A number of cognitive theories such as ACT and Soar discuss the learning of procedures. These theories suggest that procedures are constructed from declarative or propositional knowledge in the form of production rules. Repair theory focuses on procedures in the context of mathematics. In addition, some theories of problem solving such as GPS and Structural Learning theory are pertinent to the learning of procedures. Minimalism is an instructional theory that specifically addresses the learning of procedures in computer tasks. Conditions of Learning includes procedure learning as one of the fundamental types of learning.
The concept of mental models seems especially relevant to the acquisition and use of procedures since it refers to the way people understand events and physical relationships. To the extent that the procedures to be learned involve interpersonal relationships, social learning theory may be relevant.
One of the distinctive characteristics of procedures is their automaticity. According to Shiffrin & Schneider (1977), once behavior becomes routine, the skills required to produce the behavior are less effortful, less time-consuming, and create less demand on mental capacity than new behaviors that involve deliberate attention. In other words, once a procedure has been mastered, it's execution is usually automatic and unconcious (e.g., walking, reading, counting, etc.).
Shiffrin, R.M. & Schneider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic information processing: II. Perceptual learning, automatic attention and a general theory. Psychological Review, 84, 127-190.
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