The IDEAL – Topic: The Algo-Heuristic Method

Icon of section IDEAL (Instructional Designer's Evolution through Analytical Learning)- Creative Agni ezine.

Training Cartoon - Image of Sloth and Froth - Perspectives on Algo Heuristic Theory.

The Algo-Heuristic Theory or the Algorithmic – Heuristic Theory defines three types of instructional rules.

  1. Descriptive rules – describe what the process is.
  2. Prescriptive rules – describe what should be done.
  3. Permissive rules – provide alternatives to the prescriptive rules.

It helps to analyze a term into its constituent words, so let us look at the two words that come together to form the name of this method.

Algorithm: a set of rules that helps define a sequence of steps in a process.
Heuristics: using experience-based methods (for instance, trial-and-error) to solve a problem.

I think the following quote establishes a platform for this brief discussion:

Every time you learn something, you learn two things: what you think you are learning and method of learning – Gregory Bateson.

The Algo-Heuristic theory by Lev Landa focuses not only on the content, but also upon how the content is learned. Thus, it also directs itself towards honing the manner in which the learner thinks, by re-mapping to the content expert’s method of thinking for the learner.

To illustrate, here’s an example:

Philip facilitates a course on machine maintenance for the new workers. If one of the competencies in Philip’s training program is “maintain appropriate level of lubes in the machine,” he can:

Apply the normal, everyday method:
Teach the process (which would include using the right method to check the level, identify the right lubricant for the machine, and using the correct method to level up the lube) as a set of sub-processes broken up into their respective tasks.


Apply the Algo-heuristic method:
Teach the process (the descriptive rules), enable the learner to identify the decision-nodes, do what is appropriate (a combination of prescriptive and permissive rules.) For example, level up the lube, check whether the lubricant needs to be changed, if so, use the correct method of removing the existing lubricant…and so on.) In other words, Philip can allow the learner to “think” like an expert. Thus, the algo-heuristic method would include not just the pre-defined set of rules, but also include experience-based methods to complete a process.

Reflection Question:
Do you think that the use of Algo-heuristic processes can actually help the learners train their minds to follow an experience-based, problem-solving approach?

Isolate an example of Algo-heuristic theory from your own content/training design experiences.