Criterion Referenced Instruction (R. Mager)


The Criterion Referenced Instruction (CRI) framework developed by Robert Mager is a comprehensive set of methods for the design and delivery of training programs. Some of the critical aspects include: (1) goal/task analysis -- to identify what needs to be learned, (2) performance objectives -- exact specification of the outcomes to be accomplished and how they are to be evaluated (the criterion), (3) criterion referenced testing -- evaluation of learning in terms of the knowledge/skills specified in the o bjectives, (4) development of learning modules tied to specific objectives.

Training programs developed in CRI format tend to be self-paced courses involving a variety of different media (e.g., workbooks, videotapes, small group discussions, computer-based instruction). Students learn at their own pace and take tests to determine if they have mastered a module. A course manager administers the program and helps students with problems.

CRI is based upon the ideas of mastery learning and performance-oriented instruction. It also incorporates many of the ideas found in a href="gagne.html"> Gagne's theory of learning (e.g., task hierarchies, objectives) and is compatible with most t heories of adult learning (e.g., Knowles , Rogers ) because of its emphasis on learner initiative and self-management.


Criterion referenced instruction is applicable to any form of learning; however, it has been applied most extensively in technical training including troubleshooting .


CRI has been applied to a workshop that Mager gives about CRI. The workshop consists of a series of modules (mostly print materials) with well-defined objectives, practice exercises, and mastery tests. Participants have some freedom to choose the order in which they complete the modules, provided they satisfy the prerequisites shown on the course map. For example, in one module on Objectives, the student must learn the three primary components of an objective, recognize correctly formed objectives (practi ce exercises), and be able to draft correct objectives for specified tasks. This module has one pre-requisite and is the pre-requisite to most other modules in the course.


1. Instructional objectives are dervied from job performance and reflect the competencies (knowledge/skills) that need to be learned.

2. Students study and practice only those skills not yet mastered to the level required by the objectives.

3. Students are given opportunities to practice each objective and obtain feedback about the quality of their performance.

4. Students should receive repeated practice in skills that are used often or are difficult to learn.

5. Students are free to sequence their own instruction within the constraints imposed by the pre-requisites and progress is controlled by their own competence (mastery of objectives).


Mager, R. (1975). Preparing Instructional Objectives (2nd Edition). Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Co.

Mager, R. & Pipe, P. (1984). Analyzing Performance Problems, or You Really Oughta Wanna (2nd Edition). Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Co.

Mager, R. (1988). Making Instruction Work. Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing Co.