11 January 2010

Student Self-Explanation

Student self-explanation of material they just read has been shown to be effective in producing robust learning gains in a number of disciplines. However, past research results have not been clear whether performance gain is due to student simply paying attention to explanation generated by the instructors, or explanation generated by the students themselves. One research has shown that explanation is more effective when the students generate it rather than simply paying attention to instructor generated explanations (Brown and Kane, 1988), while in another case, the reverse is true (Lovett, 1992). Most recently, Hausmann and Vanlehn (2007) show that generating self-explanation while students attempted solving problems and studying examples is more effective in normal as well as robust learning (which means knowledge is retained over a significant period of time and demonstrated in far transfer of problem solving) than students who comprehended and paraphrased explanations generated by the instructors.

Self-explanation, coupled with learning by examples, can be very effective in student learning. Learning by examples has a lower cognitive load than learning by doing or solving problems, based on cognitive load theory. Thus comparing students who learn by doing a number of questions with those who learn by working through a number of examples, the cognitive load in the latter is much lower, and this affords the students the capacity to come up with general solution principles through self-explanation to improve their effectiveness in learning.

A related theme is that students who self-monitor their learning and comprehension in addition to self-explain the material they learned are better problem solvers than those who don't. By self-monitoring, this means that the students keep track of what they know and what they don't know, what are the parameters and data provided by the problems they are trying to solve, what needs to be solved, how the problems relate to the examples they have worked through having specific goals such as looking for solution methods rather than equations, formulas, similar contexts, etc.


Brown, A.L. and Kane, M.J. (1988). Preschool Children Can Learn to Transfer: Learning to Learn and Learning from example. Cognitive Psychology. 20(4), pp 493 - 523.

Hausmann, R.G.M. and Vanlehn, K. (2007). Explaining Self-Explaining: A Contrast Between Content and Generation. In R. Luckin, K.R. Koedinger, and J. Greer (Eds). Proceedings of Artificial Intelligence in Education (2007). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: IOS Press.

Lovett, M.C. (1992). Learning by Problem Solving versus by Examples: The Benefits of Generating and Receiving Information. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp 956 - 961.

No comments: