Reigeluth's Elaboration Theory

The elaboration theory provides a macro prescriptive framework for selecting, sequencing, synthesizing and summarizing the content. Reigeluth (1979) indicated that the elaboration theory deals primarily with macro strategies for organizing instruction.

The prescriptive principles are:

  1. Instruction should be organized in increasing order of complexity for optimal learning: choose an epitome and add elaborations in subsequent lessons. Reigeluth (1979) used the analogy of a zoom lens to explain the nature of this elaborative sequence.
  1. The learner needs to develop a meaningful context into which subsequent ideas and skills can be assimilated.
  2. Sequencing Strategies may be topical or spiral.

Elaboration theory major strategy components (Reigeluth, 1979; Reigeluth & Stein, 1993; Wilson & Cole, 1993)

  1. Organizing Course Structure: An elaborative sequence: the organizing structure may be one of three types: conceptual, procedural, or theoretical
  2. Simple to complex: choose an epitome, which contains simplest and most fundamental ideas, in the first lesson, and then add elaborations in subsequent lessons.
  3. Within-lesson sequence: general to detailed, simple to complex, abstract to concrete.
  4. Summarizers are content reviews
  5. Synthesizers: they are presentation devices designed to help the learner integrate content elements into a meaningful whole and assimilate them into prior knowledge.
  6. Analogies relate the content to learners' prior knowledge.
  7. Cognitive strategies: variety of cues--pictures, diagrams, mnemonics, etc.--can trigger cognitive strategies needed for appropriate processing of material.
  8. Learner control: Learners are encouraged to exercise control over both content and instructional strategy. Clear labeling and separation of strategy components facilitates effective learner control of those components.

Two fundamental types of sequencing strategies in elaboration theory

  1. Topical Sequencing: a topic or task is taught to whatever depth of understanding or competence is required before moving to the next one.
  2. Spiral Sequencing: the learners mater a topic or task gradually in several passes, i.e. learning the basics of one topic, then another, then another before returning t learn more about each topics.

Wilson and Cole (1992) make four recommendations for restructuring Reigeluth's elaboration theory:

  1. Deproceduralize the theory: In its current form, explicit steps are provided for designing and sequencing instruction. Elaboration theory should be reformulated into a set of guiding principles referenced more clearly to learning processes. A principle-based formulation will allow practicing designers to adapt the concepts to a greater variety of instructional situations.
  2. Remove unnecessary design constraints: A number of ET prescriptions constrain designer options without a demonstrable return in the form of instructional effectiveness. Examples include: the use of three primary structures (conceptual, procedural, and theoretical); tying together the primary course goal and primary organizing structure; and using a single structure as a basis for organizing the entire course. These prescriptions make ET's application more standardized and parsimonious.
  3. Base organization and sequencing decisions on learners' understandings as well as the logic of the subject matter
  4. Assume a more constructivist stance toward content structure and sequencing strategy

A New Approach: SCM (Simplifying Conditions Method)
Reigeluth (1999) proposed a specific method to provide practical guidelines to make a very different kind of simple-to-complex sequence from the hierarchical sequence. It is more holistic approach than the hierarchical task analysis.

How to design an SCM sequence?

  1. Phase One: Prepare for analysis and design:]
  1. Phase Two: Identify the first learning episode:
  1. Phase Three: Identify the Next learning episode

The major contributions of this theory are identified by Reigeluth (1999):

Reigeluth, C. M. (1979). In search of a better way to organize instruction: The elaboration theory. Journal of Instructional Development, 2 (3), 8-15.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). The elaboration theory: Guidance for Scope and Sequences Decisions. In R. M. Reigeluth, (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: An new paradigm of instructional theory, Volume II, pp. 425-454. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Stein, R. (1983). Elaboration theory. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status. Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum.

Wilson, B., & Cole, P. (1992). A critical review of elaboration theory. Educational Technology Research and Development, 40 (3), 63-79.