Instructional design/Cognitive behaviors/Invariant Tasks: Defined

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Source: Invariant Tasks by Charles M. Reigeluth. Used by Permission.

What are Invariant Tasks?

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Invariant tasks require memorizing factual information or routine procedures. They do not require any understanding, nor do they require learning how to deal with variation. They require what Ausubel (1968) referred to as "rote" learning.

There are several quite different kinds of memorization, each of which is learned a bit differently:

  • A list is a number of items, mental and/or physical, which need to be memorized. List learning is a rote form of learning, requiring no meaningful understanding of the items in the list and no variation from one performance of the invariant task to another.
  • A mental list requires only cognitive learning, such as the names of all the products your company sells, or the mental actions involved in translating quarts into gallons.
  • A physical list requires learning physical actions as well, such as learning to change the oil in your car.

If a list needs to be "performed" (e.g., stated or acted out) in a certain order, it is called an ordered list. For example, the "Pledge of Allegiance" is an ordered mental list, sometimes called a "verbal chain". And changing the oil in your car is an ordered physical list, sometimes called a "rote procedure" (the used oil must be drained before the new oil is added). Singing the scales, applying for travel funds in your company, and initializing a diskette are also rote procedures. Keep in mind that in some rote procedures (mental or physical) the order doesn't matter, as long as you do all the "steps."

An association is a one-to-one correspondence between two items, such as a product and its price or a state and its capital. Items can include objects, pictures, sounds, symbols, actions, and much more, but learning names for things is perhaps the most common kind of association learning. Of course it is possible for lists of associations to be learned, such as the capitals of all the countries in South America or the prices of all the products your company offers.

Which kind of memorization does your project entail?

Why are Invariant Tasks Important?

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Memorization has a bad name in educational circles. Since it is the easiest type of learning to teach and to measure (test), it is overused. We often require our learners to memorize things which don't really need to be memorized, and we fail to teach as many of the higher types of learning as our learners need because we have spent so much time on memorization.

But there are some important invariant tasks in the world, and the only way it makes sense to learn them is memorization. Most higher forms of learning are not possible unless certain information has been memorized first, to the point where it is an "automatic" "response-that" is, we don't have to think about it, which frees us to use our cognitive resources on higher matters. The addition facts in math and the sounds of individual letters in reading are cases in point. We also need to memorize the names of things in order to be able to communicate about them.

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