Innovative Learning


Because of the pervasiveness of computers in the workplace, teaching people to use and program computers has become a major category of training. The primary cognitive processes associated with computer activities are problem-solving and procedures.

Card, Moran & Newell developed the GOMS model to explain the skills involved in human-computer tasks (especially text-editing). The GOMS model suggests that all computer activities are formulated in a problem space and involve different stages of memory. Errors occur because of performance limitations in formulating the problem or memory processes.

The minimalism framework proposed by J. M. Carroll is a theory of how to design instruction for computer tasks. The key ideas of minimalism include: making learning tasks meaningful, active and self-directed learning, making error handling explicit, and linking training with actual use of the system.

The design of the computer system (especially the user interface) plays a major role in the nature and extent of the training needed to use the system. Norman (1991) discusses this issue in the context of menu (selection) mechanisms. Studies show that when people use a menu system on a repeated basis their overall performance improves. Furthermore, of the various methods used to teach people how to use menus in systems, providing a menu tree diagram is the most effective.

Theories of adult learning are highly relevant to computer training. For example, andragogy (Knowles ) is a general theory for adult learning that emphasizes the importance of experience as well as self-direction and instrinsic motivation. It also emphasizes the role of problem-solving and immediate value in learning activities. All of these qualities have been shown to be critical in computer learning tasks (Heerman, 1986, Zemke, 1984).

Many studies of programming behavior have been conducted (e.g., Jeffries et al., 1981; Mayer, 1988; Soloway & Iyengar, 1988; Weinberg, 1971). One of the central issues in training programmers is the importance of general software knowledge versus system-specific skills. Research shows that expert programmers have many schemas for solving certain kinds of problems; some may be general algorithms while others may be system specific. A great deal of programming involves troubleshooting activities (i.e., testing and debugging). There are clearly a range of individual differences in programming practices (e.g., Lammers, 1986).

Computers now play a major role in education in the form of computer-based learning systems. Because of their interactive nature, they increase the motivation level of the learner. Learning theories such as Pask , Spiro , and Salomon are particularly relevant to the use of computers for learning. Finally, the work of Seymour Papert (e.g., Papert, 1980;1993) with the LOGO programming language should be mentioned. Papert believes that children can understand concepts best when they are able to operationalize them through writing computer programs. In his formulation of constructionism, technology (including computer games) can play a critical role in helping children learn.


Heerman, B. Personal Computers and the Adult Learner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jeffries, R., Turner, A., Polson, P., & Atwood, M. (1981). The processes involved in designing software. In J.R. Anderson (ed.), Cognitive Skills and Their Acquisition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mayer, R. (1988). Teaching and Learning Computer Programming. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Norman, K. (1991). The Psychology of Menu Selection. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Lammers, S. (1986). Programmers at Work. Richmond, WA: Microsoft.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. NY: Basic Books.

Papert, S. (1993). Childrens's Machines: Rethinking Schools in the Age of the Computer. NY: Basic Books.

Soloway, E. & Iyengar, S. (1988). Empiricial Studies of Programmers. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Weinberg, G. (1971). The Psychology of Computer Programming. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Zemke, R. (1984). Computer Literacy Needs Assessment. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.