When Do Nonspecific Goals Help Learning? An Issue of Model Quality


The three-space theory of problem solving predicts that the quality of a learner’s model and the goal specificity of a task interact on knowledge acquisition: Learners having a good model should learn more with a nonspecific than a specific goal, which should not apply to learners having a poor model. This study tested this prediction using a computer based learning task on torques. Participants (N = 77 psychology students) either had to test hypotheses with a simulation of a lever system (nonspecific goal), or to produce given values for variables in this simulation (specific goal). In the good model condition but not in the poor model condition they saw the torque depicted as an area. Results revealed the predicted interaction. A nonspecific goal only resulted in better learning when a good model of torques was provided but not with a poor model. Our findings support the three-space theory.

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