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Appendix 1 Some Learning Theory Background

In a behaviorist view, "Learning" can be defined as something that occurs when a learner acquires the capacity to do something. The LE designer must provide the conditions for this process. For each type of learning, some conditions work best and some don't. Let's look at 2 classifications:

Types of Learning

(according to Kearsley 1993):

Note that learning types can be strongly related to different kinds of cognitive task behaviors (that are being used while learning or that are targets for learning). As an example, Kearsley (93) lists the following types of task behaviors:

By combining those two kinds of typologies one can imagine the "haystack" Instructional Design theory is faced with when trying to operationlize how to learn what.

Other categories of learning types has been proposed such as the ones by Gagné (Aronson 83:81, Gagné 87: 64), i.e. (1) Intellectual Skill, (2) Verbal Information, (3) Cognitive Strategy (problem solving), (4) Attitude, (5) Motor Skill. In any case, it think it is useful in this context to distinguish at the least the following basic categories:

  1. Factual Information & Concepts (Verbal Information): Remember and discriminate things
  2. Problem Solving & Reasoning (Cognitive Strategy): Apply general or domain-specific heuristics to problem situations
  3. Procedural skills: Learn how to do simple or complex tasks more or less automatically.

Learning/Teaching Strategies &Principles

How can we have the learner use an appropriate learning strategy? In some learning environments (specially the fully computer-based ones) learning and teaching strategies are integrated into its design. In others they are delivered apart. Principles and Strategies vary according to the type of learning and different theoretical orientations.

Bruner (66), inspired by Piaget, focussed on how people construct new knowledge. His constructivist approach (discovery methods and intellectual stages) still inspires current theories.

  1. Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness).
  2. Instruction must be structured so that it can be easily grasped by the student (spiral organization of the curriculum).
  3. Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation and or fill in the gaps (going beyond the information given).
An other early contribution was Ausubel's (63) subsumption theory concerned with how individuals learn large amounts of meaningful material from verbal/textual presentations in a school setting (as opposed to rote or discovery learning). He initiated that instructional sequences should make content more meaningful for the learner. He postulates (cf. Kearsley 93, Reigeluth 83:339) that:

Both Reigluth's (83) "Elaboration Theory" and Merrill's (83) "Component Display Theory" are based on work by Bruner and Ausubel.

Other more recent lines of research combine cognitivist information theory with results from more traditional experimental memory research.

An example is the Act* Theory using Intelligent Tutors as a test bed (cf. Anderson 87). "According to ACT*, all knowledge begins as declarative information; procedural knowledge is learned by making inferences from already existing factual knowledge. ACT* involves three types of learning: generalization, in which productions become broader in their range of application, discrimination, in which productions become narrower in their range of application, and strengthening, in which some productions are applied more often. New productions are formed by the conjunction or disjunction of existing productions. It is interesting to compare these three types of learning with the three modes of learning (accretion, restructuring, tuning) proposed by Rumelhart & Norman (.)" (Kearsley: 93).


  1. Identify the goal structure of the problem space to the learner.
  2. Provide instruction in the context of the problem-solving task.
  3. Provide immediate feedback on errors.
  4. Minimize the working memory load.
  5. Adjust the "grain size" of instruction to account for the knowledge compilation process.
  6. Enable the student to approach the target skill by successive approximation.
With partially automatized environments such as Hypertext course on the Web, the student should be told how to use the material, how to read it and what to do beside.

"A typical study skill program is SQ3R [applicable to concept learning/D.S] which suggests 5 steps: (1) survey the material to be learned, (2) develop questions about the material, (3) read the material, (4) recall the key ideas, and (5) review the material." (Kearsley: 93).

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