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Concept Learning

Over the years, there have been many theories of concept learning. According to behavioral theories such as Connectionism, Contiguity Theory, or Drive Reduction Theory, concept learning was primarily a function of contiguity and stimulus/response generalization. Bruner proposed one of the first cognitive theories that involved thinking processes (i.e., hypothesis formation). Hunt (1962) outlined one of the first information processing models that was based on the simple classification of attributes. Merrill & Tennyson (1977) describe a model that focuses on attributes and examples and is based on Merrill's Component Display Theory. One of the major goals of this model was to reduce three typical errors in concept formation: overgeneralization, undergeneralization and misconception.

Tennyson & Cocchiarella (1986) suggest a model for concept teaching that has three stages: (1) establishing a connection in memory between the concept to be learned and existing knowledge, (2) improving the formation of concepts in terms of relations, and (3) facilitating the development of classification rules. This model acknowledges the declarative and procedural aspects of cognition (c.f., ACT ). Klausmeier (1974) suggests four levels of concept learning: (1) concrete - recall of critical attributes, (2) identity - recall of examples, (3) classification - generalizing to new examples, and (4) formalization - discriminating new instances.

Categorization has always been a central aspect of concept learning research (e.g., Rosch & Lloyd, 1978). Recent theory tends to include concept acquisition as part of the general reasoning processes involved in both inductive and deductive inferences.


Hunt, E.B. (1962). Concept Learning. New York: Wiley.

Klausmeier, H.J. (1980). Learning and Teaching Concepts. New York: Academic Press.

Merrill, M.D. & Tennyson, R.D. (1977). Concept Teaching: An Instructional Design Guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology.

Rosch, E. & Lloyd, B. (1978). Cognition and Categorization. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Tennyson, R.D. & Cocchiarella, M.J. (1986). An Empirically Based Instructional Design Theory for Teaching Concepts. Review of Educational Research, 56(1), 40-71.



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