How Much Support is Optimal during Exploratory Learning?

AbstractStudents who explore a new concept prior to receiving direct instruction often demonstrate better conceptual understanding compared to traditional tell-then-practice methods. Often, exploratory learning activities have students invent solutions to a novel problem targeting the new concept. However, exploring prior to instruction is working memory demanding, inducing high cognitive load. The current experiments varied the guidance provided during exploration and examined subsequent learning. In Experiment 1, participants explored the procedures and concept of statistical variance prior to receiving instruction in one of three conditions: invention, completion problem, or worked example. Exploring using a worked example led to the highest learning outcomes and the least cognitive load. In Experiment 2, students in an undergraduate statistics class completed invention or worked example problems either before or after instruction. Learning was greater when problem solving preceded instruction. However, exploring using a worked example did not improve learning over the more cognitively-demanding invention problem. These findings demonstrate the benefits of exploratory learning in the classroom compared to more traditional tell-then-practice approaches. However, more research is needed to determine when and how guidance will enhance exploration.

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