Structural learning theory is one of the cognitivist perspectives on instructional design proposed by Joseph Scandura in 1970s. Scandura's theory suggests human knowledge is consisted of rules which are to be learned. Those rules are determined by parameters of domain, procedure, and range.
Structural learning theory suggests that structures (problems) that a learner must learn, need to be formed as rules performed on a domain.
A domain here is defined as a set of characterizing inputs and outputs. Inputs and outputs can be anything, even a process, an idea or a concept. For example:
Operations performed on given inputs are called rules, and they generate unique outputs. Rules can contain different levels of abstraction and are always defined with three parameters:
For example: a rule form present participle has the domain of all English verbs, the range of present participles and the procedure of adding “-ing” ending to the verb.
Rules can be simplified into lower-order rules (atomic components) which represent most basic concepts learner needs to know when dealing with a problem from given domain. By combining these atomic components and application of more complicated to lower order rules new higher-order rules are derived. Higher-order rules are rules which can have other rules as inputs or outputs (for example mathematical theorems) and they can be used to solve complex problems in the whole domain.
Structural learning theory further attempts to identify components crucial for solving the given problem and is based on the procedure called structural analysis. Structural analysis is performed in the following steps:
An important part of the theory is also prior knowledge (rules) of the learner, that will enable construction of new rules. This knowledge can be examined by instructor, that can be both human or artificial.
An example of application of structural learning on learning how to subtract:2)
Structural learning theory's applications have been made in mathematics and language learning.
Instructional Design Theory Database Project: Structural Learning Theory. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
TIP: Structural Learning Theory (J. Scandura). Retrieved March 16, 2011.