5 Tips To Use The Triarchic Theory In Online Training

5 Tips To Use The Triarchic Theory In Online Training
Summary: Acquiring and assimilating new information involves a multitude of firing synapses, mental schema, and memory banks. In other words, it’s more complicated than it looks. In this article, I’ll explain the 3 components of the Triarchic Theory, as well as 5 tips on how to use its principles in online training in order to boost knowledge retention and draw upon the experience of your corporate learners.

How To Use The Triarchic Theory In Online Training

Robert J. Sternberg, a noted human intelligence researcher, is the founder of the Triarchic Theory [1]. His cognitive learning theory suggests that there are three key components that shape our intelligence: the experiential, the contextual, and the componential component. It also states that a learner’s intelligence pertains to their environment, as well as how learners react to changes that occur within this environment over the course of their lifetime.

Basic Components Of The Triarchic Theory

The Triarchic Theory is made up of three information processing subtheories. Sternberg suggested that all three play a crucial role in determining a learner's intelligence and perceived them as intellectual "gifts":

1. Componential Subtheory

Explains the mechanisms and structures that are the basis for all intelligent behavior. It also states that all behavior falls into one of three categories: performance, metacognitive, and knowledge acquisition. This subtheory explores the cognitive processes that take place in order to generate the desired behavior. Sternberg stipulated that this was linked to "analytical giftedness"[2]. Learners who possess this gift have the ability to dissect problems and use lateral thinking skills to identify solutions, even if the answer may be more obscure. The downside to this is that they may not be able to formulate unique or innovative ideas.

2. Contextual Subtheory

This subtheory suggests that intelligent behavior is directly related to the sociocultural context where it occurs. It also pertains to the learner's ability to adapt to the environment, select a more conducive environment, and shape their current environment. In short, the Contextual subtheory shows the connection between the behavior itself, and the task, problem, or situation in which the behavior takes place. It also states that the learner's level of experience plays a vital role. According to Sternberg, this ties into the gift of practical intelligence. Learners who possess this form of "practical giftedness" [2] are able to adjust and adapt based on the situation and surroundings.

3. Experiential Subtheory

The third and final subtheory pertains to experience and familiarity. Learners who have performed a task on numerous occasions will be more familiar with the steps involved because they have more experience. According to Sternberg, there are two types of experience to consider:

  • Novel
    "Novel" situations are brand new for the learner. They have never performed the task before, but experientially intelligent learners can use their previously acquired knowledge and skill sets to complete the process.
  • Automation
    "Automated" situations involve tasks that are very familiar, thanks to the fact that they have been carried out numerous times in the past. Learners can simply go through the motions to accomplish the task, and can even multitask in some cases.

Applying 5 KeyPrinciples Of The Triarchic Theory In Online Training

There are 5 principles that underlie the Triarchic Theory. Here is an explanation of each, as well as 5 tips to help you use them in your online training course design:

1. Online training experiences should be relevant to employees from a sociocultural standpoint.

Research your corporate audience to learn as much as possible about their social, cultural, educational, and experiential backgrounds. This allows you to create online training courses that align with their needs and provide relevant skills and knowledge. Focus groups, observations, and interviews are ideal feedback tools for this task.

2. The online training program must show the connection between the online training content and real-world applications and behaviors.

Every online training module, activity, and online assessment must tie into real world objectives. Use branching scenarios and online training simulations to offer your employees on-the-job experience. This also gives them the opportunity to explore potential problems and determine the best online training approach. You should also clearly identify the real world benefits before they begin the online training program. Not only does this help to increase their motivation, but it allows them to contextualize the information throughout the online training process.

3. Online training programs should provide employees with strategies they can use for "novel" situations and tasks.

Your employees are going to come across new tasks, problems, and situations that can stand in the way of success. However, you can provide them with the online training tools and resources they need to overcome these obstacles by integrating "moment of need" tutorials, serious games, and video demos. This offers them a visual guide that they can follow to learn every step and explore the potential outcomes.

4. Online training should provide detailed instructions for interactions between "executive" and "non-executive" information processing.

Executive processes are used to monitor and modify the cognitive strategies that relate to information processing, while non-executive processes are the tasks that set these plans into motion. It's important to have both processes clearly outlined in your online training strategy and to identify all of the steps involved. This also includes how the executive and non-executive processes relate to one another.

5. Online Training must encourage employees to "manifest their differences" in terms of their learning needs and personal goals.

Develop personalized online training paths for your employees and encourage them to set their own goals. Identify their specific needs by conducting diagnostic assessments and surveys, which can also help you determine their preferred learning patterns. If necessary, pair them with a mentor to offer them the support they need to fine tune their learning strategy and brainstorm new solutions to common challenges.

Sternberg concentrated his studies primarily on syllogistic reasoning, analogies, and exceptional intelligence. However, it can be applied in a wide range of settings, especially skill development and the identification of learning patterns. Thus, it’s an ideal match for online training programs that center on performance and skill gaps.

Are you looking for ways to make your online training program more cohesive and efficient? Read the article 4 Key Components For Developing Online Training Standards to discover the main components that can help you develop online training standards for your organization.


  1. Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Triarchic Theory Of Intelligence