IDT 873: Concept Learning and Instruction

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Concept Learning and Instruction Running head: CONCEPT LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION 1 Concept Learning and Instruction Jennifer Maddrell Old Dominion University IDT 873 Advanced Instructional Design Techniques Dr. Gary Morrison November 12, 2008 Concept Learning and Instruction 2 Concept Learning and Instruction While concept learning has been considered across a broad spectrum of theoretical foundations, the prescriptions for instruction are strikingly similar. A rich history of research in concept learning and instruction has led to empirically based instructional design strategies which focus on (a) defining and presenting a concept’s attributes, (b) creating and presenting instances of examples and non-examples of the concept, and (c) fostering guided learner practice in attribute isolation, instance discrimination and generalization, and concept use. This paper offers a summary the central views on the nature of concepts, concept learning measurement, and concept instruction based on a survey of concept learning and instruction theory and research. The Nature of Concepts Whether viewed as the object of learning or a building block to more meaningful learning, there is general agreement regarding the concept construct. Markle and Tiemann (1970, p. 52) considered the similarity in the conception of concepts across theorists to be “remarkable.” A concept is generally described as a category (class, group, or set) of objects, events, symbols, or relationships with shared characteristics or properties, often referred to as attributes (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). A category is often described as a grouping of objects, events, symbols, or relationships while an attribute describes the dimension from which the objects and events differ (Brown, 1958). Further, membership to the category is generally considered based on either the perceived physical attributes (concrete concepts) or solely by definition (abstract concepts) (Smith & Ragan, 1999). Concept Learning Measurement While the theoretical perspectives vary regarding how concept learning occurs, there is noteworthy similarity in how concept learning, also referred to as concept attainment or acquisition, is measured. Concept learning is generally deemed to have occurred when the learner is able to discriminate among attributes of a concept and to evaluate new examples based on membership to the concept category (Klausmeier & Feldman, 1975). Based on the terminal objective of the instruction, concept learning and assessment can focus on both recall and application of the to-be-learned concept (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2001). The following examines the role of attribute isolation, instance discrimination and generalization, and conceptsin-use in measuring concept learning. Attribute Isolation Concept learning assessment typically focuses on a learner’s ability to consider the nature of instances encountered based upon defining attributes belonging to the concept category (Bruner, Goodnow, & Austin, 1956). A common focus in concept learning assessment is the learner’s ability to discern the relevant criteria by which attributes are grouped into the concept categories (Joyce & Weil, 1972). In measuring concept attainment, two types of attributes are of concern, including (a) defining attributes and (b) criterial attributes isolated by the learner (Bruner et al., 1956). Defining attributes reflect the standard criteria set by appearance or convention. In contrast, criterial attributes are established by the individual to assess and judge membership in the category. Concept learning (or attainment), therefore, is judged based the extent to which the criterial attributes isolated by the learner match the defining attributes. Instance Discrimination and Generalization Concept learning assessment also centers on a learner’s ability to (a) discriminate between what is and what is not a member of the class and (b) generalize new examples by appropriately judging instances based on the degree of membership to the exemplar class (Markle, 1969). Therefore, successful concept learning is assessed based on the learner’s ability Concept Learning and Instruction 3 to place instances in the exemplar class and to respond to members of the exemplar class as a whole (Gagné, 1965). To do so, learners must be able to discriminate non-members from members of the class while not overgeneralizing (incorrectly judging non-examples as examples) or undergeneralizing (incorrectly judging examples as non-examples) (Markle & Tiemann, 1970). Concepts-in-Use In a recent review of theory and research on the role of concepts in learning and instruction, Jonassen (2006) argued that the historical focus of concept learning has been on concept attainment as a discrete and terminal learning outcome without regard to where the concept fits within a larger conceptual framework. In contrast, Jonassen suggested a focus on concepts-in-use in which concept learning centers on concepts as mental model building blocks. As such, Jonassen argues that the instruction and assessment should shift beyond the learner’s ability to identify, discriminate, and generalize membership based on concept attributes and examples to how the learned concepts are organized within the learner’s overall conceptual framework. He asserts that concept learning and assessment should focus on the learner’s ability to describe or represent conceptual patterns and propositions, as in concept maps, word associations, and model building. While Jonassen (2006) may be correct in advocating an expanded instructional focus and a more meaningful terminal objective, it does not follow from his argument that prior concept learning prescriptions do not lead to the learner’s ability to demonstrate application of the concept. Beyond assessing the learner’s ability to correctly identify or categorize concepts, countless other means have been suggested to measure the learner’s ability to use and apply the concept, to make judgments and arguments on the basis of the concept, and to infer membership in superordinate categories (Tessmer, Wilson, & Driscoll, 1990). Therefore, instead of a call for abandonment of past instructional prescriptions, a call for enhanced practice and assessment which forces more meaningful learner application of the to-be-learned concept may be more compelling. Concept Instruction The similarity across theoretical foundations that has been described thus far continues across a review of concept teaching models regarding instructional presentation, learner practice, and guidance. Concept instruction typically includes presentation of a concept definition, presentation of sample instances, and practice in classifying instances of examples and nonexamples (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). While some differences exist along behavioral, cognitive, or social-cognitive theoretical lines, the prescriptions for presentation, learner practice and guidance cannot be contrasted purely on differences in theoretical foundation. Instead, the prescriptions across theoretical foundations are quite similar with differences occurring in areas such as sequencing, the degree of learner autonomy to discover attributes and instances, and the terminal objective of the lesson. In general, instructional strategy differences can be seen as either expository (direct presentation of attributes and instances) approaches inquiry (learner exportation or discovery of attributes and instances) approaches or (Smith & Ragan, 1999). Setting aside an analysis of the various media and instructional delivery alternatives, the following highlights common presentation, learner practice, and learner guidance techniques stemming from a variety of inquiry and expository approaches. Concept Learning and Instruction 4 Defining Concept Attributes Research suggests that learning is enhanced when a concrete definition is presented and that a definition alone is roughly as effective as a single set of examples and non-examples (Klausmeier & Feldman, 1975). Therefore, concept instruction generally includes providing learners with a stated definition of the domain of the concept based on the properties (attributes) of the concept class (Markle, 1975). Some advocate that the concept definition should identify the name of the concept, the attributes, and how the attributes are combined to determine class membership (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). When attributes are defined and presented, their characteristics are typically considered based on their function and the degree to which they vary, can be observed, and relate to one another. A critical attribute refers to the necessary characteristics for determining membership while variable attributes are characteristics shared by some members of the class, but are not necessary for class membership (Merrill & Tennyson). Attribute characteristics that are stable across contexts are of constant-dimension while those that vary or change are of variable-dimension (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). Some suggest further defining attributes based on their (a) intrinsic prosperities, referring to their observable and invariant properties, (b) functional properties, referring to how something functions or is used, or (c) relational properties, referring to the invariant relationship between items. (Klausmeier, 1992). When defined based on their relational properties, concepts fall within three categories, including (a) conjunctive concepts which are defined by one attribute and another, (b) disjunctive concepts which are defined by one attribute or another, and (c) relational concepts which are defined by a relationship between attributes (Fleming & Levie, 1978) Creating Instances Research suggests that factors such as the number, categorization, type, and range of instances presented to learners influence concept learning. Instances refer to examples and nonexamples of the concept being considered and, depending upon whether the concept is physical or abstract, can take the form of (a) a referent or actual object, (b) an isomorphic representation or model of the object, or (c) a symbolic representation including words or other symbols (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). It is generally suggested that designers augment the presentation of the concept definition with multiple rational sets of examples and non-examples (Markle, 1969). Others suggest that a wide variety of examples be included (Fleming & Levie, 1978) and that the set of example and non-example instances should be matched (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). Markle (1969 and 1975) offers a standard case concept analysis which focuses on the creation of a rational set of examples and non-examples to be used in both instruction and testing that involves (a) the identification of both critical and variable attributes (b) creation of examples in which all of the critical attributes are present, and (c) creation of non-examples. The ideal non-example is suggested to be one that shares all but one critical property with the concept class and is as concrete as possible (Markle & Tiemann, 1970). In contrast to presentation of sets of examples and non-examples, others suggest presentation of prototypical examples (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). An alternate view from the previously stated exemplar perspective, the prototype viewpoint suggests that a concept is encoded in memory as a prototypical example of a category member (Klausmeier, 1992). The prototype (or central example) is deemed to be constructed based on the learner’s experiences with examples of the class (Tessmer et al., 1990). Concept Learning and Instruction 5 Presentation, Learner Practice, and Guidance Presenting the concept label and attribute definition. Research suggests that presentation of concept labels and definitions assists learners in concept attainment by establishing the dimensions and boundaries of the learning task (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). Some argue that a definition of the concept focusing on the critical (defining) attributes should be presented prior to the presentation of instances of examples and non-examples (Tennyson & Park, 1980). Such an approach is often referred to as a RULEG approach in which, rules, principles, generalizations, or definitions (RU) are presented prior to examples (EG) (Markle, 1969). Others suggest beginning with presentation of the definition followed quickly by a recall or recognition activity (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). However, others advocate an EGRUL presentation sequence in which the example is first presented followed by the rule, especially in cases where the concept is difficult or abstract (Fleming & Levie, 1978). As part of an inquiry approach, others suggest beginning with instructional activities that encourage learners to speculate about the defining attributes based on presentation of examples and non-examples (Joyce & Weil, 1972). Overall, while some variations in approach exist across the reviewed models, early initial presentation or discovery of the concept label and attribute definition is generally advocated. Presenting instances. While the emphasis and sequencing of instance presentation varies across models, the presentation of some form of instance was present in every reviewed concept teaching strategy. As noted, rarely in the reviewed models was an EGRUL approach described in which presentation of examples preceded the definition. Again, an EGRUL approach is generally suggested as a strategy when the concept is difficult or abstract and the learner may not have experience with examples of the concept. Presentation of instances tends to fall along two lines, either (a) presentation of sets of examples and non-examples or (c) presentation of prototypical examples. Some deemphasize the prescription for expository presentation of instance examples and non-examples, but advocate an inquiry approach in which data or information about the concept is presented to the learner from which the learner is able to draw inferences about the concept’s attributes (Joyce & Weil, 1972) In contrast, some advocate incorporating presentation of carefully selected example and non-example instances within either expository or inquiry presentation (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). In expository presentation, the instance is presented, often highlighting or isolating critical attributes, which does not require a response from the learner. This is in contrast to inquiry approach where learners are presented with either an example or non-example and then asked to immediately identify whether it is a member of the concept category. Others favor the use of prototypical example presentation and suggest presenting learners with the best example of the typical class, followed by expository and interrogatory examples and non-examples (Tennyson & Cocchiarella, 1986). Research suggests that presentation of a best example forms a prototype for the learner and the additional examples provide elaboration of key dimensions of the prototype (Park, 1984). Some advocate a modified approach in which learners are offered various transformations of the instance which lead to a best example (Jacob, Deming, & Walbesser, 1976). However, most suggest that a single example is not sufficient and that a range of examples is needed (Markle, 1969). This view is supported by research that suggests an advantage for presenting additional rational sets of examples and non-examples over a single set (Klausmeier & Feldman, 1975). Yet, research also indicates the importance of modifying Concept Learning and Instruction 6 instance presentation based on learner mastery as instance presentation after the learner has achieved mastery may result in the learner losing interest (Tennyson & Rothen, 1977). Guiding Learner Practice. As discussed previously, instructional can lead to either learner recall or application of the to-be-learned concept. A common approach geared toward recall is to offer learners various practice opportunities to classify new instance as members or nonmembers of the class followed by corrective guidance. As noted, this typically takes the form of rule presentation and example presentation which is followed by learner practice and instructional guidance indicating either a correct or incorrect learner classification of the concept (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977). In addition, a host of inquiry and generative approaches are recommended which are often geared toward learner application of the concept, including the previously mentioned model building exercises. Concept mapping, as a form of model building, can assist learners to not only organize definitions and examples, but also to infer relationships within a larger conceptual framework (Tessmer et al., 1990). Some view model building as an ideal practice and guidance strategy for concept learning as models require learners to externalize their understanding of not only the concept, but also conceptual relationships (Jonassen, Strobel, & Gottdenker, 2005). Summary Heuristics for Designers As discussed, research in concept learning and instruction across a spectrum of theoretical foundations has led to empirically based instructional design heuristics which focus on (a) defining and presenting a concept’s attributes, (b) creating and presenting instances of examples and non-examples of the concept, and (c) fostering guided learner practice in attribute isolation, instance discrimination and generalization, and concept use. Within this common framework, differences in strategy can be viewed as either expository approaches where the instruction offers direct presentation of attributes and instances or inquiry approaches where the learner is offered opportunities to explore or discover relevant attributes and instances. As a summary of heuristics for designers, the following highlights common presentation, learner practice, and learner guidance techniques stemming from a variety of inquiry and expository approaches: 1. Define the concept. Prepare a concept definition which focuses on attributes of the concept. In doing so, consider the critical attributes that are necessary characteristics for determining membership, as well as the variable attributes which are shared by only some in the concept category. When defining the concept, it is helpful to consider whether it is a conjunctive concept that can be defined by one attribute and another, a disjunctive concept which is defined by one attribute or another, or a relational concept which is defined by a relationship between attributes. 2. Create instances. Create instances for presentation to the learner including examples in which all of the critical attributes are present and non-examples in which all but one critical property is present. Consider also the prototypical example. Depending upon the type of concept, the instances may be a referent or actual object, an isomorphic representation or model of the object, or a symbolic representation including words or other symbols. 3. Design presentation and guided practice opportunities. Incorporate presentation and guided learner practice opportunities which lead to not only recall, but also application of the concept within a larger conceptual framework. Consider using a RULEG approach in which the definitions (RU) are presented prior to examples (EG), unless the concept is Concept Learning and Instruction 7 difficult or abstract in which the EGRUL approach may be more appropriate. When assessing at a recall level, offer learners the opportunity to classify new instance as members or nonmembers of the class followed by corrective guidance. When assessing at an application level, include practice and guidance approaches which require the learner to use the concept. Such exercises might include asking the learner to make arguments or judgments on the basis of the concept or to infer relationship or membership by creating a concept map. Concept Learning and Instruction 8 References Brown, R. (1958). Words and things. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press. Bruner, J. S., Goodnow, J., & Austin, G. A. (1956). A Study of Thinking, A Wiley publication in psychology. (p. 330). New York, Wiley. Fleming, M. L., & Levie, W. H. (1978). Instructional message design : principles from the behavioral sciences. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications. Gagné, R. M. (1965). The Conditions of Learning. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Jacob, S. H., Deming, B. S., & Walbesser, H. H. (1976). They Too Teach Concepts. Educational Researcher, 5(1), 15-16. Jonassen, D. (2006). On the Role of Concepts in Learning and Instructional Design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 54(2), 177-196. Jonassen, D., Strobel, J., & Gottdenker, J. (2005). Model building for conceptual change. Interactive Learning Environments, 13(1/2), 15-37. Joyce, B. R., & Weil, M. (1972). Models of Teaching (p. 402). Englewood Cliffs, N.J., PrenticeHall. Klausmeier, H. J. (1992). Concept Learning and Concept Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 267. Klausmeier, H. J., & Feldman, K. V. (1975). Effects of a definition and a varying number of examples and nonexamples on concept attainment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(2), 174-178. Markle, S. M. (1969). Good Frames and Bad; a Grammar of Frame Writing. New York, Wiley. Markle, S. M. (1975). They Teach Concepts, Don't They? Educational Researcher, 4(6), 3-9. Markle, S. M., & Tiemann, P. W. (1970). Problems of Conceptual Learning. Journal of Educational Technology, 1(1). Merrill, M. D., & Tennyson, R. D. (1977). Teaching Concepts: An Instructional Design Guide (p. 213). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publications. Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., & Kemp, J. E. (2001). Designing effective instruction (3rd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Park, O. (1984). Example Comparison Strategy versus Attribute Identification Strategy in Concept Learning. American Educational Research Journal, 21(1), 145-162. Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (1999). Instructional design. New York: Wiley. Tennyson, R. D., & Cocchiarella, M. J. (1986). An Empirically Based Instructional Design Theory for Teaching Concepts. Review of Educational Research, 56(1), 40-71. Tennyson, R. D., & Park, O. (1980). The Teaching of Concepts: A Review of Instructional Design Research Literature. Review of Educational Research, 50(1), 55-70. Tennyson, R. D., & Rothen, W. (1977). Pretask and on-task adaptive design strategies for selecting number of instances in concept acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 69(5), 586-592. Tessmer, M., Wilson, B., & Driscoll, M. (1990). A new model of concept teaching and learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 38(1), 45-53.

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