Adaptive Control of Thought Model – Best Explanation

Adaptive Control of Thought Model or the ACT model puts emphasis on the role of practice in the transitional change of knowledge. Anderson assumes that conversion of declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge is crucial for learning complex skills including speech production (DeKeyser, 2007; Johnson, 1989).

Adaptive Control of Thought Model

Anderson’s ACT Model helps us to explain why it is highly difficult for the majority of L2 learners to use the target language in spontaneous outline communication; the transition from declarative to automatized knowledge takes a very long time and requires a lot of good practice. One of the requirements for good practice is that the practice match the three stages of skill acquisition (DeKeyser, 2007).

Anderson’s Adaptive Control of Thought Model rests on the distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. He characterized the essential differences in the form of three assumptions:

  • Declarative knowledge seems to be possessed in an all-or-none manner, whereas procedural knowledge seems to be something that can be partially possessed.
  • One acquires declarative knowledge suddenly by being told, whereas one acquires procedural knowledge gradually by performing the skill.
  • One can communicate one’s declarative knowledge verbally, but not one’s procedural knowledge.

Skill Acquisition Theory and adaptive control of thought model

Skill acquisition theory of language acquisition draw on the distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. Anderson has proposed a ‘cognitive behaviorist’ model called ACTR, which sees learning as building up response strengths through a twofold division into declarative memory (individual pieces of information) and procedural memory (procedures for doing things).

As declarative facts get better known, they are gradually incorporated into procedures, and several procedures are combined into one, thus cutting down on the amount of memory involved.

There are two different views about the concept of practice. On the one hand, if adult SLA is an explicit learning, process, then one would expect to find the same patterns of learning as for other cognitive skills. Knowledge acquired in declarative (explicit) form is then transformed and automatized through analogical reasoning and specific kinds of practice.

On the other hand, if SLA in adults draws on a specific module of the mind, or on more general implicit learning mechanisms, then neither explicit learning nor practice in production play an important role, that is, acquisition is the implicit process of generating linguistic competence from input and the capacity to produce results from this acquired competence (Krashen, 1988).

As DeKeyser (2007) has said, “Initial practice of a task has very different effects (proceduralisation compared to subsequent practice (automatisation) of declarative knowledge” (p. 211).

Limitations of Skill Acquisition Theory

Although Anderson’s skill acquisition theory can account for some aspects of language learning, especially the transition from controlled to automatic processing of linguistic knowledge, it should be noted that the theory has limitations in explaining other aspects of L2 acquisition.

For example, as Anderson makes no distinction between language and other cognitive systems, his models provide little explanation for the acquisition of properties unique to language.

ACT Models and other information processing models ignore the notion of grammatical structure, which makes up the core of language knowledge. Consequently, it is difficult to see how production systems operate in the acquisition of complex grammatical structures.

It can be concluded that ACT models are useful for explaining how knowledge is proceduralized, not for explaining how new linguistic knowledge, especially complex knowledge, develops in learners’ minds (hypothesis formulation) (DeKeyser, 2007).


  • DeKeyser, R. M. (2007). Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnson, R. K. (1989). The second language curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Krashen, S. D. (1988). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall International, Ltd.

This page was published on Jan 22, 2022 by