Elaboration Theory


Sequencing instruction for optimal learning

Principal Metaphors

Elaboration Theory is not explicitly aligned with a theory of learning, but descriptions of the theory consistently invoke the Acquisition Metaphor and the Construction Metaphor:
  • Knowledge is … (assembled) object
  • Knowing is … what one has put together
  • Learner is … a builder (individual)
  • Learning is … gathering and assembling
  • Teaching is … presenting; making components available




Elaboration Theory is an Instructivism that offers advice on how to sequence teaching to optimize learning. Formalizing the commonsense advice to start simple, Elaboration Theory recommends that teaching sequences should first ensure that prerequisites are mastered and then proceed with a simple and personally meaningful version of the task or concept. Subsequent lessons should introduce new levels of complexity, with each iteration reminding learners of what was previously taught (summary) in a manner that enables them to pull it all together (synthesis). As they prepare, teachers should attend to motivators, analogies, cognitive strategies, and openings for learner control – all of which should be designed into the teaching sequence.


Elaboration Theory incorporates many elements of Coherence Discourses (e.g., iterative vs. accumulative approach; embracing learner agency). However, based on the imagery and metaphors most frequently invoked in its descriptions, the theory is most strongly aligned with Correspondence Discourses. In addition, while its core assertions have the ring of common sense, they are far from readily practicable. In most cases, teachers would require extensive, nuanced understandings of the subject matter to structure lessons appropriately.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Charles Reigeluth

Status as a Theory of Learning

Elaboration Theory not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Elaboration Theory is a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Elaboration Theory is not a scientific theory.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Elaboration Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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