Descriptive and Prescriptive
Theories o f Learning and
Instruction: A n Analysis o f
their Relationships and
1 l nteractions
Lev N. Landa
The Institute for Advanced Algo-Heuristic Studies, New York
Landa, L. N. (1983). Descriptive and prescriptive theories of learning and instruction:
An analysis of their relatio~lships and interactions. In C. R.I. Reigeluth (Ed.),
I~zstrrrctio~zal-design nzodels: AIZOvervie~r~ tlzeir czrrrettt status (vol. 1, pp.
tlteories a~zd of
37-54). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. CONTENTS
lnstructional Processes As A Particular Case Of Control
Descriptive Theor~es,Prescriptive Theories, And
Programs Of lnstruction
I Descriptive Theories
I Prescriptive Theories
Learning Theories And Programs: Their Relationship
With lnstructional Theories And Programs
Can lnstructional Theories And Programs Be Derived From
Learning Theories And Programs?
Regularities Of Learning And lnstructional Practice
Two Objectives Of lnstruction
This chapter d~scusses with cons~derabledetail and clarity the distinctions between
I learn~ngtheory and instructional theory; between prescriptive theory, descriptive
I theory, and practice; and thc relatlonhhlps among all of these. Becaube a clearrecog-
' The approach presented in th~ssection has k e n set forth in more detail in h d a . 1962, 1976, and
lW7. (On cybernetic analysk of instructional procesxs, see also, for example, Bung, 1Y71; Bussman.
I%']: Couffi&mal.1 x 5 ; Cube. 1 W ; Frank. 1969; Knochel. 1%; Kopstein. IY77; Lewk & Pak, 1965:
i hleyer, 1965; Pask, 1975; Srnlth&Smith, 1%; Stolurow, 1 9 1 , 1%5a, 1%5b; Tracz&Dunlop, 1977.)
56 LANDA 3. DESCRIPTIVE AND PRESCRIPTIVE T H E O R I E S 57
nition of these differences is important to both understanding and advancing our know- information in order to carry out the transformation. In other words, the agent has
ledge about instruction, this chapter is an important one. Also, the process of instruction to have a progratn oftrunsformution that represents a prescription as to what
is described as a special case of "cybernetic control processes," which are mechanisms should be done in order to transform a given object from a given state into a desired
(such as a household thermostat) that provide feedback that allows a system to adjust to
state under given internal and external conditions. Each prescription consists of a
certain conditions. This Systems-Theory comparison facilitates the analysis and
understanding of the instructional process. Many of the ideas presented herein are closely set of instructions (rules, directions, commands). In the simplest case the prescrip-
related to Landa's instructional model (see Chapter 6). tion may consist of a single instruction (rule, etc.).
C. M. R. The agent may receive a prescription from outside or may develop it on its own.
The agent may know all the actions to be performed before starting the transforma-
tion process, or it may conzpose the prescription piecemeal in the very course of
INSTRUCTIONAL PROCESSES AS A PARTICULAR the transformation process, each next instruction being devised after a preceding
CASE O F CONTROL (MANAGEMENT) PROCESSES one has been accomplished. A program of actions accepted at the outset of the
transformation process may be followed meticrrlously by the agent in the course of
Control Processes transformation or it may be chunged on the basis of the feedback received during
its carrying out. There may even exist programs for changing programs (i.e., pro-
An instructional process can be viewed aa a particular caae o f control proccsaca in grams of higher order). Moreover, each program, whether of the first or higher
the cybernetic sense of the word Ilanda. 1976). According to cybernetics, each order, may be effective or ineffective (i.e., may lead or not lead to the achievement
process of an organized activity represents a series of some agent's ac.tions directed of the goals) and efficient or ineficient or moderately eficient (i.e., may lead to the
at some object(s) and aimed at attaining a specified goal under given conditiot~s. goal with different expenditures of time and resources). It may have some other
Generally, the agent's actions bring about certain changes in the object, transform- characteristics as well.
ing it from some initial state into some final state. The desired final state is a goal. When the agent is a person, quite specific characteristics of programs, actions,
As far as conditions are concerned, they are multiple. and the initial state of this and their relationships may take place. A person may not be aware of a prescrip-
object is just one of them. Among others are the inherent characteribtics of the tion to follow in the course of an action, but may have a command of a series of
object's naturr (internal conditions) and external circumstances influencing the actions (operations) and be able to perform them in order to achieve the goal. If we
process of transition from the initial to the final state (external conditions). refer to a prescription as an algorithm and to a set of actions by which the transfor-
All the notions used in the preceding description are relutivc~. example, one
For mation is carried out as an algorithmicprocess, then one can say that the agent may
desired state of the object may represent a final goal with respect to one activity and not know the algorithm but due to having a command of operations, the agent may
a subgoal with respect to another. Moreover, a state that emerges as a final goal for be able to perform an algorithmic process and achieve a defined goal.4 W e call this
one activity may turn into an initial internal condition for achieving a subsequent an according-to-rule-process (Landa, 1976, 1977) and it stands in contrast to a
goal . 2 guided-by-rule process, for which a performer knows and is guided by a rule,
Each goal itself may be simple (unitary) or complex (multiple), the latter con- although the objective results of both processes may be the same.
sisting of a set of component goals. The final goal (or state to be achieved) often In the case of according-to-rule processes, a program of actions may not exist in
represents a set of component goals (or states).' a performer's head, but he or she may still be able to perform the process and
In order to achieve a goal (i.e.. bring about a d5sired transformation of an achieve the goal. The reverse is also possible. A person may know an algorithm
object's state), the agent should know such things as the nature o the object, the but may not be able to perform algorithmic processes (operations) and achieve his
characteristics of its states, the laws of their transition from one to another, and the or her goal (just as one can know how to swim, but not be able to swim).
dependence of the transition on certain external and internal cond~ticlna. The agent A characteristic feature of a person's executing some goal-directed activity is
has to know what actions should be performed on the basis of the given or known that the program may be of a nonalgorithmic, and in a particular case heuristic,
nature. The difference between algorithmic and nonalgorithmic programs (or pre-
'ln orhcr word\. i>nc.lnd thc 5ame \late ol ;In Ohjecl niay i l p p c : ~ ~ ;I filial p i 1 1 . .i\ it \uh;oal, or a\ ,in
scriptions) is that the first determine the corresponding operations unambiguously
llcpcnd~ng [he contexr In u,htch u e 11
'There are a lot ol publication.: no\* on rht\ and related prohlcrn\ cwc, ior cxamplt.. Hloom. 19%. see later that progranrs and processes can be not only of algorithmic but also of nonalgonthrnic
Gagne, 1%5, 1974; Kophte~n.1977: hlager, 1975; I\larLlt., 1')-S: >lctt~ll Tc.titi)\o~i,1977; Popliam R
S (In panlcular, heuristic) nature as wcll. But with regard to the problem ire are discussing, this IS no1
Baker, 1970; Rewick, 1973; Scalldura, 1977; LL'tiite 8, Gdpnt,. 19-4). Important. What has heen s a ~ d about algorithms and processes IS true also of nonalgorithmic ones.
58 LANDA 3. DESCRIPTIVE AND PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 59
and completely, whereas the second do not. For- cxaniple, to facilitate ;I problem DESCRIPTIVE T H E O R I E S , PRESCRIPTIVE T H E O R I E S ,
solver's search lor a solution. the ~nstruction"find an analogous problc.111"i \ non- AND P R O G R A M S O F INSTRUCTION
algorithmic. whereas the instruction "check \\bethel. the gi\.cn nt~liibcr- n d in i"
e I t is evident that in order to be able to carry out any instructional activity to achieve
is algorithrnic. a goal, a teacher5 should know a prescription (algorithmic or nunalgorithmic) for
This underhtanding of differences bet\\ecn algor~thmicant1 11on~lgo1-itli~nic this activrty and/or have acommand of a system of instructional actions that would
prescripttons or programs differs tronl that devevelopcd in \(I-callcd tieur~\tlcpro- lead to the achievement of the goal. In the fc)llowing discussion, we refer to the
gramrning by Newell. Shaw, and sorne others icf. Felgenbaulrl,!! Fcldriian. 19f)3). knowledge of a prescription as a knowledge o f an insiruc.iiut~ulprogrum the and
The distinctions between algorithmic and h e u r ~ s t ~ c program\ rcllected In tht\ command of actions as a command of an irrsir~tctionul process. We remind you
understanding are, h o ~ ~ e v every itiiportant frorii many points of \ iew (for more that one may know an instructional process to be performed in order to achieve
detalls about these distinct~ons, Chapters 5 and h in Landa. 1976). \ome goal ( r . e . , have a command of these actions and be able to execute them)
Just ah a person performing a goal-orien~edactivitl may execute an algot-itti~li~c without being aware of a prescription (program) that underlies the instructional
of :~ \o .
process without ;I knou~ledge 11scol-respo~~tllng I g o r ~ t h ~ l irnay lie or- 411c I ) C V - process and that, if nsccssary, elicits the actions.
torn1 a nonalgorirhmic process u ithout a k n o I c ~ l 01' ~1 t 4 corl-e\poli~ling~ionalgo-
Descriptive T h e o r i e s
What are the sources of a teacher's knowledge of instructional programs and/or
Instructional Processes processes? The first of them (historically and often ontologically) is one's own and
If we move to instructional proce\scs. we w e that everything that has been said other teachers' prclciicul exp'riencrs of what happens (or what outcomes appear)
about goal-directed activity in general is true of instructional activity. An instruc- if one performs some instructional actions under certain conditions. This expe-
tional agent ( a live teacher or other instructional resource) directs its (or tiis or rience leads to a discovery of connections of the type:
her-we just use "it" for simplicity) uctior~.s* an object or objects ( a student 01-
Ifan instructional action A was applied to a condition a, (hen an outcome oc appears,
group of students). These actions are aimed at obtaining specified ,gotrl.s*" (devel-
where A may be a composite action consisting of a number of constituent actions. A , .
oping in students certain psychological and bcha\ iol-al characteristics) nndcl- cer- A,, . . . , A,,, a may be composite condition consisting of a set of conditions a , ,
tain internal and external c~onditlor7.,.*** u2, . . . , an, and oc may be a composite outcome consisting of a set of out-
In order to achieve its goal, a teaching agent may know or devise a program of comes a , , u,, . . , a,,.
teaching actions that may be of an algorithmic or nonalgor~thliiicnature. I t may When teachers or instructior~al theorists become well aware of these connections
also not be aware of this or that certain prograni, hut have a command of a set of and state them in the form of "ifaand A . then a" statements, thesestatements become
teaching actions that bring about the desired transformations of the students' psy- descripiive proposiiions. After being verified and organized in some system, this
chological and behavioral characteristics. [If a program is bad or inadequate, the system of propositions forms a descriptive instructional theory. In principle, the
teaching actions may bring about undesired transformation\ and develop unde- logic of a descriptive instructional theory does nor differ from the logic of descriptive
sired characteristics in the students.! theories in mathematics, physics, biology, medicine, and many other disciplines-
Specific features of instructional processes. in contrast to other transformation all of them representing propositions about what will happen with'some object, or
processes, include the specific nature of the o1~~ec.r.s be transformed (a live
to phenomenon, or its attributes, their relationships, and so on, if there are suchcondi-
human with specific needs and motives and such abilities as setting one's o\vn tions andlor influences on the object under these conditions.
goals and regulating himself or herself, etc.). the specific nature ol'the c,hrrr-crc1c.r- A proposition of physics may serve as an example: If there is water in its
i.siics to be transformed (psychological and behavioral ones), and the \pecific "normal" liquid state (condition tr) and this water is heated up to I0O0C (action A ) ,
nature of the goci1.s to be achieved. then the water will transform itself into vapor (outcome a). In symbolic Iogic
T E d ~ ~ o Ir>'O I C I 11ew ucrc rclc~rcdI C I .!\ ~ I I ~ ~ I / I O I~I/( .. I ~, I ~ I C I I
\ I I
"tid~ror'\ note Thr.\c uerz referred li? ; I \ ~,iir<.r~~ri~,\ I In C1iaplr.r 5For the PUTUI? of c~n\en~cncc. \ \ < I L I ~prefer lo u\c t h h more natural term ~ n j t e a d the more
wc ~ of
* * * E d ~ k ~ rnolc The\c Nerc rcfcrred
'> 2 s c o t ~ d i r ~ o ~ i . ('liaptcr I
@enera1bur, at the \awe tlrne. more c u ~ ~ i h c r \ o m c ~eci<.hing
60 LANDA 3. DESCRIPTIVE A N D PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 61
order for a student to understand a statement, it is necessary for him or her to restate
where symbol & stands for the logical connective r ~ t l i and symbol 7stantis for the
. l it in his or her own words." This proposition is incorrect. Restatement may help to
logical connective " i f . . . , then". understand a statement, but it is not a necessary condition for comprehension.
Comprehension may arise without the restatement, and there may be many causes
of inability to comprehend a statement (for example, lack of knowledge of mean-
Prescriptive Theories ings of some words, wrong or incomplete concepts activated by perception of the
words, failure to grasp the syntactical structure of the statement, and some others).
A descriptive theory may represent hundreds of propositions of this type that allow
I t is evident that it would be wrong if, in the case of a student's failure to under-
us to predict what will happen to some phenon~enoni f a certain action occurs.
stand a statement, the teacher would be given an instruction or rule: "Urge the stu-
However, if conditions are changed in order to be able not just to passively predict
dent to restate the statement." A correct and helpful rule would be: "Diagnose the
what will happen with the phenomenon under certain conditions. but to actively
psychological reason for the student's failure to understand the statement. If the
elicit or produce desired outcomes, descriptive theory is not enough. We have to
reason was a , then use method A , if b. use method B, and so on." (Both the reasons
have a different set of proposition\ that would po~rit to us what .shorcldhoclotle
and the instructional methods can and should be specified.)
with a phenomenon in order to elicit or produce desired outco~nes. organized An
As we see, a simple conversion of a correct descriptive proposition into a pre-
set of such propositions would con\titute a prr.\c-riprir~r rlrcory.'.
scriptive one may not lead to a correct prescriptive proposition. Even if we had a
But not only do the two types o l theories differ. Thc two types of propo~itions--
descriptive and prescriptive-are also different in an inlportant way. Wher-eas the
propositions of a descriptive theory have an "if . . . , then" logical structure (if a &
A, then a), propositions of a prescriptive theory have an "in order to . . . , d o
I coherent and complete descriptive theory of instruction, there is no way to auto-
matically convert it into a prescriptive theory of instruction.
this" structure (in order to obtain cu under conditions a, perform A).
It is easy to notice that the pacsilbe '"it . . . . then" propositions o the descriptive
I Instructional Programs
Let us move to the next problem and suppose that we have built, or just have, a
theory convert themselves into active '"in orcler to . . . . d o this" rules that
coherent and complete prescriptive theory of instruction. The question is this: Is it
prescribe what should be done in order to obtain a desired outcome. Hence. it may
sufficient to have such a theory in order to automatically proceed to aprogram of
seem that it is simple to derive a prescriptive theory of instruction from a descrip-
instruction? The answer is no. Even if we had a coherent and comprehensive pre-
tive one: that it is enough to restructure a, A and a to convert each descriptive
scriptive theory of instruction. a teacher would not be able to solve his or her
"if. . . . then" proposition into a prescriptive "in orticr . . . tlu this" proposition.
A simple example shows that this is not so.
Suppose we have a descriptive proposition: "If a student repeats a statement
many times, he or she memorizes it better." This is a 100 percent true proposition.
i particular instructional problems by simply knowing a set of propositions of the
theory. (The instructional process may be viewed as solving a series of specific
All the instructional problems--that is, which proposition out of all the known
Let us convert it into a prescriptive proposition: "In order to memorize a statement
propositions to choose, how to chain them, and how to apply them-would arise
better, one has to repeat it many times." This proposition is not as true as the first
here. That is why, in order to teach effectively (and to teach at a l , a teacher
one because the state of "memorized" is determined by many factors, not just repe-
should be provided either with a set of programs for solving particular instructional
tition. For example, for a particular student to memorize a statement, i t may be
problems or with a method as to how to independently develop an instructional
more important to understand it rather than just mechanically repeat it. Some stu-
program (algorithmic or nonalgorithmic) on the basis of known descriptive and
dents. due to the specific characteristics of their memory, the personal significance
prescriptive instructional t h e ~ r i e s . ~ *
of the proposition for them, and some other factors, may not need to repeat it at all.
The impossibility of building a prescriptive theory from adescriptive one just by
converting "if . . . then" propositions into "in order to . . . . d o this" p r o p 1 'A necessity to pass from a theory (even prescriptive) to a program for solving individual problems
sitions becomes especially evident from the next example. I t is true that "if a stu- explains why the knowledge of an instructional theory in itself (even if it were comprehensive and
dent can reformulate a statement in his or her own words, then he or she under- coherent) does not provide a teacher with an ablliry to teach. The latter ability is basedon a knowledge
stands it correctly." In a prescriptive form, this statement \vould look like this: "In of p r o g 7 m for solving particular problems (or classesof problems) or the abiliry t o p s from theoretical
propositions to p r o m and be guided by them.
'Editor's note: The relationship between a s ~ e c i f l cinstructional program and a prescriptive
instructional r h r (or model) is similar to the relationship between an example of a procedure and a
'Editor's note: For more a b u t the Lrinction betwetn dailipti\e and pracliptive thm>r), see Chapter statement (or generality) of the procedure. The ~nstructional theory is general and is used ro generale the
1, p. 21. and Chapter 2, p. 51. ~c
unique instructional program for the s p e c ~ f subject matter, students. and so on.
3. DESCRIPTIVE AND PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 63
The fact that a descriptive instructional theory. a p r e s c r i p t i ~ e~nstructior~al between teachers' actions and learners' psychological or behavioral processes,
theory, and an instructional prugraln are different things or "object\" ~ m p l i e s that learning theories deal with relationships between learners' actions and learners'
there should be different methods of their creation and different thcorles underly- psychological or behavioral processes-that is, with relationships of phenomena
ing these method>. Theortes about how to deaign tn\tructional theorie\ represent inside a learner. I t is another matter that l e a r n e d actions may in turn be the results
instructional 1?7rtuttlrories.* Theories about designing instructional programs are of the teachers' actions; but, first, it is not always the case and, second, relation-
ofit~irrrrc~riontrli r t i x ~ l .Because theorie\ of how to ~nstructlonal ships of processes inside a learner may be to some extent theoretically abstracted
programs d o no1 hpecli'y progrcln>\ of designing in\tructional programs. there exist from the scientific analysis of instructional (external) cause5 that bring about psy-
programs for de\igning in\truclional programa-that or
is, tnc,rcr[Jro~yrat~l.s pro- chological (internal) causes, producing certain psychological or behavioral
grams of higher order.** Teaching teachers and student teachers these meta- effects. This question is considered in more detail later.
theories and rnetaprograms is an important task In teacher training that may Like instructional theories, learning theories may be divided into descriptive
increase the efficiency of teacher education. and prescriptive, and like instructional programs there may exist-and d o exist-
The preceding description might produce an 1mpre5sion that a preacr~ptive learning prograrns. The subject of learning theories and programs and the type of
instructional theory rnay be developed ot11\.on thc bajts o f a descriptive instruc- propositions they deal with may be generally represented as follows:
tional theory (although i t cannot just be deduced from i t ) , and that an instructional
program can hc developed o t l l ~ the bahis ot a prc\criptivc instructional theory I(,clrtlitlg /hrori<,.\.If a learr~er
fIr\c.rtl)f~\~(, performs a learning action A , then it leads
(although it also cannot just be deduced from 11). T h ~ Is\ , however, not quite true, to or prodi~ces,under certain defined cond~tionaa , paychologtcal or bzhavtoral
although this way of developing a prescriptive ~nstructionaltheory and an instruc- process a.
tional program would be theoretically foundecl and preferable. Another way of
For example, if a learner analyzes a text more thoroughly, he or she understands ~t
de~cloping bath prescriptive instructional theories and programs is empirical o r better.
experimental. whereby propositions of a prescriptive instructional t h r o n a r c
"deduced" from instructional experience and/or experiment.*** Prescriptive learning rheories: In order for a learner to come to a psychological or
behavioral process cu, he or she, under certain conditions a, should perform learning
action A .
LEARNING T H E O R I E S AND P R O G R A M S :
For example, in order to better memorize a text, it is sufficient (but perhaps not
THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH INSTRUCTIONAL
necessary) to repeat it several times.
T H E O R I E S AND P R O G R A M S
Learnill# progrutns: In order for a learner to comz to a psycholog~c:ilandlor behav-
Until now we h a \ c considered relation\hips between descriptive and prescript~ve
ioral prwess (outcome) a , it is necessary (or m a y be sufficient) to perform a learning
instructional theories and instruct~onal program\ What are the relat~onships action A. If this action led to psychological or behavioral outcome $, then it is neces-
between instructional theories and prosrams. on the one hand. and learning theories sary (or may be sufficient) to perform a learning action B. If this action led to a psy-
and prograrna. on the other'? chologic:rl or behavioral outcome Cl. then it is necessary (or sufficient) to perform
The major difference between them is that in\lructtonal thc.oric.\ and programs lemming action C. This process IS repeated until the target psychological or behavioral
deal w ~ t hrelationships between rc.trcher.r'+>r tcac.hing-act~on., as cauaes and outcome has been reached. Like instructional programs, learninig prograrns may be
students' psychological andlor beha\,ioral procc\se :I\ effect\ routcomes). whereas algorithmic and nonalgorithrnic
learning theorica and programs deal with r e l a t ~ o n ~ h i p j
W e dwelled upon the differences between the subjects of instructional theories
learn~ng-actions a3 causes and ps!,chological 01. heh;~vioral pt-oce\\ea as effects
and programs, on the one hand, and learning theories and programs, on the other.
(outcomes).**** In other words, if instructional theories deal with relationships
Before looking into their connections in more detail. let us regard the difference
between theories of learning psychology and those of general psychology. Both
*Editor's note: 5 ~for example. thc cond1t1on~-me1hcXl~-(>11tco1111f\
. i~amc\\orhin C li.rl~Icr I types of theories deal wrth lawful inner connections between psychological pro-
and Groppr's rnerarti~~n. Chaprer 2.
In cesses (or psychologic;il and beh:rvioral, behavioral and psychological, etc.).' At
**Ed~tor's T h ~ v rcfcrr~dr ~ >,I> ~ I ~ I ~ ~ ~ c ~ ~ ~ I ~ ~procr~thnr:cin IChap~c~ ~ ~ I I I ~ ~ I I I
now: \\ere I I - ~ I ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ I ~I
***Editor's note: Thl\ is Ihs w n c t l ~ c f f ~ i f ~ i iandt itic/iic.ii~c,
i ~l ~~~ approache to rhmg solhlnlilloll
dircussed m Chapter I
****Editor's morc about tllc d ~ r l ~ ~ i c ~. it w ~ r~~ 1
note. 1-01 h r ~ l ~n~tn~cuonal :umil luunlng ~licor!,i m
n or b ~ y l ~ sconbcnlcncc,
t~c UL. \pe.ih proce\st.s,keeping in
aboul connections between psycholog~cal
1111nd and external behavioral processes, and
that [hi. connections mdy be between Inner paycholos~cal
Chaprer I , p. 23. vlce vcrsa
64 LANDA 3. DESCRIPTIVE AND PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 65
first glance it seerns that thcre is nodifference bctwccn, say, adescriptive learning- of learning, whereas learning psychology dealseither with specific learning opera-
psychology proposition and a dexcriptive general-psychology proposition. Actu- tions or nonspecific ones used for learning purposes.
ally, this is not so. although in many cases the difference may be relative. The subject of learning theories is the lawful connections between learning oper-
The grounds for difference between proposittons of a learning theory and those ations and their psychological outcomes; descriptive learnirlg theories deal with
of general-psychology theory lie in the concept of learning opernrion. Operations- "if . . . , then" propositions stating what happens psychologically if such and such
motor and cognitive-represent some of the major components of psychological learning actions are performed, and prescripriime learning theories prescribe what
activity. In contrast to knowledge. which is a represenrarion of the outer andlor learning operations should be performed (as necessary, sufficient, or both) in order
inner world in the form of images. concepts, or propositions, operations are for a certain psychological process to happen.
actions directed at tratlsforrnarion of objects: Motor operations transform material Remember that prescriptive instructional theories cannot be automatically
objects, cognitive operations transform their internal psychological representa- derived frorn descriptive instructional theories, and prescriptive instructional pro-
tions (images, concepts, or propositions).xGoal-dircctcd psychological activity is grams from prescriptive instructional theories. This is true also of prescriptive
not possible without execution ofcognitive operations. (Responsive psychologrcal learning theories with regard to descriptive learning theories, as well as learning
activity may be carried out on the basis of associations. which rnay not include programs with regard to prescriptive learning theories. The reasons why prescrip-
active transformative cognitive operations. or thcir role may be rninimal.) tive learning theories cannot he automatically derived from descriptive learning
Cognitive processes (and operations as their components) and learning pro- theories and learning programs from prescriptive learning theories are exactly the
cesses (and operations as their components) are, however, not synonymous. When same. Therefore, there is no point in discussing this issue separately and again.
a person performs some operation (say, on a sentence) in order just to understand
it, his or her operations are cognitive, but not learning. But when the person per-
CAN INSTRUCTIONAL THEORIES AND P R O G R A M S BE
forms the same operations on a text in order to learn it (i.e., when some cognitive
DERIVED FROM LEARNING THEORIES
operations function as a means of learning), then they become learning operations.
Thus, all learning operations are cognitive or motor but not all motor and cognitive
operations are learning. Until now we have separately considered relationships within different types of
As we mentioned earlier, this difference between learning and cognitive opera- instructional theories (as well as these theories and instructional programs) and
tion, is relative, and one and the same operation may emergc in different roles and within different types of learning theories (as well as these theories and learning
turn from one into another. For example, some set of operations that may emerge programs). W e also showed that the principal difference between both groups of
first as learning may later, after having been mastered, beconre an internal mecha- theories and programs consists in their subjects: The first reflect relationships
nism of psychological activity not aimed at learning. On the other hand, some between teachers' instructional action and learners' resulting psychological
cognitive nonlearning operations may be purposefully used as means of learning processes, the second, between learners' actions and their resulting psychological
and, in this case, appear as learning operations. There also exist specific lcarning processes. Important was the fact that within each group of theories and programs,
operations that are used just for purposes of learning. each particular kind of theory or program is not automatically derivable from
I t can be said, consequently, thatp.sychologiccrl lenrnitzg tht.oric2.v deal both with another one.
specific learning operations (processes) and nonspecific cognitive operations used The question arises whether instructional theories may be derived from learning
as a means of learning. whereas theories of get7c.,-a/psycho/o~>~ with cognitive theories. If it is not possible to directly derive, say, a prescriptive instructional
processes when operations involved are not specific learning operations or are not theory from a descriptive one, maybe it is possible to directly derive a prescriptive
used as means of learning. What has been said may be put otherwise: General psy- instructional program from a learning program?
chology deals with the psycholo~icalperformance that does not consist of specific At first glance, it seems that it is possible and true. Actually. i t is not so. Sup-
learning operations or with nonspecific learning operations that are used as means pose, for example, that a descriptive learning theory says that if a person better
understands a text, then he or she remembers it more easily. (Or: In order to more
easily memorize the text, it is important to better understand it.) From this seems to
follow a prescriptive instructional rule: In order for a learner to better memorize the
'Cognitive operallun5 J r r 3 p n l c u l a l . c a \ e of Inner ~~\).cholofical opsrallons [hat may he d~rcctcd
transforniation of needq. n>otlveb. character IrJlts, and so o n . P\)rholog~calopsratlons I S a generic con- text, i t is necessary (or sufficient) to teach him or her how to understand it (or bring
cept In relation to c o ~ n i t i v e
operation Irnpon3nt in our contcxr I \ that Jny opcr,ition. 111 contr'ist to hirn or her to understanding it). This derived prescriptive instructional proposition
knowledge. 1 5 d t r d ~ ~ \ i o m ~ a r i o n
o f sonlelh~ng 2nd is nor ju\t its 111e1>ral Inner repressnlation.
or is not. however, completely true and comprehensive. Of course, in order to secure
66 LANDA I 3. DESCRIPTIVE A N D PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 67
that a lrarner memorizes a text hcttcr, 11 i \ i ~ i i l ) o ~ . lto ~ ~ i t \LII.C th;~tlie 01.\he REGULARITIES O F LEARNING AND
understand i t or to teach him or her h o to under-\tad ~ t Hut understanding 1s just
. INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE
one of the conditions leading to better mernol-lzlng, and to secure (or teach) thr
understanding 15 !for ~uffiicirnr g a ~ n i n g bc\t results in ~ricrnoriration.
for the Other There is one more reason why theories and programs of instruction cannot be
factors not mentioned in r h e ~ e propositions o l learning theory (both descriptive directly derived from theories and programs of learning. In many psychological
and prescriptive) should be takrn into account Thry are stated In other proposi- and pedagogical theories, regularities of learning are viewed as inherent and inde-
tions o f a Icarn~ng throry ( 1 1 ' ~t I \ coml~lctc). u r tlic learning thcor) docs not tell
B pendent (at least considerably) of instructional influences. This led to a problem of
anything about which of its propositions should be takrn into account and com- bringing instruction in accordance with the inherent laws of learning, which them-
binrd (and precixly how combined) in order- to \t;~tcan cfl'ect~veprrhcriptive selves are supposedly determined internally by physiological andlor biological
1. . .
There is onr rnore important circumstance. Let us suppose that comprehension However, some components or aspects of learning are actually determined by
had been the only factor affecting better mano]-izntion. In this casc. a prescriptive the nature and mode of instruction that a person received and receives. Moreover,
proposition of an instructional theory might be derived directly from a proposition physiological and biological factors and laws themselves manifest themselves
of a learning theory. However, this is not true w t h regard to ~n>tructional pro- primarily through psychological factors and laws, which always represent results
grams, brcausc neither a proposition o l a learrllng theory, nor a corresponding of interaction between physiologico-biological, instructional, and environmental
proposition of an instructional theory, says anything about how to secure compre- factors. Each learning outcome is a function of multiple influences interacting with
hrnsion or develop an ability (or skill) to comprehend. each other. According to many psychologists, there are no pure, inherent regulari-
Maybe, then, an instructional program can be derived from a learning program- ties of learning, independent of the nature and mode of instruction. The latter are a
that is, from a knowledge as to what learners d o in order to comprehend the text. partial function of regularities of learning, as learning regularities are a partial
This information is very important for building an instructional program but, first function of instruction. The dialectics of the situations are that the development of
of all, different learners may perform different procrsses to understand a text, and instructional strategies should draw upon information about regularities of learn-
from these processes themselves or their describing programs, i t is not clear which ing (although they cannot be derived directly from them), whereas regularities of
of them should be used as a basis of instruction or as a sources for an instructional learning themselves are determined to a grater or lesser extend by instructional
program-for teaching each particular student. Specific operations for the selec- methods and strategies that have been and are applied in the process of instruction.
tion and rvaluation of learners' programs thcrnelves should be performed by an
instructor or instructional designer to this end. and these operations are not indicated T W O OBJECTIVES O F INSTRUCTION
in any of learning programs themselvrs. On the other hand, the just-mrntioned As was mentioned earlier, prescriptive theories of learning deal with connections
problem of how to shape operations that are known to be prerequisite for achieving (regularities) of the type: "In order to originate, under certain conditions a , psy-
the desired outcome remains. Even if therr existrd a single posslble program of chological processes a , it is necessary (or sufficient) to perform learning opera-
learner activity, sufficient and necessary for attaining a specified goal, and even if tions A," whereas prescriptive theories of instruction deal with connections (regu-
we knew the precise algorithms of this activity (in order to achieve ti, i t is sufficient larities) of the type: "In order to originate, under certain conditions a, psychologi-
and necessary to perform operations A , B , C , . . . , N), we might not know how to cal processes a , it is necessary (or sufficient) to perform teaching operations A." It
teach these operations, because the methods o f shaping the operations are not con- is important t o note that teaching operations may be directed at originating result-
tained in propositions stating the dependence o f achieving the goal on the perfor- ing psychological/behavioral processes cw or learning operations A able, then, t o
mance of given operations. generate processes a , where "or" is not exclusive.
Thus, thr intormation provided by learning theories (both drscr~ptlve and pre- I t is evident that instruction in the second case would be aimed at teaching a
scriptive) and learning programs is necessary for building an instructional theory learning operation (a skill to learn), which would lead to independent acquisition
and instructional program, but not sufficient."' Instructional theor~es programs and o f the knowledge and performance skill. whereas in the first case teaching would
cannot be directly and autornaticall) drrived fronl learning theol-ics and programs. be aimed at direct development from outside of knowledge and skills, without
teaching the students how, through independent learning operations, to arrive at
this knowledge and skills on their own.* Different educational values of these
\ ~ ~ h
*Ed~tor',note. A g a ~ n .t h ~jubt rsferz lo a d s d u c t ~ \ e p p ~ o , to crheorl con\trucrlon i n ~ n d u c t ~ \ e
distinction, because different methods are required d e p n d -
*Editor's note: This is a ver). i m p r t a n ~
approach doe\ no1 depend In any W I ) on Ieam~ng [hsory or Ical-n~ng propr;lm\
ing on which type of objective is in effect (see Chapter 4, p. 84, Chapter 6, p. 194, and Chapter 8, p. 258.
68 LANDA 3. DESCRIPTIVE AND PRESCRIPTIVE THEORIES 69
a p p r o a c h e s a r e e v i d e n t . T h e first d e v e l o p s p a r t i c u l a r k n o w l e d g e a n d skill, w ~ t h o u t of ~
Pz~\k. Tlic, cl,hc,~-r~e/jc\ I I I I I I ~ieut-rtinji~ ~ I I ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ I ~ / L*)ndon:Hutchinron Wucatlonal, 1975.
( II~ O I ~ I I ~ U I I C L ~ .
d e v e l o p i n g t h e ability to learn-that a
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ihi,o~i: ~ I ~ I L I
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