14 November 2009

Minimal Guided Learning

Are there really any benefits to minimal guided learning, as practiced in a number of classroom activities in the form of inquiry learning, problem based learning, invention activities, etc.? According to Kirschner et al. (2006), not much. Their argument is that problem solving takes place in the working memory, which is severely limited in capacity when dealing with novel information, and since learning is to ultimately alter long term memory, they conclude that 1) the changes in the short term memory will likely not cause any changes in the long term memory since all information is lost within 30 seconds if the information is not rehearsed, 2) the heavy cognitive load is detrimental to learning.

Instead, a worked example with strongly guided instruction, process worksheets where descriptions on how to solve problems with specific hints and rules of thumb are more effective for student learning. Kyllonen and Lajoie (2003) found that highly structured instructional presentations benefit less able learners and unstructured instructional presentations benefit more able learners. Clark (1982) also noted that less able learners tend to choose less guided approaches to learning and they learn less. Higher aptitude students tend to choose more guided approaches to learning but they could have learned even more if they have chosen less guided instruction.

Is it possible then that CS education tends to create such a heavy cognitive load on our students, especially first year students, that result in such high attrition rate? Would providing students with detailed worked programming examples, strategies to solve programming problems, use of worksheets to allow students engage in deliberate practice help transition students to become more skilled programmers a better approach?


Clark, R.E. (1982). Antagonism between Achievement and Enjoyment in ATI Studies. Educational Psychologist, 17, pp 92 - 101.

Kyllonen, P.C., and Lajoie, S.P. (2003). Reassessing aptitude: Introduction to a Special Issue in honor of Richard E. Snow. Educational Psychologist, 38, pp 79 - 83.

Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J., Clark, R.E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), pp 75 - 86.

Sweller, J., Kirschner, P., Clark, R.E. (2007). Why Minimally Guided Teaching Techniques Do Not Work: A Reply to Commentaries. Educational Psychologist. 42(2), pp 115 - 121.

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