Instructional theory is a discipline that focuses on how to structure material for promoting the education of human beings, particularly youth. Originating in the United States in the late 1970s, instructional theory is typically divided into two categories: the cognitive and behaviorist schools of thought. Instructional theory was spawned off the 1956 work of Benjamin Bloom, a University of Chicago professor, and the results of his Taxonomy of Education Objectives — one of the first modern codifications of the learning process. One of the first instructional theorists was Robert M. Gagne, who in 1965 published Conditions of Learning for the Florida State University's Department of Educational Research.
Renowned psychologist B. F. Skinner's theories of behavior were highly influential on instructional theorists because their hypotheses can be tested fairly easily with the scientific process. It is more difficult to demonstrate cognitive learning results. Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed had a broad influence over a generation of American educators with his critique of various "banking" models of education and analysis of the teacher-student relationship.
In the context of e-learning, a major discussion in instructional theory is the potential of learning objects to structure and deliver content. A stand-alone educational animation is an example of a learning object that can be re-used as the basis for different learning experiences. There are currently many groups trying to set standards for the development and implementation of learning objects. At the forefront of the standards groups is the Department of Defense's Advanced Distributed Learning initiative with its SCORM standards. SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.