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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.