Instructional theory

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An Instructional theory is "a theory that offers explicit guidance on how to better help people learn and develop."[1] Instructional theories focus on how to structure material for promoting the education of human beings, particularly youth. Originating in the United States in the late 1970s, instructional theory is typically influenced by three general influences in educational thought: the behaviorist, the cognitive, and the constructivist schools of thought. Instructional theory is heavily influenced by the 1956 work of Benjamin Bloom, a University of Chicago professor, and the results of his Taxonomy of Education Objectives — one of the first modern codifications of the learning process. One of the first instructional theorists was Robert M. Gagne, who in 1965 published Conditions of Learning for the Florida State University's Department of Educational Research.


Instructional theory is different than learning theory. A learning theory describes how learning takes place, and an instructional theory prescribes how to better help people learn.[1] Learning theories often inform instructional theory, and three general theoretical stances take part in this influence: behaviorism (learning as response acquisition), cognitivism (learning as knowledge acquisition), and constructivism (learning as knowledge construction).[2] Instructional theory helps us create conditions that increases the probability of learning.[3]


Instructional theories identify what instruction or teaching should be like. [4] It outlines strategies that an educator may adopt to achieve the learning objectives. Instructional theories are adapted based on the concept being taught and more importantly, as per the learning style of the students. They are used as an educational tool using which teachers and trainers can help a learner to learn. Instructional theories encompass different instructional models, instructional strategies and instructional methods. [5] Instructional theory - [6]

  • Is discussed in universal methods of instruction based on David Merrill's First Principles of Instruction
  • Is tailored according to the situation
  • Includes Task Space and Instructional space
  • Tells student how to learn a concept, apply it to different contexts with practice and immediate feedback

Instructional theory should carry out 4 tasks - knowledge selection, knowledge sequence, interaction management and setting of interaction environment.[7]

Instructions can be of several types, which are generally presented as dichotomies - [6]

  • Learner centered Vs. Teacher centered instruction - with respect to the focus, instruction can be based on the capability and style of the learner or the teacher
  • Learning by doing Vs. Teacher presenting - Students often learn more by doing rather than simply listening to instructions given by the teacher
  • Attainment based Vs. time based progress - The instruction can either be based on the focus on the mastery of the concept or the time spent on learning the concept
  • Customized Vs. standardized instruction - The instruction can be different for different learners or the instruction can be given in general to the entire classroom
  • Criterion referenced Vs. norm referenced instruction - Instruction related to different types of evaluations
  • Collaborative Vs. individual instruction - Instruction can be for a team of students or individual students
  • Enjoyable Vs. Unpleasant instructions - Instructions can create a pleasant learning experience or a negative one (often to enforce discipline). Teachers must take care to ensure positive experiences.


Paulo Freire's work appears to critique instructional approaches that adhere to the knowledge acquisition stance, and his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed has had a broad influence over a generation of American educators with his critique of various "banking" models of education and analysis of the teacher-student relationship.

Freire explains, "Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are." . In this way he explains educator creates an act of depositing knowledge in a student. The student thus becomes a repository of knowledge. Freire explains that this system that diminishes creativity and knowledge suffers. Knowledge, according to Freire, comes about only through the learner by inquiry and pursuing the subjects in the world and through interpersonal interaction.

Freire further states, "In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existence — but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher." Freire then offered an alternative stance and wrote, "The raison d'etre of libertarian education, on the other hand, lies in its drive towards reconciliation. Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students. "

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). What is instructional design theory? In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.) Instructional design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory (Vol. 2, pp. 5-29). Manwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  2. ^ Mayer, R. E. (1992). Cognition and instruction:O n their historic meeting within educational psychology. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 405-412.
  3. ^
  4. ^!pubsinsttheor/c22eq
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Reigeluth, Charles M (2012). "Instructional theory and technology for the new paradigm of education" (PDF). RED, Revista de Educación a distancia 32 (1): 1. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  7. ^ Merrill, David M; Jones, MK (1992). "Instructional transaction shells: Responsibilities, methods, and parameters". Educational Technology 32 (2): 5.