Instructional Strategies for Cognitive Strategy 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.

Instructional Approaches to Teaching Cognitive Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are naturally cognitively based.  They can be broken down into two categories:  Cognitive domain strategies (organization, rehearsal, elaboration) and Affective domain strategies (self-motivational skills such as time management, stress reduction techniques).

Seven approaches to teaching cognitive strategies as identified by Pressley, Snyder, and Cargilia-Bull (1987) are discovery and guided discovery (instructor leads the learner to discover a particular strategy), observation (cooperative application of cognitive strategies with paired learners), guided participation (the learners and instructor together determine the characteristics of a learning task), strategy instruction in books and courses (predetermined instruction on strategies), direct explanation, largely teacher directed (teaches the procedure of the strategy), dyadic instruction (one-to-one interaction between the learner and a knowledgeable adult), and self-instructional training (self-directed learning and active interactions with a teacher who provides model and feedback)   (as cited in Smith and Ragan, 2005).  Learning strategies are generated by contrasting the new strategy with strategies the learner already knows.  Assessment of performance should be ongoing and is based on the learners’ ability to apply the strategy to appropriate learning tasks.


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.


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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