A Critical Review of Elaboration Theory

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Conference Proceeding

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This paper offers a critique of elaboration theory (ET) based on recent cognitive research and offers suggestions for updating the model to reflect new knowledge. It begins by summarizing the basic strategies of this model for sequencing and organizing courses of instruction: (1) organizing structure; (2) simple-to-complex sequence; (3) sequencing guidelines; (4) summarizers; (5) synthesizers; (6) analogies; (7) cognitive strategy activators; and (8) learner control. It then discusses the notion of content structure and its epistemological assumptions, including the basic idea of content structure, how content is structured, content structure as organizing structure, and ill-structured domains. Discussions of sequencing issues address microworld design, functional context training, cognitive apprenticeships, cascaded problem sets, middle-out sequencing, sequencing for conceptual change, and internal reflection-in-action processes. Making content structure explicit is also discussed. The paper concludes with four recommendations: (1) deproceduralize the theory; (2) remove unnecessary design constraints; (3) base organization and sequencing decisions on learners' understandings as well as the logic of the subject matter; and (4) assume a more constructivist stance toward content structure and sequencing strategy.