Cognitive process instruction (CPI) is a view of instructional design which emphasizes thinking skills over factual knowledge. Research related to CPI usually makes use of a clinical method which seeks to illuminate the processes underlying behavior in complex intellectual domains. However at least two different perspectives on CPI research exist: deterministic and descriptive. The first verifies models by comparing the behavior of the model with that of the subject. The second verifies models through the consensus of a community of experts in either a psychological paradigm such as developmental stage theory (if the emphasis is on models of cognitive process) or a disciplinary paradigm such as physics (if the emphasis is on models for instruction). Certain issues arise in the choice of methodology: the diversity in the cognitive processes people use, the complexity of a model, the role of human judgement, the generality and utility of a particular approach.
This paper is intended as a brief introduction to these issues, with an emphasis on research methodology. It is directed primarily at the college instructor who has more than a passing interest in questions of pedagogy and who wants to know how to begin CPI research in his own subject area, but who does not qualify as an "expert" in cognitive psychology.
It is always risky to discuss the methodology of a field in which the methodology is far from established, so this paper must be taken as provisional. The last section of this paper presents factors that have influenced a personal choice of methodology. Of course, in no sense is this paper a summary judgement of the pros and cons of different approaches.
Cognitive process instruction is a view of instructional design which emphasizes cognitive skills relevant to understanding and thinking. It is different in scope from traditional cognitive psychology, and different in character from other approaches to educational improvement. Standard cognitive psychology deals with the entire range of human cognitive phenomena: perception, language, thinking, memory. Typical tasks include paired-associate learning (memorizing unrelated pairs of words), recall of nonsense syllables, problem solving (involving relatively simple problems), and perception of optical illusions. In contrast, CPI research is concerned almost exclusively with the relatively complex problems and situations that are characteristic of higher education, for example, a physics or a mathematics problem, or an essay assignment.
CPI research tends not to emphasize mathematical models, time-interval measurements, eye movements or statistics. Rather, it makes substantial use of