Concept Learning

Concept Learning

Description of Concept Learning

Concept learning is the classification of objects, events, or ideas based on similar characteristics (Merrill, Tennyson & Posey, 1992). M.D. Merrill, R.D. Tennyson & L. O. Posey are major contributors to this area of learning. In their book Teaching Concepts: An Instructional Design Guide, they present ten steps to instructional design using the concept learning theory:

Step 1: Learn the terms
Step 2: Decide if lesson is needed
Step 3: Analyze content
Step 4: Define concepts
Step 5: Develop instance pool
Step 6: Estimate instance difficulty
Step 7: Prepare classification test
Step 8: Design learner guidance
Step 9: Design strategy
Step 10: Evaluate materials

Why Use Concept Learning?

The basis for using concept learning is to simplify the learning process for the learner. The thought is that the learner will be able to digest several smaller steps easier than a single large step (Joshi, 2010). The concepts can be built upon once understood, so the learner can more easily understand more complex material later in the instruction.

Example application of Concept Learning


Concept learning can be applied to bank teller training. The tellers need to be able to recognize and process several different types of transactions. The teller can determine how to process the transaction by placing it in the correct category. By using Merrill, Tennyson & Posey’s ten steps an instructor can organize their thoughts and communicate them clearly to their student, in an effective, efficient, and engaging manner.


Galitsky, B. & Lluis de la Rosa, J. (2011). Concept-based learning of human behavior for customer relationship management. Information Sciences. 182, 2016-2035. Abstract from: EBSCO

Joshi, S. (2010). Concept learning by example decomposition. Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence. 22 (1), 1-21. Abstract from: EBSCO

Klausmeier, H. J. (1992). Concept learning and concept teaching. Educational Psychologist. 27 (3), 267-286. Abstract from EBSCO

Merrill, M. D. (2008). Reflections on a four decade search for effective, efficient and engaging instruction. Micheal Allen’s 20008 e-Learning Annual. 1, 141-167. Available:

Merrill, M. D., Tennyson, R. D., & Posey, L. O. (1992) Teaching Concepts: An Instructional Design Guide. (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications, Inc.

Concept learning. (2011, July 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:36, July 4, 2011, from

Created by: Kelly Werner