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:
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.
" A person starts with a wide angle view, which allows
one to see the major part of the picture and the major relationships among
those part (e.g. the composition or balance of the picture), but without
"Zooming in at one level on a given part of the picture
allows the person to see the major subparts."
"After having studied those subparts and their interrelationships,
the person could then zoom back out to the wide-angle view to review the
other parts of the whole picture and to review the context of this part
within the whole picture."
" The person continues this pattern of zooming in
at one level to see the major subparts of a part and zooming back out
for context and review, until the whole picture has been seen at the first
level of detail."
" The person follows the same zoom-in/zoom-out pattern
for the second level of detail, the third level, and son on, until the
desired level of detail is reached."
The learner needs to develop a meaningful context into
which subsequent ideas and skills can be assimilated.
Sequencing Strategies may be topical or spiral.
Elaboration theory major strategy components (Reigeluth, 1979;
Reigeluth & Stein, 1993; Wilson & Cole, 1993)
Organizing Course Structure: An elaborative sequence:
the organizing structure may be one of three types: conceptual, procedural,
Simple to complex: choose an epitome, which contains
simplest and most fundamental ideas, in the first lesson, and then add elaborations
in subsequent lessons.
Within-lesson sequence: general to detailed, simple
to complex, abstract to concrete.
Summarizers are content reviews
Synthesizers: they are presentation devices designed to
help the learner integrate content elements into a meaningful whole and
assimilate them into prior knowledge.
Analogies relate the content to learners' prior knowledge.
Cognitive strategies: variety of cues--pictures,
diagrams, mnemonics, etc.--can trigger cognitive strategies needed for appropriate
processing of material.
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
- Topical Sequencing: a topic or task is taught to whatever depth of understanding
or competence is required before moving to the next one.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
- Base organization and sequencing decisions on learners' understandings as
well as the logic of the subject matter
- Assume a more constructivist stance toward content structure and sequencing
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?
- Phase One: Prepare for analysis and design:]
- Establish rapport with a SME
- Identify the characteristics of the task in general
- Identified the characteristics of the learners in general
- Identify the delivery constraints
- Phase Two: Identify the first learning episode:
- What is the simplest version of the task that is representative to the task
as a whole and to describe the conditions
- Organizing content: the organizing structure differs based on the nature
of the task: procedural, heuristic (causal model), or combination of both
- Supporting content: identifying information, understanding, skills, metacognitive/higher
order thinking skills, and affective qualitative directed to the task; analyze
the above information and skills down to the entry level
- Size: making sure the amount of learning required for this version of the
task fits the size of the episode for your course
- Within-episode sequence
- Phase Three: Identify the Next learning episode
- Identify the next simplest version of the task that is fairly representative
of the task as a whole
- Organizing content, supporting content, size and within-episode sequence
- Remaining version
The major contributions of this theory are identified by Reigeluth
- Detailed guidance for designing holistic sequences for several kinds of
- Guidance for scope and sequence decisions for heuristic tasks, including
heuristic task analysis methods.
Reigeluth, C. M. (1979). In search of a better way to organize instruction:
The elaboration theory. Journal of Instructional Development, 2 (3),
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.