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Which architecture is best? No yellow brick road

Each of the four architectures is powerful for specific performance outcomes and learning audiences. In brief, there are two major outcomes you might desire: to inform or to perform. Inform outcomes suggest that the main goal is to build awareness or enthusiasm for information. Perform outcomes imply the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Perform outcomes in turn can be divided into two major categories: procedural and principle-based. Procedural outcomes are those that support learning of step-by-step tasks that are completed in the same way each time.

Principle outcomes support tasks that require judgement in adapting guidelines to unique situations each time. For example, using the ATM or logging onto e-mail are procedural tasks;while designing a software program or making a sale are more principled in nature.

In addition to the performance outcome desired, the architectures are also better suited to different learners based on their prior experience. Novices generally perform better under more directive conditions, while more experienced learners do well with either guided discovery or exploratory environments. The following table summarizes the major features, goals, and applications for each architecture. Of course, there are few pure architectures because much instruction is a blend of two or more architectures. However, reflecting on the performance outcomes that are desired from the instruction and the type of learners involved is a good idea as you select your overall instructional design.

Architecture Features Goals Sample applications
Receptive Provides linear information—typically with low learner control and few interactions To inform or motivate performers Briefings, marketing summaries, overviews
Directive Short lessons

Frequent practice

Corrective feedback

Simple to complex

To teach procedural skills to novices Training on new computer systems, mathematical computations, and so forth
Guided discovery Problem-based

Situates learning in job-like environment

Uses simulation to compress experience

Errors are encouraged

Support is provided through coaching and expert models

To build expert-like problem solving knowledge and skills

To accelerate expertise in principle-based domains

Acquiring skills in principle-based domains such as designing computer programs, deciding whether a loan should be made, evaluating data for specific criteria, and so forth
Exploratory High learner control

Provides rich environment for learners to explore

Provides effective navigation for learner orientation

For reference or for training of learners with good self-regulatory skills Learning a new programming language, researching information, and so forth

The next section provides an overview of the human cognitive processes that are involved in learning, as well as the specific instructional methods that facilitate each of the major processes. The interaction between the four architectures and the cognitive processes will also be reviewed.

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