Instructional Design Models and Theories: Elaboration Theory

The Quintessential of Elaboration Theory

The Elaboration Theory relies upon the idea that instruction should be offered to learners in increasing order of difficulty. For example, if the instructor wants to teach the learner a more complex process or idea, he/she should begin by providing the learner with the most basic version of the process, and then gradually present lessons that work up to the desired result. Throughout each of the lessons the learner should receive a summary of the previous lessons, so that he/she can fully grasp each step of the process.

The 3 Steps of Elaboration Theory

The goal of the Elaboration Theory is to allow learners to build necessary skill sets by completing each lesson, and to fully understand the concepts that are being taught during the learning process. The main steps involved in the Elaboration Theory are as follows:

  1. The learners will begin the lesson with a “broad scope” picture of the problem or task. This will allow them to see all of the steps or parts of the problem, so that they can understand the relationship between these components.
  2. The learners will then be encouraged to focus on the first step in the process, or a simplified version of one of the problems/components that they had previously viewed while examining the “broad scope” picture.
  3. After the learners have examined and learned each of the steps or mastered the components, they are then asked to look at the larger picture (which is the whole problem or task) once again.

There are two sequencing types: topical or spiral. Topical sequencing involves lessons that are taught until the learners have mastered the content, and then they will move onto the next topic. On the other hand, spiral sequencing involves the mastery of a particular topic gradually, wherein they take a look at the fundamentals of each topic, before going back to learn more about each individual subject or step.

The Fundamental Strategies of Elaboration Theory

The Elaboration Theory involves a variety of fundamental strategies or tools that enable the learners to actively engage in the learning process and grasp all of the concepts, which can be applied to virtually any instructional design plan:

  • Organizing the Structure of the Coursework
    The course must be organized in such a way that each lesson elaborates upon the previous lesson in the sequence. This can be done in one of three ways: conceptually, theoretically, or procedurally.
  • The simple to complex theory
    Each lesson must go from simple to more complex, allowing the learners to build upon knowledge that they collected from the previous step in the process.
  • Sequences within the lesson itself
    The lesson must begin with a general overview, followed by a more detailed look. This can also be applied to abstract concepts, which are then viewed as more concrete or real-world based steps.
  • Summaries of the content
    The instructor should encourage the learners to summarize what they have already learned and provide them with an overview of all previously learned steps at the end of each lesson.
  • Cognitive strategies
    Learners acquire the knowledge better, when they use cognitive strategies either consciously or unconsciously. For example, the use of diagrams makes an impact on how the learner processes and interacts with the learning material (imbedded strategy). In addition, the instructor may lead the learner to a previously acquired cognitive strategy (detached strategy) by posing specific questions.
  • Learner Control
    The learners are encouraged to have complete control over how the instruction is carried out and the content being learned.
  • Analogies or Metaphors
    These allow the learners to relate the content to real world scenarios or knowledge that they have already collected.

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