Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lawyers and learning in moderation

Can we learn anything from the learning ability of future lawyers? EASYYYYYYY…..No lawyer jokes allowed.

The following article confirms what most folks consider intuitive. Complex learning is easiest when broken down into an optimal set of learning steps. That is--learning requires moderation (too many or too few steps are not good). Most good teachers know this.

Food for thought: How does one identify the number of "optimal" steps for complex learning? Does the number of optimal steps vary as a function of individual differences in CHC abilities? Does this simply confirm the classic g-ATI---that g is the primary replicated ability that interacts with instruction? Given the reported link between working memory (Gsm-MS) and g/Gf, is the primary cognitive variable “at play in complex learning the amount of information that can be juggled concurrently in working memory? I have more questions and arm-chair hypotheses than answers.

Nadolski, R., Kirschner, P. & Merrienboer, J. (2005). Optimizing the number of steps in learning tasks for complex skills. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 223–237

Select statements from the article:
  • The aim of the study is to investigate the relation between the number of steps provided to learners and the quality of their learning of complex skills. It is hypothesized that students receiving an optimized number of steps will learn better than those receiving either the whole task in only one step or those receiving a large number of steps.
  • Participants were 35 sophomore law students studying at Dutch universities, mean age ¼ 22.8 years (SD ¼ 3:5), 63% were female.
  • Participants exposed to an intermediate (i.e. optimized) number of steps outperformed all others on the compulsory learning task. Too many steps made the learning task less coherent; though time on task was increased, no concomitant increase in learning was observed. Although as efficient as the optimal condition with respect to amount learnt per unit time, too few steps led to a lower performance on the learning task.
  • There is clear empirical evidence for the value of optimization the number of steps in learning tasks. Too many steps lead to lower performance and, thus, do not justify the extra, but apparently unnecessary, costs of developing such instructional materials. In other words, development costs can be reduced since less instructional material is needed. Too few steps lead to lower performance.

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