Cognitive Studies of Example-Based Computer Instruction

Director: Sharon Derry
Funding: U.S. Office of Naval Research

Worked examples are a common and potentially effective means of helping students learn and acquire problem-solving concepts and procedures. A worked example is an instructional device that makes concrete a procedure for solving a particular type of problem. There are a number of practical reasons for using worked examples in instruction:

  1. Students seem to prefer examples to text-based explanations.
  2. Examples are ubiquitous, as they are found in many textbooks in problem-solving domains; and their presence in texts has been associated with improved performance in math problem solving.
  3. Relying strictly on written procedures may make instruction difficult for poor readers to understand, while examples may mitigate this difficulty.
  4. Worked examples can be effective. Evidence suggests that worked examples can be successfully ported from print-delivered media to computer-delivered media.

Research has documented that learners do not employ unidimensional study strategies when they interact with worked-out examples and that students' performance is affected by the structure and quality of examples presented. These suggest three intersecting research agendas for increasing the effectiveness of examples. The first way is to investigate how students process examples, especially better students. The second way is to investigate methods for improving the structure of worked examples. The third way is to research how curricular strategies, such as pairing examples with proactive problems or strategy training, affects performance.

This project will investigate these intersecting agendas. One goal is to identify ways to manipulate structural features of examples so that students learn more from them, especially within a computer-based learning environment. Derry proposes a new "dynamic" worked example, one that incorporates three structural manipulations designed to encourage remedial students to employ example-processing strategies used by good students. Another goal of this work is to examine curricular strategies that can be made with examples.