What is concept classification?
There are three major ways that a concept can be learned. You can memorize either its definition, or a particular instance and its name. You can understand it to be able to describe it in your own words and explain its relationship to other things you know. Or you can learn to apply it in new (previously unencountered) situations. This third type of behavior is what we call skill application. In this lesson we are only concerned with one of the three levels of learning for concepts: applying them, which is commonly called concept classification.
Why is concept classification important?
Concept classification is one of the most common types of learning. Robert Gagné (1985) has shown that concepts are the building blocks for most of the cognitive capabilities we possess. Let's look at how concepts are involved in rule-using (principle-using and procedure-using) capabilities.
Principles describe changes in things. Those "things" are concepts which are simpler components of the principle and must be mastered before it is possible for a learner to master the principle. For example, the law of supply and demand describes relationships among changes in price, supply, and demand. Those three concepts must be mastered before the law of supply and demand can be mastered.
Procedures describe how to change things (to achieve a goal). Those "things" are also concepts which are simpler components of the procedure and must be mastered before the procedure can be learned. For example, the procedure for dividing fractions indicates that the divisor must be inverted, the resulting numerators must be multiplied to form the new numerator, and the denominators must be multiplied to form the new denominator. The three concepts--divisor, numerator, and denominator--must be mastered before it is possible to master the procedure (although it is not necessary to learn those labels). Also, procedures often require the use of tools to perform a step, and those tools are concepts.
Given the importance of concept classification, it is essential that we know how to teach it well. Fortunately, much research has been done in this area, so we understand much about how concept classification is learned and what features instruction should have to best help learners learn it.
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- Concept Classification by Charles M. Reigeluth. Used by Permission.