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.
Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work:
An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential,
and Inquiry-Based Teaching
Paul A. Kirschner – Open University of the Netherlands / Educational Technology Expertise Center
John Sweller – University of New South Wales / School of Education
Richard E. Clark – University of Southern California / Rossier School of Education
February 1, 2005
In Press, for June 2006, Educational Psychologist. 41(2
That’s the issue with all the overgeneralizing about Informal Learning!
# # #
As to whether a PBL or constructivist approach in Army Basic Training would be efficient or deadly… that depends. If an Instructional Designer randomly picked learning methods and PBL popped up for learning how to shoot M16s on the firing range, then yes, that would probably be deadly. However, if the Designer choose PBL for first-aid, then that might be a wise choice. Why? In Pascarella and Terenzini book, “How College Affects Students, (2005)” they go into some detail about teaching biology and psychology courses that use PBL and constructivist methodologies. In both cases they had significantly higher scores.
However, they note the effects take longer to show up (in the first half of the semester there were no significant differences, while in the second half problem solving was raised 16 percentile points and content knowledge was raised 15 percentile points).
But according to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark this is impossible because of Millers Magic Number (7, but may be as low as 4 [plus or minus 1]). Yet, people remember 7 digit phone numbers with 3 digit area codes tacked on, in addition to 2 digit extension numbers tacked on. Holy cow – 12 digits – how do they do this! By grouping them of course. This is why such courses have to be carefully scaffolded as some of the rebuttal papers note.
Thus, these types of courses normally take longer to not only build, but also to deliver. Thus they have to be used wisely. Jeroen J. G. Van Merrienboer wrote an excellent book, “Training Complex Cognitive Skills: A Four-Component Instructional Design Model for Technical Training (1997), in which he discusses four approaches for presenting information and examples:
– a deductive approach works by presenting the general information, followed by examples
– an inductive approach works in the opposite direction by first presenting the examples to the learners, and then giving them the general information
– expository learning, which is presenting examples and information
– inquisitory learning, in which the learners find examples or general information
By combining the approaches, you can build learning processes based on different strategies; the inquisitor approach is used to build constructivist type learning processes in order to help the learners reach deeper levels of understanding. I explain some of this on a blog post, http://bdld.blogspot.com/2009/03/detailing-seriation.html.
Note that Quinones and Ehrenstein also note the superior transfer effects of these types of constructivist approaches for tasks that are more complex or novel in their book, “Training for a Rapidly Changing Workforce” (1997, p102).
The main problem I see with Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark’s paper is that they used an extremely broad framework to base their research on. Rather than tackling a small piece of the constructivist approach and giving us both the pros and cons (the research shows there are pros), they seem to tackle the whole field in one short paper in order to bash it.
For example, Alliger and Janak, 1989 tried using too broad of a framework in their paper, “Kirkpatrick’s levels of training criteria: Thirty years later,” in which they tried to prove that Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation was ineffective. That is, they used studies in which a wide variety of corporate learning programs, such as spirit-building, inculcation of company history or philosophy, and individual growth programs were evaluated using the Kirkpatrick method. These types of programs are more developmental or educational than they are training, so of course the four levels of evaluation proved ineffective. But Kirkpatrick was always specific in that his method was for “training” programs rather than all “learning” programs.
Richard Clark wrote an excellent book, “Learning from Media, (2001)” in which he takes a very small argument that concerns elearning – media effect on learning, and presents both the pros and cons in over 350 pages. Yet in this case the three authors basically tackle a whole field in 21 pages and use extremely narrow arguments, such as Miller’s Magic Number in order to bring down an entire field. Sorry, it just doesn’t work for me.
Hi Don! Sorry I am late in catching up. I also need to read your recent Blog Posting – I think brought on by this exchange.
In your example about college Biology, etc – I would guess that the students had prior knowledge from High School biology. And that by the end of the semester they had built some prior knowledge upon which to scaffold.
My post and thinking is that people “new” to a topic and task w/o any real knowledge about the topic shouldn’t be given an Informal Learning approach – as that is extremely inefficient. And if something – in an Enterprise Learning Context – versus an Educational or Personal learning Context – that was worth teaching in the first place – shouldn’t default to Informal Learning.
My own experiences in Boot Camp (USN 1972) came to mind. I’m pretty sure that left to our own to figure it out, even with all the manuals and books placed in front of us – we would not have learned enough of anything to be more than just dangerous clogs in the big machinery of the USN – and we all were going to warships – and the war hadn’t ended quite yet.
Now I am off to read your Blog Post.
See this web page – at the bottom for a trail of paper on this issue:
I agree that there is too much generalizing about informal learning, but there are a couple of flaws with the Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark paper (such as correct application of these methods doesn’t mean that the teacher provides no guidance). These is a good post about this at http://contraterrene.com/blog/?p=130.
Be sure to check out the paper the post links to–
“Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, and Chinn’s Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006)”
They were saying minimal guidance – not just “no guidance.” And it all depends on the prior knowledge – and of course the motivation of the learner. I’m no auto mechanic – and trying to learn to troubleshoot my own car’s erratic behavior w/o guidance would be less effective with me starting from scratch and trying to figure out where to start, go 2nd, 3rd, etc. Be much easier if some teacher guided me. But if I was a mechanic on tractors – and started in on my car – I’d probably be OK – but still less efficient that if guided.
Think of learning your Army skills w/o guidance of the DI. Learning on the job would not be efficient – and deadly.
I can figure out new video camera operations w/o guidance (fairly well) and better than my brother – the robotics engineer. But I could not figure out programming the new robots that he deals with anywhere nearly as easily as he does. I would need more guidance. Much more. And probably that engineering degree he got 25 years back.
So the following makes sense to me:
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.
And here is their response: Why Minimally Guided Teaching Techniques Do Not Work: A Reply to Commentaries:
Click to access sweller_kirschner_clark_reply_ep07.pdf
Interesting. Thanks Don!