THEORIES OF INSTRUCTION
Prof. Dr. Meral AKSU
MIDDLE EAST TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY
AN INTRODUCTION TO THEORY AND THEORY CONSTRUCTION
DEFINITIONS OF TERMS:
Theory is a set of propositions that are syntactically integrated (that is, that follow
certain rules by which they can be logically related to one another and to some observable
data base) and which serve as a means of predicting and explaining observable phenomena.
For example; behavior modification theory explains how a behavior that is reinforced
increases, while a behavior that is punished decreases.
Hypothesis is a statement about a suspected relationship between related variables.
These statements will generally fall into two categories;
The relationship may be correlative(a variation in x will be systematically related
to a change in y)
The relationship may be casual(a manipulation of x causes a change in y)
There is a necessary relation between theory and hypothesis. All theoretical statements are, by
definition hypothesis in the sense that scientists accept them as tentative statements. Not all
hypotheses need necessarily be derived from theory.
Model is a concretization of a theory which is meant to be analogous to or
representative of the processes and variables involved in the theory. Models may be several
types but three of them are mostly used in psychology: physical models, computer models,
and mathematical models. For example, physical representation of atoms is commonly found
in science expositions. These models are a representation of in the physical domain of what
scientists believe an atom looks like in the microscopic domain. A model will almost always
represents a theory although it will not, strictly speaking, be one.
Paradigm is a basic pattern or plan in verbal or diagrammatic form that serves to
describe recurring basic features of the phenomena being studied and which mainly serves to
provide rather specific guidelines for conducting research. Paradigms are neither models nor
theories; they are mainly ways of thinking about the research, ways of thinking that prove
useful time. They outline relationships of a general type. One can depict as a basic building
block or basic theme which occurs frequently in articulation of the theory or the model.
Paradigm serves some of the organizational and integrative functions during planning
and conducting of research which theories and models serve during interpretation of the
findings. We will treat it as less comprehensive than models and theories.
Law is a statement about a relationship between variables whose probability of
occurrence is so high that the relationship can be counted on as being highly dependable (e.g.
law of gravity).
Principle is a statement of relationship which has allegedly had some empirical
support but which either is not obviously fundamental or is not sufficiently well established to
be called a law.
Construct is an entity whose existence and properties cannot directly or automatically
be empirically deduced and which therefore, can only be described on the basis of a network
of converging operations.
Concept “chair” reality
construct “intelligence” not a reality
construct learning inference from behavior
To summarize, a theory contains various constructs and generates hypotheses. Models
are most often intended to translate a theory into some other form from the one in which it
was originally invented. Laws and principles are often used as the building blocks with which
theories are made.
AN INTRODUCTION TO SCIENTIFIC THEORIES
The problems of education as a science can be summarized as falling into four general and
1. to accumulate accurate data
2. to utilize correct methodology
3. to formulate valid theory
4. to make proper inferences
THE NEED FOR THEORY
Theory Development vs. Fact Gathering
We may ask,
Why theory, why not fact?
Why waste time on a lot of speculations and hunches when the effort might better be
spent on amassing concrete, factual, empirical data on learning and education?
Is there a need for theory or could we do better without it?
All these are valid questions, and they raise some points which have been debated in
psychology and education with increasing vigor in recent years.
The formulation of a theory is both important and vital if either discipline is to
progress and to make a contribution toward solving the problems that are considered to be in
their domain. Every science is built slowly and often falteringly by men who are willing to go
beyond their data and to speculate about the events that are cannot be seen or can not be
understood. The great advances in science occurred as men have been eager to organize their
ideas in the form of theories and to let other men evaluate them. Old theories create new
theories, and new theories create experiments, and experiments create increased knowledge
Science progresses when both theory and empirical observation go together in a
mutually beneficial manner: The theory indicates the questions that are most meaningful to
ask, and the observations show where the theory is deficient. The two must always be present.
Theories that are poorly tied to empirical observation are as meaningless and as potentially
harmful as facts that are poorly tied to theory.
Functions of Theories
1. Systematize Findings: A theory can serve to systematize research findings and make
sense out of seemingly unrelated phenomena. The amount of research performed in any given
year in any field is enormous. Quite often the results from these experiments and studies are
contradictory and complex. Even some may sound meaningless. A theory can show how to
reduce the complexity so that it can be analyzed and also show how to the results from
various experiments fit together in a unified way. In other words, theories help us accumulate
and organize research findings. A theoretical framework can help select and arrange research
findings in ways that are meaningful and helpful for improving our overall understanding.
2. Generate Hypothesis: A theory is an invaluable generator of research hypothesis. Far
from being a waste of time, a good theory can save a great deal of wasted effort by showing
where to look for the answers to the questions and where it would be most profitable to do
research. Naturally, a poorly constructed theory can lead to ask wrong questions and hence
3. Make Predictions: Not only can a theory lead a scientist to ask questions that will
probably be fruitful, but it can also show her what she might expect to find once she has
performed her experimentation or observation. It is really interesting that certain “realities”
were discovered only after the theory predicting their existence had been formulated.
4. Provide Explanations: A theory can be used to explain. In other words, this function
of theory answers the question why. It provides an answer to the question “why is the fact
what it is?” that is intellectually satisfying. In addition to providing explanations, an adequate
theory relates several events to each other. Any event can be explained by a theory as long as
the explanation is plausible and at least minimally takes into account the observed
phenomena. It is quite possible to explain an event without using a theory to generate your
explanations. However, every theory will be a generator of explanations.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THEORIES
It is a common belief that a theory is formulated only after some critical point in the
development of a science has been reached. It is generally agreed that there are two basic
modes of theory construction; the deductive and inductive method.
1. Deductive Theory Construction
This type of theorist works from the top down, building a theory that seems logical on
an a priori basis and then testing the correctness of this theory by performing experiments
whose nature is determined by the theory. The clearest example of such a theory in
psychology is Hull’s hypothetico - deductive theory of learning. I this theory, firstly a set of
postulates or basic assumptions was formulated. After that from these postulates, hypotheses
were generated and tested. Resulting from this testing, the postulates that generated correct
hypothesis were retained hence the theory became self-correcting over a period of time. The
problem with such a theory is that if the majority of the original postulates are incorrect, the
theory will generate a greater amount of more or less needless research.
2. Inductive Theory Construction
In this type of theory construction, theories become summary statements or
generalizations of empirical facts. The benefit of such an approach is that the theorist is never
very far from statements whose “truth” is fairly well-verified. Such an approach can become
inefficient in that it can lead several theorists to ask mainly the same questions in slightly
different way and less likely to produce attempts at integrating different research findings.
Summary of steps
1. Observe some part of the natural world
2. Form and test hypotheses
3. Establish the facts
4. Arrive at laws and inferences
5. Develop a theory to explain it all.
Inductive Method: Observations =====> Empirical Generalizations
Deductive Method: Theory =====> Hypothesis
THE VERIFICATION OF THEORIES
There are three primary tests of a theory
1. Is it syntactically correct?
2. Is it semantically correct?
3. Is it parsimonious?
One test of a theory is whether or not it is internally consistent and logical. The
science of syntax is the study of the relationship of signs to signs. The theories are constructed
by postulating a connection between constructs. Thus, it is necessary for a theorist to include a
series of syntactical rules by which the constructs can be related to each other and to actual
Whether Theory is experimentally verifiable; that is, whether it makes correct
generalizations and valid predictions. This is termed semantics since it refers to the meaning
of the terms used in the theory in reference to the real world. Philosophically, semantics is the
study of the relationship of signs to objects.
The rule of parsimony is that when two tests appear to be equal in terms of value, it is
the simpler of the two that should be adopted.
The important point is not to find the correct, truthful or perfect Theory but rather to
find the one Theory that is better. A better Theory will be one that meets the tests more
adequately than any other.
SPECIAL PROBLEMS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES AND INSTRUCTIONAL
As Scriven (1964) points out, psychology as a science has three problems.
1. Psychology must compete with common sense for its subject matter.
2. Psychological problems are constantly being annexed by other disciplines, leaving
psychology with fewer problems that are uniquely its own.
The basic questions with which psychology (and education, too, we might add) must concern
itself are in essence more complicated than those which sciences must deal with.
EMERGENCE OF INSTRUCTIONAL THEORIES
Instructional Theories, Technology, Science, Psychology
Theory as a term indicates a group of integrated propositions which anticipates and
explains phenomena. Instructional theory is defined as “an integrated set of principles which
prescribe guidelines for arranging conditions to achieve educational objectives”. Instructional
theories are required to bear some basic characteristics such as appealing to the contemporary
educational methods, being neutral for the choice of educational objectives, having empirical
validity and logical consistency.
“Instructional Technology is the theory and practice of design, development,
utilization, management and evaluation of processes and resources for learning. “ (Seels &
Some authors prefer to use “technology” of instruction instead of “theory” of instruction.
Frequently the term theory refers to ideal but impractical principles whereas the term
technology refers to the practical applications.
The term “technology” does not refer only equipments but also new ideas and set of
principles. In this perspective, Instructional technology not only refers to hardware and
software (for example, audiovisual aids, general educational media, and computer assisted or
computer managed instruction), but also refers to principles providing guidelines for the use
of these devices.
Instructional Science indicates the various social sciences and communication sciences
which relate to instruction besides those interdisciplinary ventures in education which utilize
scientific methods for developing fundamental principles of instruction.
It is generally refers to the theory and the principles derived from the application of
psychological principles in the improvement of instructional or which result when
psychologists conduct research in practical instructional-learning situations.
Educational Objectives Versus Instructional Methods
Educational objectives and instructional methods are among the terms confused by the
learners. Educational objectives are likened to “destination”, while instructional methods are
likened to the “means” to be provided to the students to arrive at the desired destination .
Applying Psychological Theories?
The second issue handled in the emergence of instructional theories is the applying
psychological theories and principles in constructing instructional theory. The relation
between psychological research and educational practice lead to instructional theories. It is
revealed that learning theories and instructional theories complement one another by
providing a benefit. The approaches having dominant role in forming theory in psychology
learning research are covered below:
The “New Sciences” of Psychology and Education
While some psychologists argued for the fact that studies in psychology should be
limited to gathering knowledge, some of them contended that it should be applied in practice,
like “solving social problems”. William James (1899) argued that although psychology and
education should function in parallel to each other, psychology cannot dominate or dictate
education. He strongly argued that psychology should not direct the teacher behavior in the
classroom. On the other hand H.H. Schroeder (1913) claimed that the educators drastically
need psychologists’ help for carrying out instruction.
Likewise, Thorndike argued that psychology contributed to education in terms of “aims,
materials, means and methods”. He claimed that psychology should be benefited in forming
educational principles as psychology would enable to differentiate between the inherited and
learned features of human being and thus to reveal the underlying causes of our behaviors.
Recognizing the principles of psychology would be beneficial for the educators in
establishing and measuring aims, choosing the appropriate methods for these aims and
understanding the reasons underlying the success and the failures of the methods applied.
Likewise, applying the principles of psychology in educational practice would be beneficial
for the science of psychology as the psychologists would have the opportunity of observing
and testing their theories in educational practice.
Dewey (1990) claimed that “a special linking science” would exist between theory
and practical work. The arguments of these three spokesmen represented the anticipated
relation between psychology theory and educational practice. It was clear that it was the duty
of psychologists to do research and collect knowledge about learning and educators held the
responsibility of using this accumulated knowledge for developing educational practice.
Applications from “Schools” of Psychology
Relationship between psychology and education changed when different “schools” of
psychology appeared. The concern was not the compatibility but choosing the most suitable
conception of psychology. The educators had to decide which school of psychology is the
“most valid” and “authoritative”. This situation led the psychologists of the schools to
promote the application of their principles. As a result of this competitive atmosphere among
the schools of psychology, the spokesmen gave up “their reservations about the tentative
nature of their practical suggestion” and they made their suggestions as “scientific facts”. The
educators accepted a point of view and the general principles of a certain psychology system
while ignoring the other systems.
Applications from Comprehensive Learning Theories
As learning was a dominant area of interest for psychology researchers in that era, learning
theories directed theory generally in psychology. The educators expected that the learning
theory is required not only to describe but also to prescribe the learning in the classroom.
However, none of the descriptions fits learning theory in that era because there is not a single
theory which was the most valid and comprehensive and also because the learning researchers
selected the problems which were most related to their previous theory rather than choosing
the ones having importance in classroom application. It was claimed that beforehand
educators accepted the new ideas not because they found them useful for helping the learners
to learn but because the spokesmen was an authoritative source for them. In this period
educators and educational psychologists were not in a strong position to determine the
effectiveness of the learning theory based educational prescriptions. Accepting and rejecting
an educational suggestion was based on the credibility of theorists as authority and
compatibility of him with the contemporary vies rather than its empirical validity.
Lynch described the relationship between the general psychology and applied one
and he argued that “application of learning theory” does not require “the applications of the
theory per se” He anticipated “an engineering level” combined with basic science and
practical situation. He indicates the ways of translating the psychology learning theory into
Mid-Century: Growth of Applied Psychology
In this century the gap between academic learning theory and educational practice was larger
than before. In this century, World War II brought about the concern of applicability of
psychology learning research and other academic findings for dealing with the problems of
society. As the spokesmen of behavioral sciences handled the problems of society, behavioral
sciences were common in those years. Engineering psychology was developed to use
psychology in finding resolutions to the problems in work with “non-machine systems” In
this era applied psychology was its peak while experimental psychology was low in
popularity. Clinical psychology was also applied in coping with real life problems by many
psychologists. Likewise application of social psychology emerged for dealing with the
community problem by using action research or operations research. The interest in applying
the psychological knowledge rather than accumulating it lead to the emergence of action
research in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In this era the educators and educational
psychologists were also interested in the applicability of traditional learning theories for
Nathaniel L. Gage thought that since the educational psychology principles were drawn
from the psychology laboratory learning situations, they were not sufficient in educational
practice. It is argued that theories of teaching should be developed as compatible with theories
of learning to clarify how teachers behave, why they behave so, and the effects of teacher
behaviors. Because it was thought that it was difficult for the teachers to infer the application
ways of learning theory in the classroom merely from the learning theory. In 1960s and
1970s, educators searched for implications from other disciplines for making the educational
Problems in Psychology-oriented Principles
The most common criticism about this issue is that educators had been given incomplete
psychological theories for educational practice from research. As Smith states that knowing
the cause of a phenomenon does not necessarily enable one to control it for practical ends.
Like in medicine, knowledge of cause is separate from what to do in treating a disease.
Therefore, he acknowledged that isolated findings and even basic science theories are
relatively useless with regard to practical application. In the same way, unless someone has
integrated such findings into a theoretical scheme which takes account of additional variables
found in the practical situations, it still proves to be useless.
Educators Need Instructional Theories
Educators need instructional theories because of several reasons. Some of the reasons
are the followings.
Paul Saettler (1960) thought that there was lack of theories of instruction that were
widely accepted. He also argued that there was a need of clarifying instructional technology
concepts and principles and instructional theories to integrate those principles.
Siegel claimed that there was a confusion and vagueness in the practices,
curriculum, administration and learning. He criticized formal education as being “relatively
long in practice but short on theory”.
Jerome Bruner argued that a theory of instruction is required so as to “guide to
pedagogy”. He claimed that educators need “prescriptive” theories in educational practice
whereas learning theories and developmental theories were “descriptive”
B. F. Skinner thought that a direct analysis of teaching methods is required to
develop teaching principles and technology of teaching. He argued for inductive approach to
instructional theory construction.
Robert Glaser thought that direct investigation of training and education situations
was required to form instructional principles. He had a pragmatic and inductive approach. He
argued that the principles should be empirically valid.
Ausubel considered cognitive theory as a starting point for constructing instructional
theories. He argued that instructional theories should concern “meaningful school learning”.
He contended that learning theories and instructional theories complete each other for a
successful educational practice.
Pragmatic versus Theoretical Emphasis in Education
Each decade has produced new functions for schools. At times, educators have contented that
vocational training should be given highest priority while in other periods the focus has been
on general intellectual development. Thus, both the educational objectives and the
instructional procedures selected to attain the objectives have been modified mainly as a result
of societal pressure rather than as a function of new scientific findings or theory development
Educational Theorizing Before Mid-twentieth Century
For the first half of this century, forming a scientifically based instructional theory was not
popular or common among educational researchers nonetheless theories were designed for
educators. Saetler claimed that elder sophists in the fifth century could be early theorists.
These theorists made use of expository lectures, group discussion techniques, and other
procedures related to modern educational practice. The theories constructed in that era
stemmed from either the personal experiences of the authors or the philosophical positions.
However, these prescientific theories did not have an effect on educators.
There were some important people in education who created a point of view and who
had an effect on the educators to use their theories in educational practice. These figures can
be stated as Froebel, Dewey, Montessori, Pestalozzi and the others developing theories of
learning and instruction. However, mostly their theories were drawn from philosophical
positions rather than observations. As the educators used the “point of views” rather than any
detailed principles for educational practice, Getzels (1952) claimed that there was still the gap
between theory and practice by mid-century.
Educational Theorizing Since Mid-century
1. Programmed Instruction, Educational Objectives, and Systematic Instructional
Programmed instruction enabled the educators to specify the educational objectives with
measurable terms. It was encouraged B. F Skinner and his associates, who applied operant
theory and techniques in the instructional procedure. . It focused on the fact that specifying
educational objectives should be the first step in instructional planning process. Programmed
instruction technology stimulated clarifying the instructional procedures by organizing and
ordering the educational materials. The focus on results of instructional experiences enabled
specification of objectives and methods and self-corrective evaluation. However it was
criticized as being not appropriate for affective or cognitive objectives.
2. Classroom interaction Analysis Systems and Instructional Principles
In 1960s systems describing teacher and student behavior in the classroom were developed.
Classroom activities under specific headings like “teacher behavior”, “classroom interaction”
and “classroom behavior” were handled. It was the first time in education that various systems
reporting teacher and student activities were developed. The sytems enabled the teachers to
apply and evaluate a particular instructional system in terms of achieving the determined
objectives. The need for instructional theories became more evident through these classroom
3. Educational Media and Instructional Technology Principles
In this century beforehand visual aids were benefited as supplementary materials and tools in
classrooms. Following the emergence of different forms audio tools, they were named as
audiovisual aids and later broadly named as educational media. The terms of educational
technology and instructional technology were first used to refer to the hardware technology
like projectors, blackboards, and computers. Later instructional technology was redefined as
involving not only the hardware but also the principles guiding the appropriate use of
hardware for an effective instruction.
4. Curriculum Reform Movement, Curriculum Theory, and Instructional Theory
The interest in theory construction appeared during the curriculum reform movement in
the 1960s.In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a great interest in for more systematic
basis for curriculum planning. As a result of the collaboration of the scientists and scholars
with the educators, a need for formulating curriculum and instructional theories emerged.
Therefore the interest of the curriculum specialists in using scientific means to test the
principles of curriculum construction and instructional design lead to the construction of
instructional theories. Curriculum theory is related with the substance and the objectives of
curriculum while instructional theories emphasize the ways or the tools that enable reaching
Illustrative Efforts to Produce Instructional Theories
The first attempts were realized to develop instructional theories by four different
groups in the late 1950s and the1960s. These instructional theories were developed as based
on reactions to the learning theories.
The ASCD Commission Instructional Theory
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) developed criteria for
I. A statement of an instructional theory should include a set of postulates and definition
of terms involved these postulates.
II. The statement of an instructional theory or sub theory should make explicit the
boundaries of its concern and the limitations under which it is proposed.
III. A theoretical construction must have internal consistency.
IV. An instructional theory should be congruent with empirical data.
V. An instructional theory must be capable of generating hypothesis.
VI. An instructional theory must contain generalizations that go beyond the data.
VII. An instructional theory must be verifiable.
VIII. An instructional theory must be stated in such a way that it is possible to collect data
to disprove it.
IX. An instructional theory must not only explain past events but also be capable of
predicting next events.
X. At the present time, instructional theories may be expected to represent qualitative
Follow Through Models as Indices of Instructional Theories
Follow through programs had involved models rather than instructional theories in that
they are more concrete and specific in their statements and that they essentially represent
plans for achieving particular goals. For example, the model developed by the Arizona
Research and Development Center was originated from a bilingual program for financially
disadvantaged Spanish-speaking children. It is thus basically an educational model that places
a great emphasis on the special educational needs of such children.
Follow Through Models as Indices of Instructional Theories
In early childhood education there has been attempts to develop models and theories of
instruction. The Follow through models exemplifies the variations of instructional theories or
imperfect attempts aimed to generate today’s instructional theories. Gordon reviewed the
most common Follow Through models in early childhood education programs and evaluated
them depending on the ASCD criteria. He concluded that Follow Through programs
contained models rather than instructional strategies as they are too concrete and specific in
their statements so they function as plans to attain specified aims. Among the six models that
Gordon examined, only two of them have a direct connection with psychological research and
theory. The programs showed variation in the degree of giving specific information about
instructional procedures and materials to be used. These models also differed in their
structures although they have shared elements. He also contended that many of the principles
of these theories are based on the beliefs rather than empirical verifications. Thus, Gordon
regarded these models as initial steps for developing scientific instructional theories though
they were imperfect.
Learning Theory related Instructional Theories
Learning theories try to explain how the learning comes into existence. The theories of
learning are derived from different approaches to learning. However, instructional theories are
derived from the application of learning theories for educational practice. Depending on the
principles, instructional theories try to provide more systematic planning of instruction. There
are different opinions regarding the relations between learning theory and instructional theory.
While some people think that there is little relevance between them, others claim that they are
interdependent and many contend that learning theories are the basis for deriving instructional
theories. There are also five different approaches for the effect of learning theory on
Behavior Modification Approaches
Behavior modification is derived from the application of modern learning principles
based on the laboratory studies on learning processes. These approaches depend on some
learning theories like those of Skinner, Pavlov and Hull. Two major themes bear significance
in terms of characterizing his work. One of these themes is “reinforcement principles”
suggesting for using rewards to direct the students to attain the objectives and the other one is
the value given to direct experimental research on educational practice. “Reinforcement, like
all of Skinner’s concepts, is defined strictly in operational terms that is it terms of the way it
is observed” (Sprinthall,230) However these approaches were criticized because of the fact
that objectives were precisely dictated and there was too much dependency on the
Cognitive Construct Instructional Theories
These theories emphasized the importance of cognitive psychology learning research
and principles for forming instructional theories. They claim that instructional principles
should consider the internal cognitive changes happening in meaningful classroom learning.
“Discovery learning” or “inquiry training” educational principles were greatly emphasized in
these theories. The leading spokesman of these theories is Jerome Bruner whose instructional
theory has four major focuses; motivation of students, organization or structure of the content,
sequence of instructional experiences, nature and spacing of rewards and punishments.
“Bruner feels that a learning theory is descriptive; that is it describes what happens after fact.
A theory of instruction, on the other hand is prescriptive; it prescribes in advance how a given
subject can best be thought” ( Sprinthall, 243)
Principles of Learning Instructional Theories
It is suggested that it is not necessary to be dependent on only one learning theory to
formulate instructional theories. Bugelski suggested for finding different principles which
have been supported empirically before constructing instructional theories. Bugelski
proposed four basic principles in his instructional theory:
The student must be attentive and responsive to the material presented so as to
Al learning takes some amount of time and there are limits in the quantity of
learning that can be realized at a given time. Therefore, the number of the activities should be
limited accordingly so as not to “overload” the students.
The internal regulator controls the motivation of the individual and determines
what extent and in what ways the individual behaves. How we react to stimuli relies on our
previous capabilities related to dealing with those stimuli.
Knowledge of result as a response control which means that rewards guide the
attention and general behaviors of the students.
Task-analysis Instructional Theories
“Task analysis is the analysis of how a task is accomplished, including a detailed
description of both manual and mental activities”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Task_analysis).
The proponents of this approach suggested that psychology learning research can be benefited
for analyzing the kinds of tasks involved in educational practice. They regard carrying out
task analysis as a major way of constructing instructional theories. Robert Gagne, Leslie
Briggs, and Bloom are the spokesperson of this approach.
Humanistic Psychology and Instructional Theory
Humanistic Psychology was considered as an alternative to neobehaviorism and
contemporary psychoanalytic theory. It is a reaction against academic psychology learning
research and theory. The proponents of this theory emphasized describing one’s activities
from the viewpoint of the person rather than from that of an observer. They also focus on the
effect of the emotional experiences on our behaviors. “Self-actualization”, “self-fulfillment”
or “self-realization” are the terms that they concerned about. Self-understanding to make
better choices about one’s own directions for growth and creativity as a means of fulfillment
are central concepts in the humanistic psychology position.
Carl Rogers, one of the spokesmen of this theory, argued for the fact that if the
objectives are selected by the teachers and the conditions of the classroom are chosen by the
others, the learning has less meaningfulness and relevance to the students. It is claimed that
the significant, meaningful and experiential learning requires students’ involvement, self-
initiating and it has a permanent effect on students. Nonetheless, “humanistic psychology
instructional theory” needs more empirical verification.
Instructional Theories: Current Status and Future Prospects
Conceptions as to how one can best develop instructional theories vary greatly among
theorists. Some think that the main or only source should be educational practice while others
advocate that the use of various social science theories including psychology theories is
As with learning theories, some advocate an inductive approach based on growing
mounds of empirical data; others contend that more specific principles can be deduced from
these basic general statements. But all agree that their instructional theories are incomplete
and much work remains to be done to have scientifically sound and practically relevant
instructional theories. Future prospects for further development of existing theories and
emergence of new instructional theories are other significant points that can be considered
about instructional theories.
“It is something that we are only now beginning to understand. Innovation, by whatever
theoretical derivation, involves vast development and engineering.” (Bruner, 1971,p.101)
A design development process is needed to relate the scientific information to educational
practice. This process has a middle position between theoretician- researcher and educational
practitioner. Such a design development position has emerged during an era in which society
has looked to psychology and other social sciences for assistance with social problems.
Psychoeducational design is simply that aspect of the design-development process whereby
one utilizes psychological facts, principles, and theories while making plans for the improving
educational practice. Educational design and development involve interdisciplinary
collaboration, with the practical problem solution ultimately being based on some
combination of ideas derived from practical considerations, educational philosophy,
curriculum theories, instructional theories, educational sociology, psychological theories, etc.
As a results of the educational R&D (Research and Development) movement there has
been emerging a new set of “middle positions” in various aspects of the educational
profession and related professions, including psychology. The newly emerged professionals
(psychoeducational designers) are expected to be knowledgeable about both the theory and
the practice. However, their unique role is to relate these two activities. The
psychoeducational designers plan and try out learning theory based ideas about educational
practice somewhat as the medical researchers do when they design solutions for medical
problems. Thus, psychoeducational design process provides procedures for using
psychological information in the resolution of specific educational problems. Such
information can be drawn from theories including learning and instructional theories, as well
as from more or less isolated facts and principles.
Need for Intermediary Position between Theory and Practice in Education
Psychologist and educators anticipated that there would be some kind of middle
position between psychological research and educational practice. Dewey suggested that
middle positions might be filled by educational theorists. Lynch argued that educational
psychologist should develop a role of a design engineer rather than a role of a technician or a
scientist. It was suggested that the educational psychologist would not be mechanistic or
mechanical in his utilization of psychology and other social sciences. However, orientation in
education was not supported until early 1960s.
Psychoeducational design is needed as many psychologists are not familiar with the
conditions in real educational situations and educators lack the necessary information about
the psychological literature. Chapanis (1967) points out that research methodology textbook
in psychology describe rules for conducting a “lab research” but ignore the steps used in
taking the findings of lab situations and using them in practical situations in the real world
outside the lab. Mackie and Christensen (1967) recommended that society needs “learning
engineers” who are specially educated for relating research findings to practical training and
Barriers to Translation of Psychological Theory into Educational Practice
1. The Nature of Psychological Research and the Organization of Potentially Relevant
Information: Much psychological research is analytic rather than synthetic. Many studies one
or a few factors influencing various learning process, but they rarely explore the manner in
which various factors interact in influencing the learning process. Laboratory studies do not
deal with multitude of factors seen in practical situations. Geutzkow suggests that “middle-
men” social engineer is needed who is able to transform basic knowledge from its disciplinary
structure into forms which are usable for solving practical problems. Middle-men can check
out the extend to which such theories actually prove their utility in achieving the desired
2. The Lack of Institutionalized Support: The second barrier is the lack- until the middle
1960s of institutionalized support for identification of middlemen, and the lack of substantial
financial support available for their activities.
3. Lack of a Model for Relating Psychological Theory to Educational Practice: Before the
mid 1960s there was not any model for relating psychological theory to educational practice.
Many experts believed that some form of linear model was suitable for relating psychological
theory to educational practice. However, there is now specific provision for such relationship
in the linear models which were available up to the 1960s.
Definitions of Development, Research and Practice
Development: It is has been defined as “systematic use of scientific knowledge directed
toward production of useful materials, devices, systems and methods including design and
development of prototypes and process” (National Science foundation, 1965). The
development process is that the aspect of technology in which one attempts to bridge the gap
between the forces which are acquiring the fund of knowledge (researchers) and the
practitioners who are desperately seeking help in coping with daily educational matters.
Research: It is usually defined as “systematic, detailed and relatively prolonged attempts to
discover or confirm the facts that bear upon a certain problem and laws/principles that govern
them” (English & English, 1958). Thus, in many respects, the process of development has the
same kind of function in technology that research has in science. In a sense, research
facilitates making logical conclusions, while development initiates making decisions about the
planning and management of instruction.
A Model for Relating Research, Development and Practice
The term psychoeducational design is used to refer to the development process in
which psychological theories, principles and facts are used to design educational innovations
or to improve existing educational practice. Three activities that a psychoeducational designer
engages in are research, development and practice. In the top plane operations refer to the
educational practices in which production is the key. The left sides of the parallelograms are
the names for levels these are operations, development and research and the right side consist
expected outcomes these are production, process and knowledge respectively.
Three levels of activities are presented by three planes. The top level is related to the
school operations and general educational practice. According to Gideonse, the objectives of
educational practice are to help humab beings to develop different skills, knowledge, attitude
and beliefs in and for an educational institution. He defines outcome in this level as
production, which the students are able to obtain, defined by society. Operations are selected
because they are thought to be firm with the society’s conception of educational experiences
and the means by which students are helped to obtain the objectives. The middle plane stands
for the educational development activity. The objective of educational development is to
produce useful procedures, techniques, materials, hardware, processes, and organizational
formats. The outcome of the developmental activity is educational process. The educational
process is recognized at the time that one is given developmental activity. In that level, the
outcomes provide some guidance to the developer related to the theories and sources besides
criteria related to input enabling him to accomplish the desired outcomes. In that level for
output characteristics of the developmental activity, the performance satisfactions are
designed. The lower plane symbolizes research activity, adding our knowledge about a
specific era with such knowledge consisting of facts, principles and theories. In that level, the
input is known and the outcomes are remaining to be determined.
Beside these, Gideonse (1968) is known for his linear model concept that information
flows from theoretical research to educational practice. It is the contemporary R&D
movement in education related to the relationship between research, development and
practice. First, he argues that research, development and educational practice compose
different kinds of activities especially in that each has a set of objectives or outputs, with each
satisfying different kinds of internal and external needs. Second, he suggested that activities
routinely occur simultaneously on all three levels and that interactions between any of these to
levels of activities can be initiated by any one of the three. Third, he proposed that more
constructive relationships among the three levels of activities can be attained more readily if
the desired outcomes of each of the activities (research, development, practice) are
emphasized for the benefit of the students so that they can achieve educational goals. By the
way, he states that activities at all three levels may occur in parallel without contact with
activities at either of the other levels, the activities would be carried on within the
developmental plane without involving either operations or research levels. So based on this
information, it is not wrong to say that solutions for educational problems and designs for
educational innovations are based on a combination of ideas drawn from many diverse
sources in society, educational philosophy and theories, besides subject matter characteristics,
curricular aspects, psychological learning theories and social science theories are also
important. Additionally, learning theories are necessary thanks to them we organize
information at research level, well as instructional theories are means to organize information
at development level and relate information from research activities for educational practice.
And the information at practice level more frequently presented as educational methods and
Psychoeducational Design Strategies and Techniques
Thorndike (1910) states that there are at least three major ways in which psychological
research and theories can influence educational practice. These stages are not determined
strictly; they may change according to the need of education or objectives. These strategies
and techniques are for proposed psychoeducational design.
1. Clarifying Educational Objectives
First step to form developmental plans is to determine educational objectives. Ones these are
finding out, a researcher can follow or measure outcomes. These objectives can be written in
two different ways. They may only consist of behavioral objectives or they also may consist
of nonmeasurable personal objectives such as being a happy person. Snelbecker focuses on
six steps for community based objectives. Those objectives translated into behavioral
measures by using these six steps. Each step contains some knowledge base in which
psychoeducational designer finds related information needed. Each step is explained in the
following past as:
a) Determining general community needs for education: This step includes the
expectations of the society from the education. They did not need to be rational, or
achievable. They may be ill defined such as “being good”.
b) Identifying constraints: The objectives in the previous step may not reflect reality. In this
step objectives determined in terms of real conditions that we have. Especially school
environment taken into account.
c) Outlining general educational objectives (EO-G): In this step objectives which are
unique to school are described. These may be education of liberal arts or the determination of
d) Identifying EO as measurable results (EO-R): In this part, educational objectives written
in the form of measurable elements. This may be a definite behavior or a teacher or a peer’s
e) Identifying EO as processes (EO-P): According to some instructional theorists, process is
more important than outcome. In this step we must identify the process in which learning
occurs. “Learning-to-Learn” phenomenon may be an example to this.
Figure: Clarification of EO’s (Taken from Snelbecker, 1974, p:174)
f) Organizing EO for instruction components (EO-C): In this step learning treated as
modules to gain more flexibility. During this step designer reevaluate the EO-R and EP-P
steps and make inventories of those steps.
2. Delineating Instructional Methods
Three phases can be delineated in the design and development of instruction. In the first
phase, initial plans for an instructional module are made, a prototype is constructed and it is
tested and revised several times by trying on a few representative students. In the second
phase, the module is field-tested with larger groups of representative students under
conditionals which are typically controlled by the development personnel. In the third phase,
the group of modules would be tested in operational form -that is, organized as the total
course or program which would later be used by students in regular classrooms.
Several characteristics can be observed during these three phases of testing and development.
One of them is that the designer typically starts with a particular instructional theory or other
theory to guide his initial planning. The other one can be that he typically would feel free to
draw from any other sources which might provide supplementary or contradictory
Planning, Testing and Revising Instruction:
At step seven, educational objective for a given module would be selected. At step eight,
designer would select and use any research and theory which might point out the types of
specifications which should be prepared for the methods and materials. In step nine, tentative
drafts of the methods and materials are prepared appropriate to the specifications from step
eight. Step ten is very important but can be quite complex due to the fact that at this point that
the developer tests the methods and materials which are being developed
Figure: Planning Preparation, evaluation, and modification of methods.
Instructional and learning theories can help in the process of diagnosing the nature of
problems when ongoing instructional procedures do not satisfactorily help students to reach
There are certain determined assumptions relevant to the troubleshooting process:
1- We need to determine comprehensive general educational objectives
2- We need to derive specifications for instructional methods and materials from
meaningful organizations of these specific objectives
3- We should find the most effective troubleshooting procedure
4- We should first examine the manner in which instruction is being conducted.
Figure : Troubleshooting procedures.
The troubleshooting procedure will undergo the following stages:
1. Identification of the problem.
2. Drawing up the relevant education objectives.
3. Description of the methods and materials used.
4. The first attempt to see why the objectives are not met.
5. Analysis of the methods and materials used
6. Selecting/developing the methods and materials that fit with the specifications, trying these
7. Comparison of the specifications for the methods and materials with the results and process
objectives drawn up for that learning experience.
8. Evaluation of the long-term educational objectives.
To be able to improve educational practice by combining research and classroom application,
the first systematic attempt was made in the States in 1960s. R & D centers and educational
laboratories were established, which tried to identify high-priority educational problems and
help overcome these problems thorough research and application.
The psychoeducational design approach can help educators, educational psychologists or
other persons in the following ways:
It enables comparing different theories in order to identify the various ways to reach
educational aims, and therefore
It enables deriving practical implications from various learning theories and
It enables revision of learning and instructional theories to form a base for making
educational decisions, delineating methods and troubleshooting