Using the Principles-of-Learning Framework in Practical Application

At the end of chapter two, five activities were listed to which the conceptual framework might be applied: (a) communicating about the learning process, (b) evaluating instructional products and methods, (c) diagnosing very specifically why a particular product or method fails to result in effective or efficient learning, (d) developing effective instructional products and methods, and (e) conducting research to investigate meaningful hypotheses suggested by the framework.

The principles-of-learning framework facilitates communication by the names and explanations of seven principles that make up the complete structure of learning (potential, target, change, practice, context, engagement, and agency) and seven principles of change that facilitate it (repetition, time, step size, sequence, contrast, significance, and feedback). These fourteen principles provide both a common vocabulary and a checklist of accountability for any conversation on learning: (a) their names and explanations provide lexical and semantic reference, and (b) one who is familiar with the framework cannot talk about the process of learning in ignorance of any of its component parts or their holistic function as a complete set. In this way the framework provides a measure of accountability. Likewise, when talking about any specific part of the process, the framework provides a contextual background of reference to better understand its individual role in the learning process as a whole.

The principles-of-learning framework can also be employed in evaluation, diagnostic or development tasks by asking questions such as those shown in Table 13. In evaluation the framework would be used to conduct a complete examination of an instructional product or method, resulting in a full report. In diagnostic activity the framework would be used similarly, but with the goal of identifying only specific points of failure, rather than a complete description. Similar questions would be asked in development tasks, but would be oriented toward defining features and functions of the product or method being developed with reference to principles of learning. Opportunities for research are abundant in the framework, suggested both by individual principles, combinations of principles, relationships between principles, and of course, in utilizing the framework as a whole.


Table 13

Sample Questions for Using the Principles-of-Learning Framework in Evaluation or Development

Principle   Questions




Is the potential to be realized an increase in capacity, establishment of habit, or definition of being?

If capacity, is the expected increase one of doing, thinking, believing, or feeling and is it a vertical or horizontal expansion?

If habit, is the expected pattern a habit of acting, thinking, or feeling?

If being, what is the desire or character to be cultivated?


Target   What are the learning targets and are they intentional or incidental?


Change   Repetition:

What type and amount of repetition is expected?



What total duration of time can be expected in order to attain each target?

Is practice distributed to allow recovery from physical and mental fatigue and to maximize significance through novelty and perceived need?


Step Size:

How much effort is required to attain each target? Should it be broken down into smaller (or combined into larger) steps?



What prior capacity can be leveraged? Does the sequence of what is to be learned enable prior learning to facilitate subsequent learning?



How is what is being learned differentiated from or related to what has been learned previously, or similar knowledge and skills to be learned simultaneously?



How is what is being learned significant to the learner?



What forms of feedback are available to the learner or other agents directing the learning process?


Practice models


  Do practice models fully implement necessary principles of change and are they the same as, or an accurate representation of, expected models of performance?


Context   Is the context of practice the same as, or an accurate representation of the expected context of performance?


Engagement   Do learners possess the current capacity necessary to engage?

Is there a habit of engagement or aversion?

What factors of motivation and inhibition are present, and do they relate to the activity as a whole, parts of the activity, tangential circumstance, or expected results?


Agency   Is the learner aware of the learning targets?

What role might others play in the learning process?



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