Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

 

Cognitive Flexibility Theory

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to restructure knowledge in multiple ways depending on the changing situational demands (i.e. difficulty or complexity of the situation) (Spiro, 1995). The major goal of cognitive flexibility is to help develop the learner’s ability to understand various situations (Graddy, 2001).

Our mind is flexible and can accommodate in different situations. Our mind has the ability to adapt to fit in new knowledge. The theory is concerned with transfer of knowledge and skills. The focus of this theory is on the nature of learners when learning complex and ill structured learning areas. Thus information should be presented using examples and preferably diverse case studies. This theory is built on constructivist theory; the learner must be given opportunity to develop their own representations of information in order to learn.

Cognitive flexibility theory emphasizes case analysis. However, the focus is on experiences in analyzing the aspects of the topic being discussed. It emphasizes looking at various components of an illustration and connectivity among important case elements. These aspects help develop a hypertext instructional environment. This type of interface allows the learner to progress from several levels of the material by starting/moving to any point in the thought process. Flexibility is developed in the hierarchical structure which focuses the learner to proceed in a linear fashion (Graddy, 2001).

Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Theorist

Rand J. Spiro
Cognitive Flexibility Theory was founded by Dr. Spiro along with Paul Feltovich and Richard Coulson. They deal with applying this knowledge to new approaches while designing hypermedia. His research includes knowledge acquisition in complex domains, hypermedia learning environments, multimedia case-based methods in professional education, biomedical cognition, and constructive processes in comprehension and recall (WCER, 2004). Most of his research deals with trying to find out ways to avoid over simplifying of instructions while designing them.
More>>

Paul J. Feltovitch
Paul J. Feltovich, Ph.D. has conducted research and published on expert-novice/understanding-misunderstandings in instructions in complex and ill-structured knowledge domains based on cognitive flexibility theory (IHMC, 2007).
More>>

Richard L. Coulson
Richard L. Coulson is a retired Physiology Faculty but currently working as an Emeritus Visiting Professor at the Southern Illinois University.
More>>

Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Diagram

Figure 1: Related Concepts

Figure 1: WCER (2004 cepts)

Figure 2: Honegger (2007)

Figure 3: Four Structural Components Identified by Cognitive Flexibility

Figure 3: Graddy (2001, Figure 1)

Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Terms

Constructivism: Cognitive Flexibility Theory supports the basic assumptions of constructivism. It promotes authentic, realistic experiences for each individual. It encourages the use of multiple pathways and multiple purposes when approaching problems. The theory presented in this paper has been recently developed. There is a great need to test the application of Cognitive Flexibility Theory in various knowledge domains (Boger-Mehall, 2007).
Hypertext: “Cognitive Flexibility Hypertexts (CFH) is compared to ‘intellectual erector sets.”” It offers a format to help create or build. Open-ended exploration is provided to help manipulate information with three-dimensional effect for learners to build knowledge. Hypertext is a computer-supported approach that supports instruction aimed at cognitive flexibility. Hypertext includes information provided as hypermedia and/or hyperdocuments.

The basic building blocks of hypertext documents are nodes and links.

a. Nodes are pieces of information as small as a picture or as large as an article.
b. Links allow a user to navigate between nodes. Each user can pick their own method to move between the nodes. There are two basic types of links referential and organizational:

i. Referential links from node to node
ii. Organizational links communicate to show the relationship between the nodes

(Jonassen, 1991, p. 84).

Case-Based Learning: "The theory of cognitive flexibility leads to case-based learning" (Graddy, 2001). Here, learners should be provided with several cases so that it can help gain experience in varied situations. After that the cases should be broken down into mini-cases to see the overlapping nature of the cases i.e. to gain insight in a similar situation or in different situations.

Graddy (2001)

Please look at Four Structural Components Identified by Cognitive Flexibility

Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits
Implications
  1. The theory supports the use of interactive technology (multimedia, video, and hypertext), therefore, knowledge is interconnected.
  2. Show multiple examples and case studies while teaching.
  3. Instruction should be case-based where knowledge is constructed.
  4. Avoid over simplification content but support the interconnectedness of ideas in advanced knowledge domains.
  5. Use practical (real-world) context to allow transfer of basic concepts and theories to be applied in dynamic situations.

Kearsley (2007), Cooper (2005)

Application Content areas such as science and history can benefit from this instructional model. Where students would be provided with problems that require them to look up information and ask questions. While the students find (construct) solutions the problem is presented in several ways by the teacher often in the following order:

  1. Students are divided into small groups.
  2. Each student group discusses the problem with the teacher.
  3. The students brainstorm to generate prior knowledge as well as questions that need to be considered.
  4. The teacher provides the conditions and circumstances of the problem, some of which the students have already encountered in previous cases.
  5. Although the knowledge domain is familiar, the students must reapply it in each special case.
  6. The students must learn to transfer their knowledge from case to case.

Boger-Mehall (2007)

Assessment methods

  • portfolios
  • projects
  • visual essays
  • Boger-Mehall (2007)

    Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

    Examples

    1. When learning a new language, a student can transfer knowledge of
      another known language to facilitate acquisition. For example since
      Spanish and Italian are both Latin based, if Spanish is know then a person
      learning Italian can transfer their known information and skills from
      Spanish onto the new language, Italian.
    2. If a baby or child needs artificial respiration, a learner can adopt
      flexibly in his/her knowledge of artificial respiration for adults and
      apply the same knowledge.
    3. Today many people are comfortable with having online classes because
      they can apply their skills in browsing the internet, emailing loved
      ones and playing video games; then applying this knowledge to the online
      learning environment.
    4. Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits
    Resources
    1. Coulson, R. L. , Feltovich, P. J., & Spiro, R. J. (1997) “Cognitive Flexibility in medicine: An application to the recognition and understanding of hypertension.” Advances in Health Sciences Education, 2, 141-61.
    2. Graddy, D. B. (2001). Cognitive flexibility theory as a pedagogy for web-based course design. Retrieved on April 18, 2007. Available online at http://www.ipfw.edu/as/tohe/2001/Papers/graddy/graddy.htm
    3. Feltovich, P. J., Coulson, R. L., Spiro, R. J., and Dawson-Saunders, B. K. (1992).
      Knowledge application and transfer for complex tasks in ill-structured domains: implications for instruction and testing in biomedicine. In Evans, D. A. and Patel, V. L., editors, Advanced Models of Cognition for Medical Training and Practice, pages 213-244. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg. Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Advanced Models of Cognition for Medical Training and Practice held at Il Ciocco, Barga, Italy June 19-22 1991.
    4. Jonassen, D., Ambruso, D . & Olesen, J. (1992). Designing hypertext on transfusion medicine using cognitive flexibility theory. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 1(3), 309-322.
    5. Jonassen, D., Dyer, D., Peters, K., Robinson, T., Harvey, D., King, M., & Loughner, P. (1997). Cognitive flexibility hypertext on the Web: Engaging learners in meaning making, B. Khan, Web-Based Instruction. Englewood, Cliffs, N.J.: Educational Technology Publishing.
    6. Spiro, R.J., Coulson, R.L., Feltovich, P.J., & Anderson, D. (1988). Cognitive flexibility theory: Advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In V. Patel (ed.), Proceedings of the 10th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    7. Spiro, R.J., Feltovich, P.J., Jacobson, M.J., & Coulson, R.L. (1992 & 1995). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In T. Duffy & D. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    8. Spiro, R.J., Feltovich, P.J., Jacobson, M.J., & Coulson, R.L. (1991). Knowledge representation, content specification, and the development of skill in situation-specific knowledge assembly: Some constructivist issues as they relate to cognitive flexibility theroy and hypertext. Educational Technology, 31(9), 22-25.
    9. Spiro, R.J. & Jehng, J. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the non-linear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. D. Nix & R. Spiro (eds.), Cognition, Education, and Multimedia. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    10. Spiro, R., Vispoel, W., & Schmitz, J. (1987). Knowledge acquisition for application: Cognitive flexibility and transfer in complex content domains,” B. B. A. S. Glynn, Readings in Executive Control Process. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
    11. Spiro, R. J., Vispoel, W. L., Schmitz, J. G., Samarapungavan, A., and Boerger, A. E. (1987). Knowledge acquisition for application: cognitive flexibility and transfer in complex content domains. In B.C. Britton & S. Glynn (Eds.), Executive Control Processes in Reading. Hillsdale, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (PDF, 883KB)
    12. Roy, M. H. (2001). Small group communication and performance: do cognitive flexibility and context matter?. Management Decision, 30 (4), 323-330.
    13. Roy, M. H., & Dugal, S. S., (1998). Developing trust: the importance of cognitive flexibility and co-operative contexts. Management Decision, 36 (9), 561-567.
      Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

    Credits

    Theory

    1. Boger-Mehall, S. R. (2007). Cognitive flexibility theory: Implications for teaching and teacher education. Retrieved July 6, 2007, available online from Web Site: http://www.kdassem.dk/didaktik/l4-16.htm
    2. Cooper, S. (2005). Rand J. Spiro: Cognitive Flexibility Theory. Retrieved June 24, 2007, from the Learning Theories Web Site: http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/spiro.htm
    3. Kearsley, G. (2007). Cognitive Flexibility Theroy (R. Spiro, P. Feltovitch & R. Coulson). Available online at http://tip.psychology.org/spiro.html
    4. Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). Instructional-design theories and models, Volume II: A new paradigm of instructional theory. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p223-225
    5. Spiro, R. (2006). Cognitive Flexibility Theory, Hypertext, and the Post-Gutenberg Mind: Rand Spiro’s Home Page. Retrieved July 6, 2007, from Rand Spiro’s Web site: http://postgutenberg.typepad.com/about.html
    6. Spiro, R., P. Feltovich, M. Jacobson, and R. Coulson. (1995). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism, and hypertext: Random assess instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured Domains. In T. Duffy & D. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    7. WCER, (2004). Cognitive flexibility. Retrieved July 6, 2007, from the University of Wisconsin’s eSTEP Web site: http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/step/edpsych301/document/CognitiveFlexibility.htm
    Theorist
    Spiro, R. (2006). Cognitive Flexibility Theory, Hypertext, and the Post-Gutenberg Mind: Rand Spiro’s Home Page. Retrieved July 6, 2007, from Rand Spiro’s Web site: http://postgutenberg.typepad.com/about.html.
    IHMC. (2007). Paul J. Feltovich: Research Scientist. Retrieved July 6, 2007, from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, University of West Florida’s Web site: http://www.ihmc.us/users/user.php?UserID=pfeltovich.
    SIUC. (2007). Richard L. Coulson: Retired Physiology Faculty. Retrieved on July 16, 2007 from the Southern Illinois University Web site: http://www.siumed.edu/physiology/index.php?action=retiredfaculty

    Development of Diagrammatic Representations

  • Diagram Design: Suhana Chikatla
  • Diagrammatic representation:
  • WCER, (2004). Cognitive flexibility. Retrieved July 6, 2007, from the University of Wisconsin’s eSTEP Web site: http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/step/edpsych301/document/CognitiveFlexibility.htm
  • Graddy, D. B. (2001). Cognitive flexibility theory as a pedagogy for web-based course design. Retrieved on April 18, 2007. Available online at http://www.ipfw.edu/as/tohe/2001/Papers/graddy/graddy.htm
  • Honegger, B. D. (2007). Cognitive flexibility. Retrieved on July 9, 2007, from the Beats Biblionetz Web site: http://beat.doebe.li/bibliothek/ref_w/w01544.png
  • Terms and Definitions
    Graddy, D. B. (2001). Cognitive flexibility theory as a pedagogy for web-based course design. Retrieved on April 18, 2007. Available online at http://www.ipfw.edu/as/tohe/2001/Papers/graddy/graddy.htm

    Content Development
    Suhana Chikatla
    Rebecca Reese

    Web Developer
    Poonwilas "Kay" Amarasing

    Go to Theory Workbook page

    Go to main page