Structural Learning Theory


Rule-based approach to solving problems in well-structured knowledge domains

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … well-structured and explicit web of propositions
  • Knowing is … applying rules
  • Learner is … rule applier
  • Learning is … mastering rules
  • Teaching is … conveying (rules) and facilitating (problem-solving)




Structural Learning Theory is a prescriptive model of problem solving that is based on Cognitivism. It characterizes problems in terms of structures, and it suggests that learners should start by developing rules to recognize and act on those structures. This learning is seen as iterative; as rules are learned, gaps are filled in, making it possible to interpret structures (problems) in more nuanced ways, opening the door to more fine-grained rules, higher-order problems, and more complex paths.


Structural Learning Theory has been most often applied in mathematics learning and language learning – which makes sense. It is fitted to disciplines that (1) have a high level of structure and (2) for which the rules associated with that structure have been rendered explicit. That’s important, because Structural Learning Theory requires detailed structural analyses of subject matters and relevant problems – demanding a depth of disciplinary knowledge that is rare and impractical, especially for teachers at the lower grade levels who are responsible for multiple subject areas.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Joseph Scandura

Status as a Theory of Learning

Structural Learning Theory is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Structural Learning Theory is a theory of teaching – one that is applicable to a very narrow range of domains.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Structural Learning Theory meets few of our criteria for a scientific learning theory.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Structural Learning Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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