Strategies for Declarative Knowledge Instruction

Learning strategies are devices employed by learners to assist in the acquisition of knowledge and skills.  Instruction should guide the learner in the choice of appropriate learning strategies for particular learning tasks.  Facilitating the learning of declarative knowledge, concepts, procedures, principles, problem solving, cognitive, attitudes, and psychomotor skills begins with decisions on what content should be presented, how it should be presented, and in what sequence the instruction should follow (Smith and Ragan, 2005).  Ideally, an instructional strategy should be as generative as possible while still offering motivational support for learners.

Micro-Level Instructional Strategies

Lesson (micro)-level instructional strategies should include an Introduction, Body, Conclusion, and Learning Assessment.  Because adult learners need to know why they need to learn, strategies that deploy attention, arouse interest and motivation, establish instructional purpose, and provide a preview of the lesson should be included in the Introduction.  Strategies that facilitate the recall of prior knowledge, process information, focus attention, facilitate learning, provide practice, and give feedback should be included in the Body.  The Conclusion should include a summary and review, strategies to assure the transfer of knowledge, and exemplification of the usability of the new knowledge.

Exemplification is necessary to demonstrate to adult learners how this new knowledge can be applied in their workplace or daily lives.  Assessment of performance, feedback and remediation should also be included.

Declarative knowledge (labels and names, facts and lists, and organized discourse) is factual knowledge and often associated with rote memory. It is often what we want our learners to understand about the content, and therefore is common to all types of learning.  Numerous events of instruction in lessons for declarative knowledge may be either delivered by instruction or produced by the learners themselves.

Learning Strategies and Assessment of Declarative Knowledge

Considering the cognitive learning theory as a basis for designing instruction for declarative knowledge, a cognitive learning environment would include instruction that is organized and activities that guide the mental processes of the learner.  In a cognitive learning environment, learning is considered to have taken place when learners have committed the new information into their memories.

Assessment of declarative knowledge is based on the learners’ ability to remember information that has been presented through instruction and can be measured by multiple choice or true and false questions (recognition items) and essay questions (constructed answers).

Activities Common to All Declarative Knowledge Learning

Three activities common to all declarative knowledge learning are linking, organizing, and elaborating.

  • Linking prior knowledge to new knowledge brings meaning to the new information and allows the learner to store the incoming information in long-term memory.
  • Organizing (chunking) facilitates learning of declarative knowledge by chunking, separating, subordinating, and creating relationships to the new learning received and is particularly useful in processing information in learning labels and names and in learning lists.
  • Elaboration is another activity that helps fill in the gaps when new declarative knowledge is received and is useful in learning labels and names and can also be used to initially engage the learner with the material.

Other Appropriate Learning Strategies for Declarative Knowledge Learning

In addition to linking, organizing, and elaboration, learning strategies that are appropriate for declarative knowledge learning are advance organizers, metaphoric devices, imagery, analogy, and concept mapping, mnemonics, and rehearsal (Smith and Ragan, 2005).

  • Advance Organizers are used to provide support for new information and can be employed to both preview the lesson and stimulate recall of prior learning.  An advance organizer is information that is presented prior to learning and that can be used by the learner to organize and interpret new incoming information (Mayer, 2003).
  • Metaphoric devices, which include the use of metaphor and analogies, can link prior knowledge to new knowledge.
  • Imagery is an associational technique that includes the use of verbal descriptions of images, which sometimes employs more effervescent mental imagery than could be achieved by the presentation of pictures or video.
  • Analogies are associative strategies to the processing of information in organized discourse.
  • Concept mapping is an explicit way of representing relationships among concepts, allow students to demonstrate their cognitive skills with minimal writing, and can be used to assess learner’s comprehension of new material.
  • Mnemonic techniques are associational techniques used in processing information for learning of facts and lists and include such devices as single-use coding, pegwords, method of loci, and keyword technique.
  • Rehearsal involves thinking and can be quite valuable when used in conjunction with other strategies.

Limitations of Declarative Knowledge Strategies

Drawing on the theory of constructivism, strategies for declarative knowledge instruction may be limited if the learner is unable to associate new knowledge with prior knowledge.  In addition, time constraints may be a barrier to using certain devices, such as concept maps, because learning how to construct and use them takes additional time.


Instructional strategies certainly have their advantages in assisting learners in the acquisition of knowledge and skills.  Instructional designers should carefully perform a task analysis, analyze learners, and the analyze the context when designing instruction to make a determination to facilitate the use of strategies with more direct prompting of learning strategies or more direct and complete instruction.  If inhibitors to use of strategies are present (learners have low skill in strategy use, learners are not motivated, learners do not recognize the applicability of the strategy, learners lack awareness of their own cognitive capabilities, learners are unaware of the learning task, learners have no prior content knowledge, etc.) the instructional designer may need to develop a technique to improve them or choose strategies with more direct prompting or instruction that is more direct.  A continuing goal of the instructional designer is to apply the different types of instructional strategies to best achieve the different types of learning.




Mayer, R. (2003).  Learning and instruction. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T. J. (2005).  Instructional design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey:  Wiley Jossey-Bass Education

By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A. Human Resource Development


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