In 2014, Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura was ranked number one atop a list of the Top 100 Eminent Psychologists of the Modern Era, published in the Archives of Scientific Psychology.  . Former president of the American Psychological Association, winner of numerous awards and more than sixteen honorary degrees and widely held as one of the most influential psychologists alive today, Albert Bandura is among the most prolific psychologists in history.
Expertise theory specifies how talent develops across specified fields or domains, focusing on cognitive task analysis (to map the domain), instruction and practice, and clearly specified learning outcomes against which one can objectively measure the development of expertise.
Anders Ericsson, a professor at Florida State University, is the leading figure in the field of expertise theory. However, many others are associated with it as well: Robert Sternberg (Cornell University), Richard Clark (University of Southern California), Benjamin Bloom (late of the University of Chicago), Herbert Simon (late of Carnegie Mellon University), and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont Graduate University). Another notable figure is Malcolm Gladwell, whose work has served to popularize the theory.
Keywords: expertise, practice, instruction, cognitive task analysis
Summary: There exist five kinds of understanding (or cognitive tools) that individuals usually master in a particular order during the course of their development; these have important educational implications.
Originator: Kieran Egan, a Professor at Simon Fraser University, proposed his theory of cognitive tools as part of a sustained program of writing and research on the role of imagination in learning, teaching, and curriculum.
Keywords: Cognitive, Stages, Imagination, Ironic, Literacy, Memes
E-learning theory consists of cognitive science principles that describe how electronic educational technology can be used and designed to promote effective learning.
The researchers started from an understanding of cognitive load theory to establish the set of principles that compose e-learning theory. Cognitive load theory refers to the amount of mental effort involved in working memory, and these amounts are categorized into three categories: germane, intrinsic, and extraneous.
Germane cognitive load describes the effort involved in understanding a task and accessing it or storing it in long-term memory (for example, seeing an essay topic and understanding what you are being asked to write about). Intrinsic cognitive load refers to effort involved in performing the task itself (actually writing the essay). Extraneous cognitive load is any effort imposed by the way that the task is delivered (having to find the correct essay topic on a page full of essay topics).
Mayer, Moreno, Sweller, and their colleagues established e-learning design principles that are focused on minimizing extraneous cognitive load and introducing germane and intrinsic loads at user-appropriate levels. These include the following empirically established principles:
Multimedia principle (also called the Multimedia Effect)
Using any two out of the combination of audio, visuals, and text promote deeper learning than using just one or all three.
Learning is more effective when visuals are accompanied by audio narration versus onscreen text. There are exceptions for when the learner is familiar with the content, is not a native speaker of the narration language, or when printed words are the only things presented on screen. Another exception to this is when the learner needs to use the material as reference and will be going back to the presentation repeatedly.
The less that learners know about the presentation content, the more they will be distracted by unrelated content. Irrelevant video, music, graphics, etc. should be cut out to reduce cognitive load that might happen through learning unnecessary content. Learners with some prior knowledge, however, might have increased motivation and interest with unrelated content.
Learning is more effective when relevant information is presented closely together. Relevant text should be placed close to graphics, and feedback and responses should come closely to any answers that the learner gives.
More effective learning happens when learning is segmented into smaller chunks. Breaking down long lessons and passages into shorter ones helps promote deeper learning.
Using arrows or circles, highlighting, and pausing in speech are all effective methods of signaling important aspects of the lesson. It is also effective to end a lesson segment after releasing important information.
Learner control principle
For most learners, being able to control the rate at which they learn helps them learn more effectively. Having just play and pause buttons can help more than having an array of controls (back, forward, play, pause). Advanced learners may benefit from having the lesson play automatically with the ability to pause when they choose.
A tone that is more informal and conversational, conveying more of a social presence, helps promote deeper learning. Beginning learners may benefit from a more polite tone of voice, while learners with prior knowledge may benefit from a more direct tone of voice. Computer characters can help reinforce content by narrating the lesson, pointing out important features, or illustrating examples for the learner.
Introducing key content concepts and vocabulary before the lesson can aid deeper learning. This principle seems to apply more to low prior knowledge learners versus high prior knowledge learners.
Having graphics explained by both audio narration and on-screen text creates redundancy. The most effective method is to use either audio narration or on-screen text to accompany visuals.
Instructional methods that are helpful to low prior knowledge learners may not be helpful at all, or may even be detrimental, to high prior knowledge learners.
Additional Resources and References
- In E-learning Theory and Practice, authors Caroline Haythornthwaite and Richard Andrews provide a theoretical framework and explore the world-changing effects of e-learning.
- Tina Stavredes offers practical advice and specific strategies to promote effective online learning in Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success, while also presenting clear summaries of learning theories that are essential for any online instructor to know.
- Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.
- Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions?.Educational psychologist, 32(1), 1-19.
- Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. (2007). Interactive multimodal learning environments. Educational Psychology Review, 19(3), 309-326.
- Low, R., & Sweller, J. (2005). The modality principle in multimedia learning.The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning, 147, 158.
- Mayer, R. E. (2003). Elements of a science of e-learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 29(3), 297-313.
- Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. John Wiley & Sons.
Information processing theory discusses the mechanisms through which learning occurs. Specifically, it focuses on aspects of memory encoding and retrieval.
- George A. Miller (1920-2012)
- Atkinson and Shriffin (1968)
- Craik and Lockhart (1972)
- Bransford (1979)
- Rumelhart and McClelland (1986)
The basic idea of Information processing theory is that the human mind is like a computer or information processor — rather than behaviorist notions that people merely responding to stimuli.
These theories equate thought mechanisms to that of a computer, in that it receives input, processes, and delivers output. Information gathered from the senses (input), is stored and processed by the brain, and finally brings about a behavioral response (output).
Information processing theory has been developed and broadened over the years. Most notable in the inception of information processing models is Atkinson and Shriffin’s ‘stage theory,’ presenting a sequential method, as discussed above, of input-processing-output. Though influential, the linearity of this theory reduced the complexity of the human brain, and thus various theories were developed in order to further assess the inherent processes.
Following this line of thought, Craik and Lockhart issued the ‘level of processing’ model. They emphasize that information s expanded upon (processed) in various ways (perception, attention, labelling, and meaning) which affect the ability to access the information later on. In other words, the degree to which the information was elaborated upon will affect how well the information was learned.
Bransford broadened this idea by adding that information will be more easily retrieved if the way it is accessed is similar to the way in which it was stored. The next major development in information processing theory is Rumelhart and McClelland’s connectionist model, which is supported by current neuroscience research. It states that information is stored simultaneously in different areas of the brain, and connected as a network. The amount of connections a single piece of information has will affect the ease of retrieval.
The general model of information processing theory includes three components:
In sensory memory, information is gathered via the senses through a process called transduction. Through receptor cell activity, it is altered into a form of information that the brain could process. These memories, usually unconscious, last for a very short amount of time, ranging up to three seconds. Our senses are constantly bombarded with large amounts of information. Our sensory memory acts as a filter, by focusing on what is important, and forgetting what is unnecessary. Sensory information catches our attention, and thus progresses into working memory, only if it is seen as relevant, or is familiar.
Working memory/short term memory
Baddeley (2001) issued a model of working memory as consisting of three components. The executive controls system oversees all working memory activity, including selection of information, method of processing, meaning, and finally deciding whether to transfer it to long term memory or forget it. Two counterparts of this system are the auditory loop, where auditory information is processed, and the visual-spatial checkpad, where visual information is processed. Sensory memories transferred into working memory will last for 15-20 seconds, with a capacity for 5-9 pieces or chunks of information. Information is maintained in working memory through maintenance or elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance refers to repetition, while elaboration refers to the organization of information (such as chunking or chronology).
The processing that occurs in working memory is affected by a number of factors. Firstly, individuals have varying levels of cognitive load, or the amount of mental effort they can engage in at a given moment, due to individual characteristics and intellectual capacities. Secondly, information that has been repeated many times becomes automatic and thus does not require much cognitive resources (e.g. riding a bike). Lastly, according to the task at hand, individuals use selective processing to focus attention on information that is highly relevant and necessary.
Long term memory
Long term memory includes various types of information: declarative (semantic and episodic), procedural (how to do something), and imagery (mental images).
As opposed to the previous memory constructs, long term memory has unlimited space. The crucial factor of long term memory is how well organized the information is. This is affected by proper encoding (elaboration processes in transferring to long term memory) and retrieval processes (scanning memory for the information and transferring into working memory so that it could e used). As emphasized in Bransford’s work, the degree of similarity between the way information was encoded and the way it is being accessed will shape the quality of retrieval processes. In general, we remember a lot less information than is actually stored there.
Additional Resources and References
- Processing New Information: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Engage with Content (Marzano Center Essentials for Achieving Rigor).
- Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological review, 63(2), 81.
- Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. Psychology of learning and motivation, 2, 89-195.
- Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 11(6), 671-684.
- Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 16(5), 519-533.
- Rumelhart, D. E., McClelland, J. L., & PDP Research Group. (1988). Parallel distributed processing (Vol. 1, pp. 354-362). IEEE.
- Baddeley, A. D. (2001). Is working memory still working?. American Psychologist, 56(11), 851.
Theory of Mind, Empathy, Mindblindness
Summary: Theory of mind refers to the ability to perceive the unique perspective of others and its influence on their behavior – that is, other people have unique thoughts, plans, and points of view that are different than yours.
Originators and key contributors:
- Jean Piaget (1896- 1980), a Swiss psychologist, described the inability of young children to perceive others’ points of view due to ‘egocentrism.’
- David Premack and Guy Woodruff developed the term Theory of Mind (1978) as applied to their studies on chimpanzees.
- Josef Perner and Heinz Wimmer (1983) extended Theory of Mind to the study of child development.
Keywords: Social cognition, child development, false-belief, Autism spectrum disorders, mindblindness
Summary: A cognitive theory of multimedia learning based on three main assumptions: there are two separate channels (auditory and visual) for processing information; there is limited channel capacity; and that learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing, and integrating information.
Originator: Richard Mayer (1947-)
Key terms: dual-channel, limited capacity, sensory, working, long-term memory
The cognitivist paradigm essentially argues that the “black box” of the mind should be opened and understood. The learner is viewed as an information processor (like a computer).
- Marriner David Merill (1937 – )
- Charles Reigeluth (1946 – )
- Robert Mills Gagné (1916 – 2002)
- Jerome Bruner (1915-2016)
- Roger Schank (1946 – )
The cognitivist revolution replaced behaviorism in 1960s as the dominant paradigm. Cognitivism focuses on the inner mental activities – opening the “black box” of the human mind is valuable and necessary for understanding how people learn. Mental processes such as thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving need to be explored. Knowledge can be seen as schema or symbolic mental constructions. Learning is defined as change in a learner’s schemata.
A response to behaviorism, people are not “programmed animals” that merely respond to environmental stimuli; people are rational beings that require active participation in order to learn, and whose actions are a consequence of thinking. Changes in behavior are observed, but only as an indication of what is occurring in the learner’s head. Cognitivism uses the metaphor of the mind as computer: information comes in, is being processed, and leads to certain outcomes.
Additional Resources and References
- Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.Performance improvement quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.
- Cooper, P. A. (1993). Paradigm Shifts in Designed Instruction: From Behaviorism to Cognitivism to Constructivism. Educational technology, 33(5), 12-19.
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.
- Albert Bandura (1925 – Present)
People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.
Necessary conditions for effective modeling
Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid. Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement) affect attention.
Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal
Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and self-observation of reproduction.
Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past (i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious (seeing and recalling the reinforced model)
Bandura believed in “reciprocal determinism”, that is, the world and a person’s behavior cause each other, while behaviorism essentially states that one’s environment causes one’s behavior, Bandura, who was studying adolescent aggression, found this too simplistic, and so in addition he suggested that behavior causes environment as well. Later, Bandura soon considered personality as an interaction between three components: the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to entertain images in minds and language).
Social learning theory has sometimes been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation. The theory is related to Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated Learning, which also emphasize the importance of social learning.
Additional Resources and References
- Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
- Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
- Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
- Bandura, A. & Walters, R. (1963). Social Learning and Personality Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Summary: Functional Context Theory is a cognitive learning theory that was developed specifically for educating adults in businesses and the military.
Originator: Thomas Sticht
Keywords: Job task analysis, knowledge base, literacy, learning strategies, instructional strategies
Functional Context Theory (Sticht)
There are various styles of learning requiring educators to learn about their students so that they can choose the most appropriate learning theory upon which to develop their instructional strategies. The functional context theory is considered a cognitive learning theory. The theory is based on the premise that students learn best when instruction is based on prior knowledge base, making use of long-term memory. Instructional strategies must be developed that require students to make use of their language and problem solving skills.
Although the functional content theory is a cognitive theory, it is in direct opposition to other major components of cognitive theories that hold the premise that learning occurs in stages and is totally separate and apart from any environmental influence.
Sticht stresses that learning has everything to do with a person’s environmental influences. Instead of developing in life’s predetermined stages, instructional strategies must be developed that are based on their relevance to the students and their own personal experiences. Importantly, according to Sticht’s functional context theory, learning is accomplished through the context of the students’ activity, giving them the ability to transfer their classroom learning successfully to their daily work tasks.
Using this theory, educators combine literacy and other of the most basic skills, such as reading, in order to incorporate them with content learning. In 1975, Thomas Sticht developed this theory strictly for the education of adults. His learning theory was tested in the development of a functional content course for enlisted Navy personnel. The goal of the program was to improve reading and math skills as pertaining to their specific job duties A job task analysis was conducted in order to find out exactly what level of reading and math skills soldiers needed to successfully complete their job tasks.
The results of the program enabled the development of technical manuals and instructional materials that the Navy could use to train their enlisted personnel. The purpose of the functional content theory of learning is to ensure that all instruction is based on a prior knowledge base, making instruction inclusive of knowledge and skills that students can actually apply successfully in the work place.
A very important component of the function content theory is literacy. The purpose is to improve adult literacy through the improvement of content, helping students use and improve their problem solving and critical thinking skills. Assessments are designed that are valid to the learning material, requiring context and content that will supply specific measurements directly related to the learning materials.
The assessment of learning success using the function content theory is not to be based on grades, but rather, on the specific content learning and, distinguishing between academic learning and function learning.
Sticht has used his functional content theory to develop instructional material for the health care industry, as well as a very diverse variety of jobs where specific content related learning is necessary. Programs have and instructional materials have been developed for office workers and mechanics. There are really too many fields to list.
The premise is that adults are not going to be interested in spending time learning something that is not relative to their work. By the time one adulthood is reached, people tend to know exactly what they want and they require context specific training.
The function content theory is coupled with the importance of adult literacy. Reading and math literacy are important tenets of learning and job success. Without good literacy skills that are related to an individual’s work task, success cannot be expected.
Function content goes hand in hand with situated learning theory, which also is based on the premise that learning is best accomplished when it is based on the student’s previous knowledge and current situation. Academic learning involves the learning of facts needed for school success, but functional learning involves learning reading and math skills directly related to a real world job situation.
As early as 1861, teachers were working on developing experience specific instruction for freed slaves after the civil war. They strove to develop content learning that was based on the previous lives of the freedmen in order to help them learn, adding new knowledge to their previous knowledge base. Instead of beginning the education of the freemen at the level at which a child begins education, the materials were developed based on the current living environment of the freed slaves.
Adults must not be educated like school children are educated, rather, their education must be developed based on current life situations. World War II soldiers were educated through the use of materials that related to current job tasks. The basic principles of the theory first came to light during his time period in America’s history.
Although Sticht’s functional content theory is in opposition to other cognitive theories it is widely used for adult literacy education, preparing students for real world jobs. The use of function content has spread widely throughout adult literacy and vocational programs, preparing adults for real world job situations to enable them to be successful at their chosen vocation.
Thomas Sticht’s extensive research into those principles used to train WWII soldiers has made a he impact on adult education. The impact on instructional strategies now used in adult vocational and literacy education. The Functional Literacy Program used the principles that underlie the basic tenets of the cognitive sciences.
The immense impact Sticht’s research has had on adult education has created a ripple effect throughout adult educational programs, making teaching and learning more successful and effective.
- Sticht, T. G. (1987). Functional Context Education. Workshop Resource Notebook.
- Sticht, T. (2000). Functional Context Education: Making Learning Relevant.
- Sticht, T. G. (1975). Reading for Working: A Functional Literacy Anthology.
- Sticht, T. G. (1988). Adult literacy education. Review of research in education,15, 59-96.