Modes of Learning (D. Rumelhart & D. Norman)


D. Rumelhart & D. Norman (1978) proposed that there are three modes of learning: accretion, structuring and tuning. Accretion is the addition of new knowledge to existing memory. Structuring involves the formation of new conceptual structures or schema. T uning is the adjustment of knowledge to a specific task usually through practice. Accretion is the most common form of learning; structuring occurs much less frequently and requires considerable effort; tuning is the slowest form of learning and accounts for expert performance.

Restructuring involves some form of reflection or insight (i.e., metacognition) and may correspond to a plateau in performance. On the other hand, tuning often represents automatic behavior that is not available to reflection (e.g., learning procedures).

Rumelhart & Norman (1981) extended their model to include analogical processes: a new schema is created by modeling it on an existing schema and then modifying it based upon further experiences.


This is a general model for human learning, although it was originally proposed in the context of language learning .


Norman (1982) discusses the example of learning morse code. Initial learning of the code is the process of accretion. Learning to recognize sequences or full words represents restructuring. The gradual increase in translation or transmission speed indicat es the process of tuning.


1. Instruction must be designed to accommodate different modes of learning.

2. Practice activities affect the refinement of skills but not necessarily the initial acquisition of knowledge.


Norman, D. (1982). Learning and Memory. San Francisco: Freeman.

Rumelhart, D. & Norman, D. (1978). Accretion, tuning and restructuring: Three modes of learning. In. J.W. Cotton & R. Klatzky (eds.), Semantic Factors in Cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Rumelhart, D. & Norman, D. (1981). Analogical processes in learning. In J.R. Anderson (ed.), Cognitive Skills and their Acquisition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.