactive videodisc tools that encouraged students and teachers to pose and solve complex, realistic problems. The video materials serve as "anchors" (macro-contexts) for all subsequent learning an d instruction. As explai ned 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 construct ion of knowledge by l earners. 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.

Anchored instruction is close ly 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.


Th e primary application of anchored instruction has been to elementary reading, language arts and mathematics skills. The CLGV has developed a set of interactive videodisc programs called the "Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series". These programs involve adventures in which mathematical concepts are used to solve problems . However, the anchored instruction paradigm is based upon a general model of problem-solving (Bransford & Stein (1993).


One of the early anchored instruction activit ies involved the use of the film, "Young Sherlock Holmes" in interactive videodisc form. Students were asked to examine the film in terms of causal connections, motives of the characters, and authenticity of th e settings in order to understand the natu re of life in Victorian England. The film provides the anchor for an understanding of story-telling and a particular historical era.


1. Learning and teaching activities should be designed around a "anchor" which should be some sort of case-study or problem situation.

2. Curriculum materials should allow exploration by the learner (e.g., interactive videodisc programs).

For more about anchored instruction, visit the web sites of

John Bransford

or the

Jasper Woodbury project

at Vanderbilt University.


Bransford, J.D. et al. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can hel p. In D. Nix & R. Sprio (Eds), Cognition, education and multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Bransford, J.D. & Stein, B.S. (1993). The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd Ed). New York: Freeman.

CTGV (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationshi p to situated cognition. Educational Researcher, 19 (6), 2-10.

CTGV (1993). Anchored instruction and situated cognition revisted. Educational Technology, 33 (3), 52- 70.