Wednesday, 21 June 2006

An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,...

by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark via HeadsPaceJ

from the Abstract

Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert-novice differences, and cognitive load. While unguided or minimally-guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide ‘internal’ guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.

Some of the key quotes I find interesting follows:

The authors based the argument on Human Cognitive Architecture which consists of sensory memory / working memory / long-term memory.
Inquiry-based instruction requires the learner to search a problem space for problemrelevant information. All problem-based searching makes heavy demands on workingmemory. Furthermore, that working memory load does not contribute to the accumulation of knowledge in long-term memory because while working memory is being used to search for problem solutions, it is not available and cannot be used to learn.

Another consequence of attempts to implement constructivist theory is a shift of emphasis away from teaching a discipline as a body of knowledge towards an exclusive emphasis on learning a discipline by experiencing the processes and procedures of the discipline (Handelsman et. al., 2004; Hodson, 1988). This change in focus was accompanied by an assumption shared by many leading educators and discipline specialists that knowledge can best be learned or only learned through experience which is based primarily on the procedures of the discipline. This point of view led to a commitment by educators to extensive practical or project work, the rejection of instruction based on the facts, laws, principles and theories that make up a discipline’s content accompanied by the use of discovery and inquiry methods of instruction.

Despite this clear distinction between learning a discipline and practicing a discipline, many curriculum developers, educational technologists, and educators seem to confuse the teaching of a discipline as inquiry (i.e., a curricular emphasis on the research processes within a science) with the teaching of the discipline by inquiry (i.e., using the research process of the discipline as a pedagogy and/or for learning).

The worked example effect was first demonstrated by Sweller and Cooper (1985) and Cooper and Sweller (1987) who found that algebra students learned more studying algebra worked examples than solving the equivalent problems. Since those early demonstrations of the effect, it has been replicated on numerous occasions using a large variety of learners studying an equally large variety of materials (Carroll, 1994 Miller, Lehman & Koedinger, 1999; Paas, 1992; Paas & van Merrienboer, 1994; Pillay, 1994; Quilici & Mayer, 1996; Trafton & Reiser, 1993). For novices, studying worked examples seems invariably superior to discovering or constructing a solution to a problem.

This 16 page long article is followed by another 6 pages of references.

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