My second principle to practice blog post focuses on a paper by Chen, Kalyuga and Sweller
What was the paper about?
Research exploring the worked example effect has demonstrated that model examples which provide full guidance on how to solve a problem more often results in better test performance compared to providing no guidance during problem-solving. Before we go on, it is important for us to define (in lay terms) some of the key terms used in this paper:
- Worked examples are model step-by-step processes that provide full guidance to learners on how to solve a problem.
- The generational effect is the requirement for learners to be actively involved in the generation of their own understanding of material with little guidance from a teacher (e.g. a problem solving task).
- Element interactivity focuses on the complexity of new learning material in relation to prior knowledge and the external environment. For example, if given the problem x-3 = 5, novice learners may need to handle (x, -, 3, =, 5) as separate components in working memory – this has a high element interactivity. Whereas more expert learners are more likely to know the process of calculating this type of equation (add 3 both sides and why), thus a low element interactivity (example adapted from the article).
The authors use cognitive load theory as a lens for their research. They assert that information is stored in the form of schemas in long-term memory and that working memory has limited capacity but draws heavily on long-term memory to ease the working memory burden. When presented with novel and complex problems to solve (high element interactivity), if there is insufficient prior knowledge in long-term memory, the working memory can easily become overwhelmed and so it relies on something called the ‘borrowing principle’ e.g. expert instructions and/or worked examples to ease the burden. In contrast, when the problem can be solved by utilising long-term memory resources (low element interactivity), the borrowing principle becomes redundant.
What was the aim of the paper?
The authors sought to explore the benefit of worked examples with increasing expertise. They suggest that the advantage of worked examples may decrease or even reverse to a disadvantage because with increasing expertise, studying worked examples becomes a redundant activity. Furthermore, increases in expertise should have the same effect as decreases in element interactivity.
What did they do?
This research involved two experiments:
Experiment 1 investigated the relationship between levels of guidance and levels of element interactivity using 33 Year 4 primary school learners studying geometry topics that were either high or low in element interactivity for these students. High-element interactivity materials were used to test for the worked example effect by comparing studying worked examples (high guidance) with problem solving (low guidance). Low-element interactivity materials were used to test for the generation effect by presenting learners with answers to memory questions (high guidance) or having them generate answers themselves (low guidance).
It was hypothesized that high guidance (worked examples) would be superior to low guidance (generated problem solving) using materials high in element interactivity, whereas low guidance was predicted to be superior to high guidance with materials low in element interactivity. The results of Experiment 1 confirmed this hypothesis.
Experiment 2 also tested for an interaction between guidance and element interactivity with older, more expert learners using similar materials to those of Experiment 1. It was hypothesized that the interaction should be reduced or eliminated using students who had a reduced requirement for worked examples (high guidance). 36 Year 7 students were randomly assigned to groups using the procedure of Experiment 1. All students had previously studied the area and perimeter formulae used in this study to test for the generation effect. Similarly, all students had been taught to solve the problems used to test for the worked example effect approximately a year previously. Therefore, Year 7 students were regarded as relative experts with respect to the formulae as well as the problems used in Experiment 2.
Results of this experiment supported the hypothesis that the worked example effect reversed with increases in expertise. Increased guidance had a similar negative effect on both higher and lower element interactivity material. In other words, in contrast to Experiment 1, the generation effect was better for both lower and higher element interactivity material.
What is the key principle of the paper?
Low guidance during instruction (the generation effect) is more effective for knowledgeable learners with expertise. High guidance (the worked example effect) is more effective for novice learners.
What does this look like in practice?
Novices need more guidance and are more likely to benefit from worked examples to chunk new learning, thus supporting their understanding. The example below shows what a typical ‘non-worked example’ task sheet is like, compared to a ‘worked example’, with notes:
Click image to view larger
*This is a simple example in maths. Worked examples can be used across a range of subjects and a quick Google will reveal them in subjects such as English, PE and Geography to name a few.
To conclude, when you initially assess learner knowledge, where they are relatively novice, consider how you will support them to more effectively learn new content by using worked/model examples. If dealing with relative experts, consider using more problem based tasks (more to follow on this).
Once again, if I have misunderstood anything, feel free to let me know. If you have any examples you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments below.