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Theories of Learning and Cognition—Essay Four


Prepared for
Dr. Marcy Driscoll
EDP 5216

John C. Bradley Jr.
December 11, 1990


Describe briefly (no more than a paragraph each) two learning situations. One should involve a case in which adults are learning some task or knowledge that is new to them. The second should involve a case in which school-age children are learning something new to them. These cases may be purely hypothetical, or they may come from your own experience.

For the remainder of the essay, discuss what similarities and differences you believe would inhere in the instruction designed to be maximally effective for the learning situations you described.


Adult Learning Situation

Let us suppose that a three-hour work-site wellness class is being taught to 100 employees of a state agency. Although participation in the class is not mandatory, some of the participants are attending simply to avoid work for a few hours. Since cigarette smoking is the single leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, one of the instructional goals of the class is to persuade smokers to stop smoking.

Child Learning Situation

Let us suppose that we have a group of 30 third-graders in a public elementary school. These students, along with all children their age in the United States who will graduate high school in the year 2000, have been targeted as the "Smoke-Free Class of 2000." This project is a joint initiative of the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society. The major instructional goal of the project is to persuade children to never smoke.


The cognitive domain for both of these scenarios is that of attitudes. In the first instance, the learner must choose to stop smoking and, in the second instance, the learner must choose to never smoke. Gagné identifies three elements to attitudes--the cognitive component, the affective component, and the behavioral component. In both of the situations described above, learners must be taught the facts about smoking (e.g., smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease). Learners must also develop a negative feeling about smoking (e.g., "I don't want to smoke"). And, finally, learners must act (e.g., "I'm going to stop smoking by taking a smoking cessation class." or "I'm never going to smoke.").

In order to address these three components, Gagné says that we must supply learners of all ages with the verbal information, intellectual skills, or motor skills that are prerequisites of the desired behavior. For adult learners, this means telling smokers why smoking is detrimental to their health and providing them with the resources (such as smoking cessation strategies) to stop smoking. We must also provide the learner with a positive or negative emotional experience in relationship to the target behavior or a positive or negative effect upon a human model with which the learner identifies. With children, this might be accomplished by showing a non-smoking teenager who is well-liked by his peers and who is athletically successful.


There are, however, some distinct differences in learning strategies for these two target groups. Intellectually, children and adults are at different stages of development. According to Piaget, most third-grade children can only reason about concrete, familiar objects. Adults, on the other hand, can reason in the abstract. In terms of instruction regarding cigarette smoking, children must be exposed to the immediate, sensory unpleasantness of smoking. Instruction for children might emphasize, "Cigarettes make you cough, cigarettes make you smell bad, and cigarettes cost money that could be used to buy other things you might want." Adults, however, can be exposed to both immediate and long-term consequences of smoking. Instruction for adults might emphasize, "If you continue to smoke, you have a 50 percent chance of dying from cancer, heart disease, or lung disease."

Kohlberg says that most children have a morality that is black-and-white and externally oriented. That is, they accept the beliefs and opinions of their elders as their own almost without question and they apply these views quite literally. For most children, an act is either good or bad, regardless of potentially mitigating circumstances. For most adults, however, morality is internalized and relativistic. An act is judged by several criteria to see if it conflicts with one's personal values.

Applying this to instruction on cigarette smoking, if an adult tells a child that cigarette smoking is "bad," the child is very likely to accept this pronouncement as truth. Furthermore, the child is likely to label all smokers as "bad" people. While this may not be wholly desirable, it does make it relatively easy to influence the attitudes of children. Adults, on the other hand, will not unquestioningly accept the statement of another that smoking is "bad. " Most adults will examine smoking from several different perspectives and compare it to their internal value system. Therefore, compelling arguments must be presented to an adult smoker to convince him of her to stop smoking. In addition to intellectual information, very strong emotional messages must be incorporated into instruction.

A final difference between these two target groups is experience. Children have had little experience, thus they have little reason to challenge instruction on smoking. Adults, however, have a wealth of experience. They know the "benefits" of smoking and the difficulties involved with trying to quite. Effective instruction for adults on smoking must recognize this experience and use it to advantage.

Theories of Learning and Cognition—Essay Three


Prepared for
Dr. Marcy Driscoll
EDP 5216

John C. Bradley Jr.
November 15, 1990


Writing performance objectives is a task that most instructional designers (and many teachers) take for granted and think little about. Objectives stem very much from a behavioral tradition, however, and reflect an empiricist perspective on learning. If one were to adopt a perspective consistent with schema theory, mental models, and situated cognition, how might (or should) the practice of writing objectives change to reflect this alternative view?


In contract to behaviorism, schema theory, mental models, and situated cognition are all premised on unseen mental processes. Whereas the empiricist writes his or her objectives in order to measure observable behavior, I suppose that a radical cognitivist might write learning objectives that are not directly measurable. Indeed, a number of amateur instructional designers tend to write objectives in this fashion. One frequently sees objectives such as, "At the end of the training session, participants will know the difference between Theory X and Theory Y management types."

However, I doubt that the proponents of schema theory, mental models, and situated cognition would write their objectives in such a manner. Rather, I believe that they would write measurable objectives that verify unseen mental activities.

There are several instructional principals that can be gleaned from schema theory, mental models, and situated cognition. Among these are progressive differentiation, discovery, comparison/contrast, accretion, tuning, restructuring, mental modeling, context, authentic activity, and collaboration. Let us discuss how each of these might be expressed in a measurable instructional objective.

Progressive Differentiation

Progressive differentiation is the teaching of a more general concept first, and then teaching more specific, related concepts. Objectives should be ordered in such a way as to ensure that learners master the anchoring concept prior to being introduced to subordinate information. For instance, Objective 1 might be, "Given that the learner can discriminate governments from non-governments, as a result of instruction the learner will state that a government has the following critical characteristics..." Objective 2 might read, "Given that the learner can state the critical characteristics of a government, as a result of instruction the learner will explain why a democracy is a type of government."


Superordinate learning is the process by which learners synthesize established ideas into new inclusive concepts. Superordinate learning can best be achieved by the learner discovering--rather than being told--the overall principal. Discovery can occur with or without guidance. An objective that incorporates discovery is, "Given that the learner can define the dollar and the yen, as a result of instruction the learner will state that he or she has discovered that the dollar and the yen are both forms of currency."


New concepts are learned more effectively when they are compared and contrasted with already existing concepts that are similar in nature. An objective that incorporates comparison/contrast is, "Given that the learner can state the definition of a fish and the definition of a dolphin, as a result of instruction the learner will state the similarities and differences between fish and dolphins."


Accretion is the adding of new information to an existing schema without fundamentally changing that knowledge structure. In other words, it is filling in mental slots that already exist. An example of accretion being incorporated into an objective would be, "Given that the learner can identify the continent of South America on a map, as a result of instruction the learner will identify on a map the flowing South American countries: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Columbia."


Tuning is modification of a pre-existing concept so that it is more general or inclusive. This is often necessary in the face of new information related to the concept. Although the existing concept is basically sound, it needs adjustment. Tuning is incorporated into the following objective, "Given that the learner defines stars as distant suns, as a result of instruction the learner will define stars as distant suns regardless of luminosity (e.g. neutron stars and black holes)."


Restructuring means altering and replacing old schemata with new ones. Restructuring is necessary when new information reveals that a pre-existing concept is erroneous or greatly inadequate. An objective that incorporates restructuring is, "Given that the learner describes the orbit of an electron around a nucleus as being similar to that of a planet around a sun, as a result of instruction the learner will describe the orbit of an electron as a zone of probable location around a nucleus at any given moment."

Mental Modeling

Mental models are conceptual representations of reality. It is often advantageous to provide learners with a mental model that is more simple than reality so that they can grasp essential attributes. An objective that incorporates metal modeling is, "Given that the learner can define a cell, a key, a door, and sugar, as a result of instruction the learner will define insulin as a key that unlocks the door of a cell so that sugar can enter it."


Effective learning is related to the environment or situation in the learner is located. If the material to be learned is perceived as irrelevant to the learner, it is less likely that the information will be incorporated. Learning should be meaningful to the learner. A objective that incorporates context is, "Given that the learner is sexually active and has access to contraceptive services, as a result of instruction the learner will state which method of contraception he or she will obtain and utilize."

Authentic Activity

Authentic activity is learning through real world applications. I have often felt that our school systems should be teaching students essential life-skills rather than wasting time on skills that may or may not be of future use to them. An objective that exemplifies authentic activity is, "Given a simulated bank, a simulated mall in which purchases can be made, a simulated job, and a simulated checking account with a specified beginning balance, as a result of instruction the learner will keep his or her checking account balanced and will reconcile his or her monthly statement."


Learning should be a partnership between the learner and the teacher. Both partners have a right and responsibility to contribute to the learning process. The preferences and desires of a learner must be taken into account. In a physics class, for instance, the same physics principle (calculation of trajectories) might be taught in a variety of ways, depending on the interests of the students. For example, "Given that the learner as expressed an interest in space exploration, as a result of instruction the learner will calculate the velocity necessary to lift a rocket of a given mass from the ground to an orbit of a given height."

Theories of Learning and Cognition—Essay Two


Prepared for
Dr. Marcy Driscoll
EDP 5216

John C. Bradley Jr.
October 30, 1990


Select two or three of what you consider to be the most important ideas (concepts, principles, whatever you want to call them) of information processing theory in terms of their possible implications for instruction. Discuss what you believe these implications to be, providing examples to illustrate. In addition, include in your discussion a brief rationale for your selection.

Learning Attitudes

As a health educator, I have frequently encountered instruction that fails to significantly change the health behaviors of individuals. I believe that most health education is ineffective because it concentrates on intellectual skills, verbal information, and motor skills while neglecting attitudes. For instance, the average American adult knows that a high-cholesterol diet increases the risk for heart disease and knows which foods are high in cholesterol. However, the average American adult has a blood cholesterol level that is slightly above what is considered safe. Obviously, information transfer has occurred but behavior change has not.

Gagné's insight on attitudes as a learning domain can greatly improve the effectiveness of health education efforts. He says that the internal conditions that must exist for the learning of attitudes are the verbal information, intellectual skills, or motor skills that are prerequisites of the desired behavior. The external conditions that must occur are a positive or negative emotional experience on the part of the learner in relationship to the target behavior or a positive or negative effect upon a human model with which the learner identifies. Gagné notes that verbal statements that are intended to persuade are mostly ineffective unless they are made by a respected model.

For instance, let us suppose that the instructional objective is that sexually active adolescent males will use condoms. The learner must be taught several prerequisite intellectual skills: identification of a condom, why a condom should be used, where to obtain condoms, and what type of condoms should be purchased. The learner must also be taught the prerequisite motor skill of correctly using a condom. To teach the attitude of using a condom, a respected human model should be employed. The model might be a sports figure, a rock star, or an actor in the role of a "cool" peer, depending on whom the learner is most likely to respect or identify with regarding this issue. The model should be shown making the choice to use a condom and being rewarded for that choice (such as the approval of the sex partner).

Providing Learner Guidance

As a learner, I have frequently been required to learn large amounts of verbal information (like the tenses of irregular Spanish verbs) or to learn rules (such as the definitions of sine, consine, tangent, and secant). I recall it being difficult to learn both of the examples above. Apparently I eventually learned both sets of information since I was able to pass relevant tests at the time. Today, however, I doubt that I could do so. If I had been provided with guidance for encoding this information, mastery would have come more easily and retrieval would still be possible.

Gagné suggests that encoding guidance can either be explicit or implicit. In the former, the learner is told a strategy for remembering the information. In the latter, the learner is assisted in discovering a means for remembering the information. There are a number of encoding strategies that might be employed: elaboration, comparison/constrast, analogies, visualization, graphic representation, mnemonics systems, personalization, and categorization.

Let us suppose that we wished to assist chemistry students with learning the symbols for the elements. One method might be to provide the students with a list that elaborates on the symbols. For example, H is for Hydrogen, HE is for HElium, O is for Oxygen, C is for Carbon, etc. Another method might be to suggest that students create a mental image (or actual drawing) incorporating the symbol and how its corresponding element is often found. For example, a student might visualize an "H" painted on the side of a hydrogen-filled blimp, an "He" printed on a helium-filled balloon, an "O" painted on a oxygen-filled SCUBA tank, etc.

Theories of Learning and Cognition—Essay One

Prepared for
Dr. Marcie Driscoll
EDP 5216

John C. Bradley Jr.
September 18, 1990


A major concern about learning that is shared by teachers, instructional designers, and researchers alike is how to reliably improve performance. Assume the role of a teacher, designer, or researcher (only one, not all three). As the teacher or designer, describe a learning goal, an audience to whom it would be taught, and how you might employ various operant principles (or contingencies of reinforcement) to maximize learners attainment of the goal. Or, as the researcher, pose a question about learning and describe how you might investigate that questions and what predictions you would make from the perspective of radical behavioralism. Whichever role you assume, be sure to use only the language and assumptions of behavioralism.


My undergraduate degree and past seven years of professional experience have been in health education. Health education is the process of producing behavior changes in an individual that result in decreased morbidity and mortality. For this essay, I will assume the role of a instructional designer of health education curriculum.

Instructional Goal

There are a number of behaviors that an individual can engage in, or refrain from, that lead to increased morbidity and mortality. These behaviors are termed "modifiable risk factors." Some major examples of modifiable risk factors are consumption of dietary fat and cholesterol, consumption of dietary fiber, aerobic exercise, smoking, seat belt use, and alcohol consumption.

For this essay, I will focus on one of these risk factors--aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any exercise that forces the body to consume more oxygen than it can immediately obtain through respiration. The chief physiologic effects of aerobic exercise are rapid heart rate and respiration. Typical aerobic exercises include jogging, rapid walking, swimming laps, playing racquetball, rowing, jumping rope, and aerobic dance. A number of studies have demonstrated that the risk of heart attack is significantly lower in individuals who in engage in at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week.

With this information in mind, my instructional goal is: "As a result of the instruction, the learner will engage in rapid walking for at least 20 minutes at least three times per week."

Target Audience

Anyone can benefit from aerobic exercise. However, let us assume that the instruction is targeted at middle-income men and women, ages 18-65. Further, let us assume that the instruction will be offered to residents of Leon County as part of a community health promotion pilot project (Living Well in Leon) sponsored by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The instruction will be delivered via walking clubs that will be offered in a number of locations and at a variety of times in order to reach as many residents as possible. Each club will meet once per week for instruction and group walking. Club members will be expected to engage in walking "on-their-own" for the remainder of the week. The clubs will continue for an indefinite period of time. If the curriculum is successful, it will be published by CDC and distributed nationwide.

Use of Operant Principles

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is providing a pleasant stimulus as a result of a particular response in order to strengthen the response. In this case, a reward could be offered to the learner upon walking for 20 minutes, three times per week. However, it should be determined what type of reward will be reinforcing to the target audience for this behavior. Is it a trophy, a "Living Well in Leon" tee-shirt, or public praise?

Premack Principle

The Premack Principle states that a behavior that is engaged in more frequently by the organism can be used to reinforce a less frequent behavior. This principle can be used to reinforce aerobic walking. For instance, if the learner listens to music more frequently than she walks, listening to music on a Sony Walkman would reinforce her walking. Or, if a learner engages in conversation with another person more frequently than he walks, talking with a companion while walking would be reinforcing.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is removing a noxious stimulant contingent upon a particular response in order to strengthen the response. In this case, an instructor can use the principle of negative reinforcement by gently nagging a learner until she engages in the desired amount of aerobic walking. Once the leaner engages in the desired amount of aerobic walking, the nagging would stop.


Punishment is presenting a noxious stimulus contingent upon a particular response in order to weaken the response. In the case of aerobic walking, since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, punishment cannot be used to directly modify this behavior. However, punishment might be used to weaken behaviors that compete with the target behavior. For instance, if the learner watches television during times of the week when he should be engaging in aerobic walking "on-his-own," the instructor might humorously criticize him, either in private or in the presence of others.


Extinction is removing the contingency between a response and a reinforcer in order to weaken the response. Since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, extinction cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.

Response Cost

Response cost is removing a pleasant stimulus contingent upon a particular response in order to weaken the response. Since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, response cost cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.


Time-out is removing the subject from a reinforcing environment in order to weaken a response. Once again, since our desire is to strengthen the behavior of aerobic waking, Time-out cannot be used to directly modify this behavior.


Shaping is the reinforcement of successive approximations of a desired behavior. In this case, the terminal behavior desired is aerobic walking for 20 minutes, three times per week. The learner could be rewarded for gradually increasing the time that she walks. For instance, during the first week she might be rewarded for walking for one 10-minute period. During the second week, she might be rewarded for walking for one 20-minute period. During the third week, she might be rewarded for walking for two 20-minute periods. The amount of walking time required would be gradually increased until the desired amount is achieved.


Chaining is the linking together of a series of behaviors. Chaining is applicable in the case of aerobic walking because several preliminary behaviors must be engaged in prior to the walking. A probable chain of behaviors might be:
  1. changing into comfortable walking attire
  2. traveling to the walking course
  3. stretching
  4. engaging in aerobic walking
This chain of behaviors could be taught each class period by requiring learners to come to class dressed for exercise, journeying to the walking course as a group, stretching as a group at the start of the course, and finally, walking the course as a group.


Fading is used to gradually establish discrimination of stimuli. For instance, suppose a learner used to derive pleasure from going to happy hour everyday after work. If the learner begins to derive greater pleasure from engaging in aerobic walking after work, his attendance at happy hour will diminish or disappear.

Reinforcement Schedules

Initially, the learner should be praised each time she engages in the desired amount of walking (fixed ratio). However, once the desired pattern of behavior is established, the leaner should only be rewarded infrequently for the desired behavior (variable ratio). Switching from a fixed-ratio to variable-ratio schedule will help ensure that the behavior does not diminish quickly.