Adults' Perceptions of Concept Learning Outcomes: An Initial Study and Discussion

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Conference Proceeding

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This paper reports on an empirical study of educators' perceptions of learning concepts, reviews the cognitive learning literature, and argues for an expanded view of conceptual knowledge and its role in education and training. The report begins with discussions of changing views of concept learning and declarative and procedural components of concepts. A survey of 56 students in 3 graduate education classes is then described in which subjects were asked to respond to a scenario in which they are imagined to be teaching a sampling of concrete and defined concepts (glasnost, snow leopard, and justice) to college sophomores with no prior knowledge of the topic. The question for the students then is: What performances would serve as indicators that their students had really learned the three concepts? The broad array of concept performances listed by the subjects--339 for the three concepts--are summarized in four categories: definitions and defining attributes; examples and nonexamples; elaboration; and use--and an expanded notion of concept learning is presented. Five concept teaching strategies that include the declarative and problem-solving aspects of concept learning as well as procedural classification skills are then discussed. The strategies are: (1) teaching with analogies; (2) encouragement of learning strategies; (3) use and inference practice; (4) alternative strategies for classification performance; and (5) determining qualities of concepts to be learned. It is concluded that this way of looking at concepts takes into account the declarative and metacognitive components of concept learning and use, and it is recommended that the "intellectual skills" of concept classification be integrated with the "verbal information" that makes the concept meaningful, and with additional skills that encourage use and inference.