THEORIES OF LEARNING:
ACT – R (Adaptive Control of Thought - Rational)
by John Anderson
At the end of the module, the students are expected to:
a. define ACT – R;
b. apply the ACT – R Theory in learning; and
c. appreciate the importance of ACT – R in learning
II. Introduction of the Topic
ACT-R (Adaptive Control of Thought--Rational) is a cognitive architecture mainly developed by John Robert Anderson at Carnegie Mellon University, which is also a theory about how human cognition works. Most of the ACT-R basic assumptions are also inspired by the progresses of cognitive neuroscience, and, in fact, ACT-R can be seen and described as a way of specifying how the brain itself is organized in a way that enables individual processing modules to produce cognition. Researchers working on ACT-R strive to understand how people organize knowledge and produce intelligent behavior. As the research continues, ACT-R evolves ever closer into a system which can perform the full range of human cognitive tasks: capturing in great detail the way we perceive, think about, and act on the world. ACT-R has been used successfully to create models in domains such as: Learning and Memory; Higher level cognition, Problem solving and Decision making; Natural language, including syntactic parsing, semantic processing and language generation; and Perception and Attention.
III. Background of the Proponent
John Anderson was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1947 and grew up in a poor section of the city. During his childhood he pursued a number of different dreams and he remembers his parents as supportful of them all. He went to the University of British Columbia dreaming of being a writer and left with the dream of practicing psychology as a precise and quantitative science. He went through a number of academic struggles reflecting his poor preparation and conflicting dreams. However, he managed to pull it all together and graduate at the head of his class in Arts and Science in 1968. During that period he worked with a young Art Reber. Anderson went to Stanford to work with Gordon Bower. Working with Gordon and working in an environment that included Richard Atkinson, Herbert Clark, Edward Feigenbaum, and Edward Smith, he found what would become his lifelong dream--to develop a theory of human cognition sufficiently well specified that it could be simulated on a computer. With Gordon, he first developed the FRAN simulation of free recall and then the HAM theory of memory. Gordon provided John with the reference point for what it means to be a psychologist and still today John finds himself comparing his behavior with Gordon's. Together they wrote the book, Human Associative Memory, which described the HAM theory.
The publication of the 1983 book left Anderson in somewhat of a quandary. It seemed to him that it had taken the ACT theory about as far as it could go. It was called ACT* to denote his belief that the ACT theory had reached its ultimate form. As it was a bit early to retire, Anderson announced that his research plan "to eventually gather enough evidence to permanently break the theory and to develop a better one."
Anderson was rewarded for enduring this intellectual ambiguity. The 1990s saw the development of the ACT-R theory which was described in "Rules of the Mind" published in 1993. It incorporated the lessons of his tutoring work in a new theory of procedural learning. The rational analysis work played a major role in defining a better version of the subsymbolic activation processes. Anderson realized that while these subsymbolic processes were tuned to the statistical structure of the environment, one needed an overall computational structure like ACT to understand how they interacted. Reflecting the growing computational sophistication in the 10 years since 1983, the book comes with the ACT-R simulation on a disk which researchers can use on their own personal computers....
Claudine A. Adriano
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