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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Adult Learning (K. P. Cross)

Adult Learning (K. P. Cross)

Cross (1981) presents the Characteristics of Adults as Learners (CAL) model in the context of her analysis of lifelong learning programs. The model attempts to integrate other theoretical frameworks for adult learning such as andragogy ( Knowles ), experiential learning ( Rogers ), and lifespan psychology.
The CAL model consists of two classes of variables: personal characteristics and situational characteristics. Personal characteristics include: aging, life phases, and developmental stages. These three dimensions have different characteristics as far as lifelong learning is concerned. Aging results in the deterioration of certain sensory-motor abilities (e.g., eyesight, hearing, reaction time) while intelligence abilities (e.g., decision-making skills, reasoning, vocabulary) tend to improve. Life phases and developmental stages (e.g., marriage, job changes, retirement) involve a series of plateaus and transitions which may or may not be directly related to age.
Situational characteristics consist of part-time versus full-time learning, and voluntary versus compulsory learning. The administration of learning (i.e., schedules, locations, procedures) is strongly affected by the first variable; the second pertains to the self-directed, problem-centered nature of most adult learning.
The CAL model is intended to provide guidelines for adult education programs. There is no known research to support the model.
Consider three adults: a nursing student, a new parent, and a middle-aged social worker about to take a course on child development. Each of these individuals differs in age (20,30,40) and life/developmental phases (adolescent/searching, young/striving, mature/stable). They also differ in terms of situational characteristics: for the nursing student, the course is full-time and compulsory, for the parent, it is part-time and optional; for the social worker it is part-time but required. According to the CA L model, a different learning program might be necessary for these three individuals to accomodate the differences in personal and situational characteristics.
1. Adult learning programs should capitalize on the experience of participants.
2. Adult learning programs should adapt to the aging limitations of the participants.
3. Adults should be challenged to move to increasingly advanced stages of personal development.
4. Adults should have as much choice as possible in the availability and organization of learning programs.
Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cross, K.P. (1976). Accent on Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Related Web Sites:
For more about adult learning, see:

ACT (J. Anderson)

ACT* (J. Anderson)

ACT* is a general theory of cognition developed by John Anderson and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon Univeristy that focuses on memory processes . It is an elaboration of the original ACT theory (Anderson, 1976) and builds upon HAM, a model of semantic memory proposed by Anderson & Bower (1973). Anderson (1983) provides a complete description of ACT*. In addition, Anderson (1990) provides his own critique of ACT* and Anderson (1993) provides the outline for a broader development of the theory. See the CMU ACT site for the most up-to-date information on the theory.

ACT* distinguishes among three types of memory structures: declarative, procedural and working memory. Declarative memory takes the form of a semantic net linking propositions, images, and sequences by associations. Procedural memory (also long-term) represents information in the form of productions; each production has a set of conditions and actions based in declarative memory. The nodes of long-term memory all have some degree of activation and working memory is that part of long-term memory that is most highly activated.
According to ACT*, all knowledge begins as declarative information; procedural knowledge is learned by making inferences from already existing factual knowledge. ACT* supports three fundamental types of learning: generalization, in which productions become broader in their range of application, discrimination, in which productions become narrow in their range of application, and strengthening, in which some productions are applied more often. New productions are formed by the conjunction or disjunction of existing productions.
ACT* can explain a wide variety of memory effects as well as account for higher order skills such as geometry proofs, programming and language learning (see Anderson, 1983; 1990). ACT* has been the basis for intelligent tutors (Anderson, Boyle, Farrell & Reiser, 1987).
One of the strengths of ACT is that it includes both proposition and procedural representation of knowledge as well as accounting for the use of goals and plans. For example, here is a production rule that could be used to convert declarative sentences into a question:
IF the goal is to question whether the proposition (LVrelation LVagent LVobject) is true THEN set as subgoals
1. to plan the communication (LVrelation LVagent LVobject)
2. to move the first word in the description of LVrelation to the beginning of the sentence
3. to execute the plan
This production rule could be used to convert the sentence: "The lawyer is buying the car." into the question: "Is the lawyer buying the car?"
1. Identify the goal structure of the problem space.
2. Provide instruction in the context of problem-solving.
3. Provide immediate feedback on errors.
4. Minimize working memory load.
5. Adjust the "grain size" of instruction with learning to account for the knowledge compilation process.
6. Enable the student to approach the target skill by successive approximation.
Anderson, J. (1976). Language, Memory and Thought. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Anderson, J. (1983). The Architecture of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Anderson, J. (1990). The Adaptive Character of Thought. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Anderson, J. (1993). Rules of the Mind. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Anderson, J. & Bower, G. (1973). Human Associative Memory. Washington, DC: Winston.
Anderson, J., Boyle, C., Farrell, R. & Reiser, B. (1987). Cognitive principles in the design of computer tutors. In P. Morris (ed.), Modeling Cognition. NY: John Wiley.

Note: Many of Anderson’s articles are available from his CMU home page at

Cognitive Dissonance (L. Festinger)

Cognitive Dissonance (L. Festinger)

According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.
Two factors affect the strength of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance attached to each belief. There are three ways to eliminate dissonance: (1) reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs, (2) add more consonant beliefs that outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or (3) change the dissonant beliefs so that they are no longer inconsistent.
Dissonance occurs most often in situations where an individual must choose between two incompatible beliefs or actions. The greatest dissonance is created when the two alternatives are equally attractive. Furthermore, attitude change is more likely in the direction of less incentive since this results in lower dissonance. In this respect, dissonance theory is contradictory to most behavioral theories which would predict greater attitude change with increased incentive (i.e., reinforcement).

Dissonance theory applies to all situations involving attitude formation and change. It is especially relevant to decision-making and problem-solving.
Consider someone who buys an expensive car but discovers that it is not comfortable on long drives. Dissonance exists between their beliefs that they have bought a good car and that a good car should be comfortable. Dissonance could be eliminated by deciding that it does not matter since the car is mainly used for short trips (reducing the importance of the dissonant belief) or focusing on the cars strengths such as safety, appearance, handling (thereby adding more consonant beliefs). The dissonance could also be eliminated by getting rid of the car, but this behavior is a lot harder to achieve than changing beliefs.
1. Dissonance results when an individual must choose between attitudes and behaviors that are contradictory.
2. Dissonance can be eliminated by reducing the importance of the conflicting beliefs, acquiring new beliefs that change the balance, or removing the conflicting attitude or behavior.

Brehm, J. & Cohen, A. (1962). Explorations in Cognitive Dissonance. New York: Wiley.
Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Festinger, L. & Carlsmith, J.M. (1959). Cognitive Consquences of Forced Compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-210. [available at]
Wickland, R. & Brehm, J. (1976). Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance. NY: Halsted Press.

Relevant Web Sites:
Some relevant web sites to examine include: