Elaboration theory is one of the cognitivist models for instructional design proposed by Charles Reigeluth and his associates in the late 1970s. It was based on the cognitive research findings available at the time and influenced by works of Jerome Bruner (see: discovery learning) and David Ausubel (see: assimilation theory)1). Very well accepted, elaboration theory was offering suggestions on how to organize and sequence different types of instruction on macro level.2) For organizing instructions on the micro level, Reigeluth suggested using Dave Merrill's component display theory.
The key principle of the elaboration theory is that the content being taught should be organized starting from the simplest and then increasing order of complexity and that learner has to develop a concept in which new ideas will be meaningful and well accepted.
In context of elaboration theory, Reigeluth distinguishes between domain expertise (the process of becoming an expert in the body of knowledge of a more theoretical discipline) and task expertise (the process of becoming an expert in the procedural knowledge of a discipline involving more practical tasks). In order to teach a student to become one of the two, elaboration theory suggests instruction should be organized in the following eight strategies3)4):
Criticisms of the elaboration theory resulted in a new more holistic approach presented by Reigeluth in 1992, called simplifying conditions method (SCM). In simplifying conditions method Reigeluth suggested instructional designers should “work with experts to identify a simple case that is as representative as possible of the task as a whole”6). This representative would serve as an epitome of the course.
The first criticism of elaboration theory applies to the fact that it is more a model or a design procedure than a learning theory. It has been suggested7) elaboration theory should be reformulated into a set of principles more related to the very process of learning.
Other criticisms of this theory come from distinguishing between only three different knowledge types (theories, procedures and concepts). This is a simplifying design constraint, yet there are surveys8)9)10) that resulted in different, sometimes significantly larger number of knowledge categories.
Another critic of this theory bases on the used assumption that most general concepts are always closest to learner's prior understanding, which has shown to be unfounded by Wilson and Cole11), especially in case of an ill-defined learning domain.
Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth) at Learning Theories. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
TIP: Elaboration Theory (C. Reigeluth). Retrieved March 8, 2011.
Ho, Weny. Reigeluth's Elaboration Theory. Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
Reigeluth, C.M. The elaboration theory: Guidance for scope and sequence decisions. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory. (Volume II). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. 1999.