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When Minimal Guidance Does and Does Not Work: Drill and Kill Makes Discovery Learning a Success

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journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2009, 00:00 by John R. Anderson, Shawn Betts, Angela Brunstein

Two experiments were performed contrasting discovery learning with a variety of different instructional conditions. Students learned to solve data-flow isomorphs of the standard algebra problems. In experiment 1, where students practiced each new operation extensively, they performed best in a Discovery condition. The Discovery condition forced participants to develop correct semantic characterizations of the algebraic transformations. In Experiment 2, where students practiced each operation minimally, they performed worst in the Discovery condition and most of them failed to complete the curriculum. With less practice students’ attempts to discover transformations became less constrained and more random. This search for transformations became so extended that students were unable to remember how they achieved transformations and so failed to learn. These interpretations of the advantages and disadvantages of discovery learning were confirmed with a simulation model that was subjected to the various learning conditions. Discovery learning can lead to better learning outcomes only when the challenge posed by the demand of discovery does not overcome the student’s resources.


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