Theme 1: Learning and Instruction

This ICO thematic group addresses the cognitive, metacognitive, and motivational aspects of learning and instruction. The research within this thematic group aims to advance our understanding of how people learn and how instruction can best be designed to promote learning. The processes of learning and instruction are studied either with or without ICT, at all educational levels, and across subject domains. 

As indicated by the name of this thematic group, two general lines of research can be identified: one focusing on learning and one dealing with instruction. 

The research on learning is broadly organized into three subthemes: multimedia learning, authentic learning, and collaborative learning. 

Multimedia learning. Research in this subtheme aims to build theories on learning from different types of media. It includes (hyper)text learning, multimedia learning, and hypermedia learning. This research contributes to, for example, the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (CTML) that uses a cognitive model of working memory to foster learning by controlling the high cognitive load imposed by the complexity and the transient nature of information in multimodal representations. 
Authentic learning. Research in this subtheme acknowledges the importance of the context in which learning takes place. Drawing on the notions of situated cognition, the effects of authentic learning tasks and activities on knowledge acquisition, transfer, and motivation are investigated in real-life as well as simulated (i.e., virtual) learning environments. Examples of authentic forms of education include inquiry learning, problem-based learning, learning-by-design, and game-based learning. The research on these approaches to learning seeks to contribute to the development of theories that explain how learning occurs on the basis of activities evoked by learning tasks designed around real-life problems, projects, and cases. 
Collaborative learning. Research in this subtheme aims to build theories on small-group learning. It includes peer learning (i.e., peer tutoring, peer assessment), cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and learning in communities. From a theoretical perspective, this research is rooted (either explicitly or implicitly) in the notion of distributed cognition: the idea that learning takes place by groups of individuals who interact with each other and with elements within the learning environment. These interaction processes are studied with regard to, for instance, the writing of argumentative texts, the investigation of science concepts, and the creation of representational drawings. Results of these studies aim to contribute to constructivist and socio-constructivist theories of learning. 

Instruction is taken in a broad sense, covering both full-fledged theories for creating learning arrangements (e.g., Merrill’s First Principles, and Van Merriënboer’s 4CID model), and sets of design principles for specific parts of the instructional process (e.g., scripts to enhance student collaboration, or prompts for self-explanation). The latter examples further show that ‘instruction’ refers to any form of guidance that is offered during the learning process, and is not restricted to ‘traditional’ forms of lecturing or textbook learning. As the design of instructional guidance often is a multidisciplinary endeavor, instructional theories incorporate insights from related fields such as cognitive science, computer science, neuroscience, and developmental psychology, as well as more specific insights from theories of self-regulation, student motivation, and student perceptions. 

Research on instruction aims to convert theoretical and empirical notions of learning into prescriptive theories of instruction and instructional design. Another, additional goal of this research is to validate the effectiveness of existing instructional design theories and models. Three levels of research can be distinguished. At the first level, hypotheses about the effectiveness of particular instructional principles or approaches are generated and tested in instructional settings. At the second level, instructional theories are formulated as coherent, interrelated sets of validated instructional principles. This may either be realized by proposing a ‘new’ instructional theory or by incorporating new insights into an already existing theory. At the third level, instructional theories are combined into more powerful, comprehensive frameworks. 

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