This paper briefly reviews the two currently dominant paradigms in machine learning--the connectionist network (CN) models and symbol processing (SP) systems; argues for the centrality of knowledge representation frameworks in learning; examines a range of representations in increasing order of complexity and measures of similarity or distance that are appropriate for each of them; introduces the notion of a generalized distance measure (GDM) and presents a class of GDM-based inductive learning algorithms (GDML). GDML are motivated by the need for an integration of symbol processing (SP) and connectionist network (CN) approaches to machine learning. GDM offer a natural generalization of the notion of distance or measure of mismatch used in a variety of pattern recognition techniques (e.g., k-nearest neighbor classifiers, neural networks using radial basis functions, and so on) to a range of structured representations such strings, trees, pyramids, association nets, conceptual graphs, etc. which include those used in computer vision and syntactic approaches to pattern recognition. GDML are a natural extension of generative or constructive learning algorithms for neural networks that enable an adaptive and parsimonious determination of the network topology as well as the desired weights as a function of learning Applications of GDML include tasks such as planning, concept learning, and 2- and 3-dimensional object recognition. GDML offer a basis for a natural integration of SP and CN approaches to the construction of intelligent systems that perceive, learn, and act.