Words do many different jobs: the job of a concept is to name a group or class of objects with similar attributes despite having variable attributes which are dissimilar.  A concept is in Lynn Erickson’s terminology not limited to a particular time, place or culture.

Learning how to use the concept (noun) accurately is a matter of knowing when and when not to apply it.  Robert Gagne’s (1965) suggests strongly that in order to understand a concept learners need a starting point which provides a definition, examples and non-examples.  See below:

In this example, the definition of a settlement is one that would work for a UOS in primary school.  You will notice the intentionality of the examples and non examples: they are there to reduce ‘misconceptions’.

The “examples” are designed to reduce ‘under-generalisation’ misconceptions.  They deliberately include a wide range of variable attributes, like ‘on water’, ‘small – large’, ‘rural – urban’ so that if a child has only seen settlements on land, they understand this is actually a variable attribute.

The “non-examples” are chosen to reduce ‘over-generalisation’ misconceptions.  So for example ‘lots of people in the same place’ does not mean it is a settlement, as it is missing the attribute of ‘meeting needs and wants over time’.  Likewise, being a community (such as nomadic herders) is not the same as being a settlement.

Gagne makes the dramatic claim that it is ‘inhumanely ineffective’ not to provide these three aspects of a concept as you embark upon learning through the lens of particular concepts.


Robert M. Gagné – The School Review, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Autumn, 1965), pp. 187-196 Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1083668