Module 5: Principle Using 


Basic Methods of Instruction

1.Kinds of Learning
2.Invariant Tasks
3.Concept Classification
4.Procedure Using
5.Principle Using
7.Generic Skills

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Principles for Teaching Principles  

Process Principles

Since there are two phases of learning a process principle on the application level, let's start with a look at how to teach acquisition of the principle. 


We have seen that prototype formation for a concept is quite similar, and it is taught by presenting a prototypical exampleóone which is very common and highly representative of as many examples of the concept as possible. The same should be useful for teaching acquisition of a process principle. But to help the learner understand what is happening in the example, it is helpful to present a simultaneous generality which describes and usually even labels each phase in the sequence. Labeled illustrations, such as you may have seen for the water cycle, are particularly helpful for this.

But what should the prototypical example be like? To be an example of a sequence of events, it should be a dynamic demonstration, if possible. By dynamic, we mean that it should entail motion, which of course requires a dynamic medium, like video or computer-based instruction, or observing the real thing. The demonstration should show each event in the sequence, in the order in which it naturally occurs. To be prototypical, the example should be as typical and simple as possible. In the case of the life cycle of a flowering plant, we would probably pick a common flower like a dandelion, rather than a maple tree (which is more complex because it requires far more than one season to complete its cycle) or a corn plant (which is less familiar and its flower doesn't look much like a flower).

And what should the simultaneous generality be like? It should usually describe and label each of the individual events or phases which make up the entire sequence, clearly indicating its beginning and end (or its continuity, if it is a cyclical process). And it should usually describe the order of those events or phases. To avoid redundancy with the demonstration, you may find it unnecessary to include the description of each event (phase) or the order of those events (phases). This would just leave you with providing a label and clear indication of the beginning and end of each event (phase) within the overall process.


The prototypical example and simultaneous generality should result in the learner's acquisition of an understanding of the principle. But your experience with these Modules should show you that you can feel quite confident that you understand something, and still encounter great difficulty in applying it. What instructional components should you use to facilitate the application process?

In the case of process principles, application entails using your understanding of the sequence of events to describe what has occurred, is occurring, or will occur in one specific instance. The major obstacle to learning is difficulty in generalizing, and it is dealt with by providing lots of divergent casesóinstances which are as different as possible from each other. These instances may be either expository (told to the learner) or inquisitory (asked of the learner). 

The expository instances are examples (or demonstrations), similar to the prototypical example, except that they no longer need to be common or simple. In fact, they should be uncommon (as different as possible from each other), and should gradually increase in complexity. 

The inquisitory instances are practice items. They should always present new (previously unencountered) cases and should require such behaviors as (a) presenting all the events (phases) and asking the learner to arrange them in the proper order, (b) presenting one event (phase) and asking the learner to predict what will come next, or (c) presenting one event and asking the learner to explain (or infer) what came immediately before. 

Naturally, there should also be immediate feedback on the practice: confirmational for correct responses and corrective for wrong responses. The feedback for wrong responses should be almost identical to the examples.

Causal Principles

Again, let's start with the acquisition phase and then address application.


What instructional tactics should be used to facilitate the acquisition phase for causal principles? Acquisition entails gaining an understanding of the cause-effect relationship. For concept classification and process-principle application, we have seen that a generality and a prototypical example are very helpful for acquisition. So it's pretty likely that they will also be helpful for causal principles. But should the generality and example just be presented to the learner? Benjamin Bloom has identified active learner participation as very important in instruction. We usually think of active learner participation as being practiceósomething which is reserved for application. But it can also be applied to acquisition.

To get a learner to participate in acquiring a generality, we need to get her or him to discover it. This is an inductive (particular-to-general) form of active participation, as opposed to practice, which is a deductive (general-to-particular) form. 

We can also get the learner to participate in an example. Rather than just having the learner observe a dynamic presentation of the cause and its relation to an effect, we can allow the learner to manipulate the cause and observe how the effect varies. This is referred to as exploration of an example. It is not the same as practice because it does not entail doing what the objective calls for. For example, to teach a learner to predict the effects of the thickness of a convex lens on the behavior of light, we can show on a computer a diagram of a convex lens with light rays passing through it, and allow the learner to manipulate the thickness of the lens with arrow keys. As the thickness of the lens changes, the path of the light rays will also change, along with the focal distance and magnification of the image. The learner's activity does not entail making any predictions at all, so it is not practice.

So the generality portion of a presentation can be of two types, depending on the amount of active learner participation: it can be an expository presentation or a discovery presentation. Similarly, the example portion of a presentation can be of two types, also depending on the amount of active learner participation: observation or exploration:

But these two types of participationódiscovery and explorationóare completely independent of each other; you can have discovery without exploration and vice versa: 

But when should each be used? It seems that exploration should always be used, unless it is too expensive. But what about discovery? It is often much more time consuming than an expository approach, depending on the amount of help provided. But if developing the learners' ability to discover is one of your goals, it will likely be worth the extra time. If not, then learner characteristics may be the most important consideration for choosing between discovery and expository approaches. Some students may get impatient with not just being told the generalityóthey may feel that discovery is a waste of their timeówhile others may prefer to figure it out on their own. On a computer system, you could provide both options and allow learners to choose. Otherwise, perhaps the best thing is to mix in some of each: use discovery for acquisition of one principle and expository for another.


What instructional tactics should be used to facilitate the application phase? Application of a causal principle entails two things: generalization and utilization. Generalization is accomplished by presenting divergent instances (or cases). Those instances can be either examples or practice, which differ in that examples do not require a learner response, whereas practice does (one kind of active participation). Examples can also be designed as observation or exploration, which differ on the basis of a different kind of active learner participation, as discussed earlier. 

Utilization, the second aspect of application, occurs when the learner develops a performance routine which indicates when and how to use the principle for a given kind of application (prediction, explanation, or solution). This can be facilitated in several ways. You can provide an algorithm with the principle, along with examples and practice on the use of the algorithm. But often the algorithm is simple enough that it can be acquired through just the same examples and practice which are used for generalization of the causal relationship.

Routine Tactics

The following summarizes the tactics which you can use in each strategy:

Keep in mind that the power of the instruction should vary depending on the difficulty of the principle for the target learners. For very easy principles, a generality alone may be sufficient. For moderately difficult principles, the generality and a prototypical example to observe would likely be good for acquisition, followed by a few practice items with feedback for application. And for very difficult principles, exploration and discovery would probably help acquisition, followed by an algorithm with examples, practice, and feedback for its use in applying the principle. Other kinds of power tactics similar to those used for concepts and procedures would also be helpful in progressively greater amounts for progressively more difficult principles.

Enrichment Tactics

In earlier modules we talked about power tactics for each routine tactic in teaching a concept-classification task and a procedure-using task. The same notion is clearly relevant for principle-using tasks as well. But are they the same tactics? And are they implemented in the same way? Let's look at each routine tactic in turn.

Generality. As with the other skill-application tasks, there are several ways of enhancing the generality. You can:

  1. Facilitate encoding by focusing the learner's attention on the important parts of it. But the important parts are different. Instead of being the critical characteristics for a concept, or the actions (mental or physical) and their order for a procedure, we are now interested in the events (changes or phases) and their interrelationship.
  2. Facilitate encoding by providing an alternative representation of the generality, like a causal diagram or a paraphrase
  3. Use a mnemonic of some kind if it is difficult to remember the events.
  4. Use an algorithm if it will facilitate application of the principle.

Examples. As with concepts and procedures, examples can be enhanced in the following ways:

  1. Increase the number of examples.
  2. Use divergence to make the examples as different as possible from each other.
  3. Use an easy-to-difficult sequence of examples.
  4. Use attention-focusing to relate an example to the generality, either by explaining in general terms what is causing or what is resulting from what, or by highlighting the key events.
  5. Use an alternative representation for the example, such as a causal diagram.
  6. Use a reminder of the mnemonic if one was presented earlier.
  7. Use an algorithm if one was presented earlier.
    There does not seem to be an equivalent to nonexamples or common errors.
Practice. As with concepts and procedures, the only ways that practice should be enhanced are to:
  1. Increase the number of practice items.
  2. Use divergence.
  3. Use an easy-to-difficult sequence. 
  4. Include prompting on early practice items. 
    Otherwise, enrichment should be reserved for the feedback.
Feedback. As with concepts and procedures, power on the feedback should be much like on the examples:
  1. Use attention-focusing to relate the instance to the generality by pointing out, depending on the nature of the learner's mistake, what is causing or what is resulting from what, or by highlighting the key events.
  2. Use a variety of representations for the correct answer feedback.
  3. Use a reminder of the mnemonic if one was presented earlier.
  4. Use a reminder of the algorithm if one was presented earlier.
  5. Use motivational enhancement: praise for correct answers and encouragement for wrong answers.


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This file was last updated on March 10, 1999 by Byungro Lim
Copyright 1999, Charles M. ReigeluthCredit