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Delayed benefits of learning elementary algebraic transformations through contrasted comparisons

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Students studying algebra often make mistakes because of superficial similarities between addition and multiplication problems. In two experiments, we investigated whether these errors can be prevented by presenting addition and multiplication problems in such a way that students are encouraged to compare the problems at a deeper level. In Experiment 1, 72 sixth graders were assigned to two self-learning programs. In the contrast program, addition and multiplication were mixed and juxtaposed. In the sequential program, students first received only addition problems followed by multiplication problems. The results revealed that during the training, students performed worse under the contrast condition. However, in the follow-up tests (1-day, 1-week, 3-months), these findings were reversed: the contrast group clearly outperformed the sequential group. The findings were replicated under improved methodological conditions in Experiment 2 with 154 sixth graders. These experiments show that contrasted comparison of superficially similar but conceptually different material results in improved long-term learning.
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Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 1
Delayed Benefits of Learning Elementary Algebraic Transformations
Through Contrasted Comparisons
Esther Zieglera and Elsbeth Sterna
aCenter for Research on Learning and Instruction, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Last submitted and accepted version:
in Learning and Instruction, DOI: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.04.006
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Esther Ziegler, Research
on Learning and Instruction, Institute for Behavioral Sciences, ETH Zurich, Universitätsstrasse
41, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland. Tel: +41 446 325 820. E-mail: esther.ziegler@ifv.gess.ethz.ch.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 2
Abstract
Students studying algebra often make mistakes because of superficial similarities between
addition and multiplication problems. In two experiments, we investigated whether these errors
can be prevented by presenting addition and multiplication problems in such a way that students
are encouraged to compare the problems at a deeper level. In Experiment 1, 72 sixth graders
were assigned to two self-learning programs. In the contrast program, addition and multiplication
were mixed and juxtaposed. In the sequential program, students first received only addition
problems followed by multiplication problems. The results revealed that during the training,
students performed worse under the contrast condition. However, in the follow-up tests (1-day,
1-week, 3-months), these findings were reversed: the contrast group clearly outperformed the
sequential group. The findings were replicated under improved methodological conditions in
Experiment 2 with 154 sixth graders. These experiments show that contrasted comparison of
superficially similar but conceptually different material results in improved long-term learning.
KEYWORDS: comparison, contrasting, mathematical knowledge, concept knowledge,
algebra learning
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 3
1. Introduction
Research has provided strong empirical support for comparison as a fundamental learning
mechanism that has a positive effect on meaningful conceptual learning in different areas (for an
overview, see Gentner, 2010; Holyoak, 2005; Rittle-Johnson & Star, 2011). When two units
(e.g., objects, problems, pictures) are juxtaposed, intentional comparison promotes a deep
processing of the materials because their similarities and differences become highlighted. This
phenomenon helps learners to abstract principles that may be used to solve novel problems
(Catrambone & Holyoak, 1989; Gentner, 1983; Gick & Holyoak, 1983). In this way,
comparisons were used to learn complex concepts by being presented two examples of the same
concept that differed in their surfaces. Learners who studied two problems simultaneously
outperformed learners who studied the two problems separately. This outperformance has for
instance been demonstrated for negotiation principles using two different cover stories for the
same negotiation strategy (Gentner, Loewenstein, & Thompson, 2003) or for the concept of heat
flow using two different scenarios depicting heat flow (Kurtz, Miao, & Gentner, 2001). The
direct comparison of superficially different but structurally equal (i.e., isomorphic) examples
appears to help learners overcome contextual limitations, a crucial step in understanding
complex concepts. The instruction to compare material offers learners a way to actively construct
meaningful knowledge.
Positive effects of comparisons were also demonstrated for learning mathematical
procedures in real-life school settings, e.g., when learning how to solve equations (Rittle-Johnson
& Star, 2007) and for computational estimation (Star & Rittle-Johnson, 2009). Comparing two
solution strategies led to greater learning gains compared to the sequential processing of these
strategies. Chase, Shemwell, and Schwartz (2010) showed that learners who had to compare
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 4
three cases of electromagnetic flux outperformed learners who studied the cases separately.
Other research has shown beneficial effects of comparing examples of the same concept.
According to Hattikudur and Alibali (2010), comparing equal signs with other relational symbols
is more effective than simple instruction about the equal sign. Inventing the physical formula for
density using contrasted cases was superior to being told the formula, followed by practicing
with the cases (Schwartz, Chase, Oppezzo, & Chin, 2011). Moreover, it has been shown that
comparing incorrect examples can facilitate learning (Durkin & Rittle-Johnson, 2012).
Although comparing two or three examples of the same concept has been shown to be
beneficial for the meaningful learning of various school topics, this method is rarely used in
classrooms, as for instance, in mathematics, where a great number of concepts and procedures
must be learned and distinguished from each other. Therefore, we wish to examine whether the
application of comparisons may be extended beyond learning single complex concepts to
learning a broad range of concepts, using algebra as an example.
1.1. The challenge to acquire algebraic language competence
Mathematical competencies grow through acquiring knowledge of concepts and
procedures which, over the years and under favorable conditions, build on each other and form a
network of knowledge that is broadly applicable and transferable (Schneider & Stern, 2009;
Stern, 1997). One challenge in learning mathematics is that the concepts are often very similar
and highly related, e.g., in algebra, where students commonly have substantial difficulties
learning the rule system (Blume & Heckman, 2000; Kamii & Dominick, 1997; Kieran, 1992).
Learning algebra requires not only making use of the formal language in rich contextual
settings but also learning the language itself with its rules and conventions (Kieran, 2004;
Kirshner & Awtry, 2004). In fact, a thorough knowledge of algebraic language provides a solid
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 5
foundation and thus may be used flexibly in later applications, e.g., to successfully solve
equations. Learning the language is at the core of elementary algebra. Algebraic language is best
learned through frequent transformations of algebraic expressions, but this key practice is often
neglected (Ottmar, Landy, & Goldstone, 2012). A common problem in managing algebraic
expressions flexibly is confusion between the two dominant operations of addition and
multiplication, e.g., incorrectly solving the problem “a2 + a2” as “a4” instead of “2a2”.
Many authors have documented confusion errors occurring in basic transformations as
well as in handling fractions and solving equations (Booth, 1988; Hirsch & Goodman, 2006;
Kirshner & Awtry, 2004). In algebraic addition, like terms are summarized, e.g., “x + x = 2x”.
However, x and xy are different types and thus cannot be simplified by transformation; instead,
they must be written “x + xy”. In algebraic multiplication, like factors are summarized to
exponents, e.g., “x ∙ x ∙ x = x3”, and unlike factors are joined to form a product, e.g., “x ∙ y ∙ z =
xyz”. Therefore, by transforming expressions, the continuity of terms in addition (xy + x + xy +
x = x + x + xy + xy = 2x + 2xy) must be clearly distinguished from the splitting of factors in
multiplication (xy ∙ x ∙ xy ∙ x = x ∙ y ∙ x ∙ x ∙ y ∙ x = x4y2). As core operations in algebraic
transformations, addition and multiplication must be understood thoroughly. Instruction should
clearly distinguish between these two structurally different and perceptually similar principles
from the very beginning to prevent confusion and to offer a strong start in learning algebra.
Two reasons for frequent confusion between addition and multiplication in solving
algebra problems are the tendency to focus on perceptual features of the problem and the
tendency to hastily automate mathematical procedures. We expect systematic comparison to
offer a means of overcoming both these misleading tracks.
1.2. Comparisons as a means of overcoming the tendency to focus on perceptual features
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 6
It is well documented that, when initially faced with new information, people tend to pay
more attention to the salient perceptual features instead of noticing the more important structural
characteristics (Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Gentner & Namy, 1999; Loewenstein &
Gentner, 2001). In algebra, problems often appear very similar because they are composed of
only letters, numbers, and signs. This similarity may induce misperceptions of the forms of the
correct rules and mislead the learner’s understanding of algebra rules (Kirshner & Awtry, 2004;
Ottmar et al., 2012). Goldstone and colleagues (2010) describe this confusion as a conflict
between rule-based and perceptual processes. Without redirecting the learner’s attention from the
surface features to the crucial structural elements, confusion between addition and multiplication
is preprogrammed. Hence, when teaching algebra, it is necessary to train students explicitly to
focus on the syntactic structure, i.e., to make them recognize rules and procedures (Kirshner &
Awtry, 2004; Ottmar et al., 2012).
Comparisons help to overcome this misleading tendency to focus on surface patterns (Chi
et al., 1981; Gentner & Namy, 1999; Holyoak, 2005). Providing learners with the explicit
instruction to compare objects may shift the focus from the surface to the deeper structural level,
which results in a significant effort to detect and learn the underlying principles (Catrambone &
Holyoak, 1989; Mason, 2004; Schwartz & Bransford, 1998); therefore, choosing the appropriate
comparison material is a crucial factor. Depending on the presented material, certain features of
the juxtaposed examples are accentuated. Winston (1975) introduced “near miss” for concepts
that only differ in a small number of features. Such near-miss contrasts enhance the principle
extracting and appear to be more resistant to interference effects, likely because critical
convergence features are highlighted (Gick & Paterson, 1992).
Two examples may be more or less similar on the surface or structural level. During the
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 7
comparison process, even the surface similarities may help to identify structural differences more
easily because they make the differences more salient, which again promotes principle learning
and transfer (Loewenstein & Gentner, 2001; Markman & Gentner, 1993). However, if surfaces
are too dissimilar, children and even adults may miss the underlying concepts that the examples
are supposed to demonstrate. This may be a problem if the learners do not have enough prior
knowledge to align the examples (Gentner, 2010). The best alignment is enabled when the
examples under comparison are similar both in their surfaces and in their relational structure
(e.g., Richland, Morrison, & Holyoak, 2006). Thus, Gentner (2010, p. 769) suggests that
"sequences of close, highly alignable exemplars should be the ideal learning situation". Inspired
by this idea of repeatedly offering comparisons of similar materials, we wanted to examine
whether the application of comparisons may be extended beyond learning single complex
concepts to learning a broader range of principles. This might be especially promising in
mathematics, where a great number of concepts and procedures must be learned and
distinguished from each other.
1.3. Comparisons as a means to prevent learners from hastily automate mathematical
procedures
Learning in many academic domains (particularly in mathematics) is often limited to
purely superficial procedure memorization (Kamii & Dominick, 1997; NCTM, 2000). When
students are repeatedly presented with similar types of problems, they may automate the solution
procedure. When trying to solve new problems, a student may automatically retrieve an incorrect
procedure because the problem resembles a different type of problem. An example of blind
adherence to an automated procedure is illustrated when algebraic multiplication problems are
incorrectly solved by adding the problem components instead of multiplying them. Students who
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 8
repeatedly practiced addition rules such as “xy + xy + xy = 3xy” are prone to retrieve and apply
this rule when faced with the similar multiplication problem “xy ∙ xy ∙ xy =” and may answer with
“3xy” instead of “x3y3”.
By analyzing Swiss and German mathematics textbooks, one predominantly finds a
sequenced, blocked concept introduction, followed by extensive practice before proceeding to
the next type of problem. Often, the introduction follows a progression of operational signs: first
addition, then subtraction, multiplication, and division, usually followed by mixed sessions.
People have the strong illusion that blocking or massing is more effective, and textbooks rely on
this practice (Kornell & Bjork, 2008; Rohrer & Pashler, 2010), which may stem from learning
experiences that memorizing one algorithm at time was easier than learning multiple algorithms
simultaneously. If concepts are introduced in this sequential manner, they will eventually result
in interferences (Anderson, 1983), which McCloskey and Cohen (1989) have described as “the
sequential learning problem”. In mathematics, concepts frequently build on precedents and thus
often differ only in a few respects. Therefore, more similar concepts are more prone to
interferences as well as to the false extrapolation or an overgeneralization of an automated rule
(Kirshner & Awtry, 2004; Matz, 1982). An example of interferences or false extrapolation is
when addition and multiplication procedures are confused in the same problem such as when one
incorrectly splits the factors in additions, then correctly summarizes the letters: “xy + xy + xy = 3
∙ xy = 3xy”, and “xy ∙ xy ∙ xy = x ∙ y ∙ x ∙ y ∙ x ∙ y = x3y3”, but the answer for “xy + xy + xy” is “x +
y + x + y + x + y = 3x + 3y”.
Because it is more demanding to memorize two algorithms simultaneously, comparison
tends to suppress simple memorizing and instead forces students to actively engage in
understanding the underlying structures of the presented examples (Kang & Pashler, 2012;
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 9
Mitchell, Nash, & Hall, 2008; Sweller & Chandler, 1994). Comparison is often desirable for
students to encounter difficulties during learning as a result of instructional impediments because
it pushes learners to overcome difficulties they otherwise would not experience. (R. Bjork, 1994;
Kapur & Bielaczyc, 2012). Although this approach may lead to more errors at the beginning and
slow the learning process, it tends to enhance long-term retention and transfer of the material
(Rohrer & Pashler, 2010; Rohrer & Taylor, 2007). A desirable level of difficulty might consist of
offering challenging material that makes it necessary for students to connect pieces of
information to fully understand the problem. This type of connection is what Sweller and
Chandler (1994) called the “intrinsic cognitive load”, a term denoting the inherent complexity of
materials. Because the complexity of materials may be described by the number of interacting
elements, a higher cognitive load is required if several related elements must be processed
simultaneously (Sweller, 1994). This requirement implies that complex material cannot be
processed well in single elements. If this material were processed sequentially, the cognitive load
would be lower, but the overall comprehension would be limited. Therefore, even though a
comparison-based instructional design would increase the difficulty and the mental effort
needed, contrasting may offer exactly this opportunity to interconnect different concepts by
directing the students’ attention to the relevant aspects of the material.
1.4. The current project
Based on the promising effects of comparison for learning a complex concept or
procedure, our aim was to examine the effects of learning material that repeatedly fosters the
comparison of principles that are perceptually similar and therefore easy to confuse. In our
design, a series of contrasted examples were presented over several days in a real school setting;
this material was tested against a traditional sequential presentation of the same material. We
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 10
chose the two core principles of addition and multiplication in algebraic transformations, which
are prone to confusion and error. We hypothesized that juxtaposing superficially similar addition
and multiplication problems would increase the difficulty and the mental effort needed but would
also make their differences more salient and thereby help to gain better mastery in the long term.
Prior research has shown that only a thoughtful selection of the units to be compared,
along with explicit instruction telling the learners to pay attention, makes comparison beneficial
(Catrambone & Holyoak, 1989; Schwartz & Bransford, 1998). Deep processing through
comparison is ensured with the help of prompts that help focus the learners’ attention, as in the
instruction to self-explain examples (Chi, 2000; Renkl, 1997; Rittle-Johnson, 2006). Self-
explaining has proven to encourage the active elaboration of learning materials and works
especially well in combination with worked examples to create a basis for activities that promote
cognitive activation. Worked examples provide a complete solution procedure: the problem, the
solution steps, and the final solution. Because the result is already given, the goal for the students
is to discover the underlying rules by themselves (e.g., Renkl, 2002). Moreover, worked
examples may support an understanding of the problem and the underlying principle if learners
are encouraged to deeply engage the problem. This engagement is what the instruction to self-
explain may stimulate; therefore, we constructed our materials as a self-learning program with
worked examples and prompts for self-explanation.
The learning material in our study comprised algebraic expressions that had to be
simplified by strategies of algebraic transformations. The students were required to provide
explicit explanations of the principles underlying the strategy of transformation. The learning
gains were measured with two separate tests. The “algebraic transformation test” comprised
algebraic expressions to be simplified, and assessed students’ ability to correctly apply
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 11
transformations. The second test, “algebraic transformation explanations”, required students to
write down the two algebra principles and demonstrate how to apply them; it assessed students’
ability to explain how transformations are solved. We expected to find learning benefits for the
contrasted introduction compared to the sequential introduction of addition and multiplication
problems.
To explore the effect of contrasts on learning algebra, two experiments were conducted.
In the first experiment, we tested the impact of a contrasted concept introduction on the
acquisition of algebra knowledge compared to a sequential, consecutive introduction. In the
second experiment, we replicated the findings of the first experiment with extended testing and
an improved design.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Sixth graders were chosen as participants because we wanted students with no prior
algebra knowledge. In the Swiss mathematics curriculum, algebra is not introduced until
secondary school, which starts at Grade 7; consequently, sixth graders are unlikely to have
received any formal instruction in algebra, but, based on their arithmetic competencies they can
be expected to be ready to learn elementary algebra principles. Participants were recruited from
four urban and suburban public schools of the canton Zurich. Teachers were asked not to choose
students (a) with insufficient German language comprehension, (b) with special needs, or (c)
who were unable to fulfill the minimum standard of school performance. All the students were
volunteers, and the parents had to give their written consent. Every class was rewarded with 200
Swiss francs (approximately150 euros), and each student received a small gift.
2.2. Design and Procedure
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 12
In a 2 (group: contrast, sequential) x 3 (time: one day later, one week later, three months
later) mixed-factorial design, we investigated effects on algebraic transformations and on explicit
transformation explanations. Each student participated in four training sessions and in three
follow-up sessions as listed in Table 1. Both groups participated in 90 minutes training sessions
on four consecutive days, during which the students were asked to work through a self-study
program. In the contrast group, students were presented worked examples in a contrasted mixed
order; i.e., addition and multiplication problems were given simultaneously. In the sequential
group, students practiced the problems in a sequential blocked order; i.e., all addition problems
in a sequential manner for two days, followed by multiplication problems for two days. The two
programs contained the same worked examples but differed in the order of the presentation of
the examples and tasks (see Figure 1 and Table 2).
The training occurred in groups of 10 – 15 students in rooms of the school. The students
worked individually on their learning programs and sat at sufficient distances from their
classmates so they could not look at each other’s work sheets. They were instructed to work on
their own and to ask the instructors directly if they had questions or problems with the material.
All groups were trained by the first author, who was also educated as a primary school teacher,
and who was present at all times to guide the training and the testing together with a research
assistant.
2.3. Materials
2.3.1. Pretest on prior algebra knowledge: presented in training session 1
Although Swiss sixth graders have not yet received any formal algebra instruction, it is
possible that some of them could spontaneously solve algebraic transformation problems by
referring to their arithmetic knowledge. The test presented at the very beginning of Session 1 was
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 13
composed of the following eight algebra problems requiring transformations: “a + a + a + a =”,
“5 + a + a + 5 + a =”, “c · c · c =”, “2 · 2 · z · 2 · z =”, “7b + 7b =”, “7b · 7b =”, “ab · 4ab =”,
and “xy + xy + xy + xy”.
2.3.2. Self-study material: presented in training sessions 1 – 4
The instruction material was a paper-pencil version and consisted of several worksheets,
each with worked algebra examples and a self-study part. In the first session, a slide presentation
was given to explain how to read and write terms with letters and how to use the mathematical
expression “raise to the power of”. No other direct instruction was given; instead, students were
asked to derive all the rules on their own from the worked examples with the help of the self-
study instructions. Therefore, it was necessary to present the worked examples in increasing
difficulty. The challenge of designing the learning material was to determine the appropriate
order and content of the worked examples for each algebra concept that contained all the rules in
a suitable sequence. The addition and multiplication problems chosen used the same numbers
and letters and thus differentiated only in the use of addition and multiplication signs, which
naturally impacted the solution steps and the results. This characteristic implied that the worked
examples could be presented side by side in the contrast version of the teaching (see Figure 2A).
This side-by-side presentation highlighted the superficial similarity of the worked examples,
making the underlying differences between addition and multiplication more salient to the
students in the contrast group.
Several pilot studies were conducted, first with children on a one-on-one basis and then
with small groups. The worked examples and tasks were changed several times until the
definitive version of the learning steps was developed. Finally, there were two series of worked
examples, which illustrated nine addition and nine multiplication learning steps (for an excerpt
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 14
see Figure 1). Every learning step exemplified one or two rules. The steps were balanced in the
contrast group such that the corresponding steps in both addition and multiplication could be
introduced simultaneously in the contrasted format. In the sequential group, all the addition steps
were introduced first, followed by the multiplication steps. Finally, the addition and
multiplication learning steps were assigned to the work sheets (see Table 2). For the contrast
group, there were nine work sheets. The sequential group was assigned ten work sheets. In the
sequential version, two blocks were provided on the same work sheet to keep the processing
amount equal; however, the fifth and tenth work sheet contained only one learning step to keep
from mixing addition with multiplication.
The work sheets were comprised of three sections: the worked examples, a self-
explanation section, and trial tasks. At the top of each work sheet, students were presented with
two blocks of two or three worked examples, either one block of addition and one block of
multiplication (contrast group) or one or two consecutive blocks of the same operation
(sequential group). An example for each group is presented in Figure 2.
In the self-explanation section, students were instructed to write down how such
problems are solved and to ascertain the underlying principle on their own. To facilitate this step,
students were given questions prompting them to explain the worked examples. These questions
were used to guide them in looking more carefully at the examples. In the contrast group, a block
of addition and multiplication examples were always juxtaposed, and the questions prompted the
students to compare the worked examples: e.g., "Compare the addition and multiplication
examples", "Describe the different solutions", "Can you explain why students confuse addition
with multiplication?", or "Give a tip to a classmate as to what he/she should pay attention to in
order not to confuse addition with multiplication". In the sequential group, one or two
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 15
consecutive blocks of the same operation were always processed. Because two consecutive steps
disclose the same principle, comparison of the steps does not make sense; therefore, these
questions prompted students to describe the worked examples in detail: e.g., "What have you
noticed in the examples", "Describe exactly how to solve such problems", "What do you have to
pay attention to?", or "Explain it to a classmate in detail". Students’ self-explanations were
always assessed by the research leader (first author). If the explanations were incorrect, students
were required to correct them. If the explanations were too short, students were asked to write
them out in greater detail before continuing to the next section. If students had problems
understanding the examples, they were helped by directing their attention to the corresponding
worked examples and by instructing them to describe each step in the solution process. At the
end of every work sheet were more self-explanation prompts asking students to write out a short
reflection about what they had learned from filling out the work sheet. Contrast students were
asked to consider possible confusing errors that could occur and how to prevent them. Sequential
students were prompted to describe what they had to pay attention to. At the end of each day’s
training, students were told to summarize the rules they learned about the algebra concepts in a
written explanation.
There were two parts in the trial tasks section. In the first part, students were instructed to
generate two to three of their own examples for each block of worked examples following the
model of the presented examples. They were asked to write down the intermediate steps to the
solution and to invent varied and interesting examples using other numbers and letters, e.g.,
“Invent two varied examples for each block! Write down all intermediate steps to the solution as
in the worked examples!” The generated examples were assessed by the research leader and, if
necessary, corrected by the students before continuing to the next part. In the second part,
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 16
students were given trial problems to apply and deepen the learned algebra principles. Both
groups were given 4 to 6 trial tasks per sheet with instructions to solve them by writing down the
intermediate steps in addition to the solution. Before the research leader corrected the trials,
students were told to review these problems by themselves using the examples on the front of the
page.
The sequential learners were given an additional training of 20 mixed addition and
multiplication problems at the end of the fourth training day with the instruction, “You learned
addition and multiplication in algebra, now you will receive mixed problems to solve.” The
problems were then checked and returned to the students for corrections. This extra training for
the sequential group was designed such that the sequential learners would not be at a
disadvantage and to mimic the teaching given in an ordinary school setting. After the sequential
introduction of two operations, mathematics teachers usually give mixed tasks to make sure both
concepts are understood correctly. While the same learning material was used for both groups,
the presentation order of the material was unique to each group and thus presented some slight
variation. However, all together, the tasks were balanced so that at the end of the training
students in both groups processed exactly the same nine addition and nine multiplication worked
examples and exactly the same number of problems (trial tasks, repetition tests, immediate
learning tests).
When students had finished their work sheets they received some optional non-
mathematical tasks to prevent the students from disturbing others, e.g., finding the differences
between two pictures, or solving riddles or sudoku puzzles.
2.3.3. Immediate learning tests: presented in training sessions 1 – 4
To compare the immediate learning gains of both groups, two different types of algebra
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 17
tests were given to all participants in sessions 1 to 4. At the beginning of each session, students
were given a repetition test, on which they solved 6 – 8 algebra items similar to the ones they
had worked on the day before to assess what they remembered. Immediately after every work
sheet, students were given a learning test, on which they solved 3-8 algebra items per test sheet
without being allowed to use the instruction material. These problems were similar to the ones
presented on the work sheet the students had just finished. When students did not remember the
examples, they were instructed to guess the solution and told that the next learning step would
repeat the solution steps for such problems. This step allowed us to assess what they had learned
during the session.
2.3.4. Control measures: presented in follow-up session 1
To control for individual characteristics that might affect algebra learning, four measures
were assessed. Logical Reasoning was assessed with a figural and a numerical subtest of a
German intelligence test (subtests 3 and 4 of the LPS by Horn (1983)). The test is based on
Thurstone’s primary mental abilities with a maximum score of 40 for each subtest. Arithmetic
Knowledge was assessed with a speed test consisting of five sheets, each with 28 - 52 items.
Students were required to solve each sheet within 90 seconds and were allowed to write only the
results. The first three sheets contained simple arithmetic problems (additions with one single-
digit addend, subtractions with a single-digit subtrahend, and single-digit multiplications). In
addition, there were two sheets with more complex arithmetic problems (two-digit additions and
multiplications). The arithmetic knowledge score was determined by the solution rates of correct
answers. The students’ mathematical school achievement was measured in the form of their
school grades on mathematics and school grades on German. The grades were reported by
students’ teachers. In Switzerland, school grades range from 6 (best) to 1 (worst).
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 18
2.3.5. Algebraic transformation test: presented in follow-up sessions 1 – 3
The algebraic transformations test contained 58 items, which assessed the students’
ability to correctly apply transformations practiced in sessions 1 - 4 (e.g., “a2 · a · ay · 4a =”,
“5ab + b + 3b + 2ab + 2b =”, “y · y3 · y2 · y =“, “2 + 5x + 4 + 2x + 3 =”). Examples from every
work sheet were represented, with 2 – 4 problems representing each learning step. The items
were matched to the problems of the work sheets with other variables and numbers, i.e., every
item was an algebraic term that needed to be transformed into the shortest version by applying
the correct rules. The items were ordered in increasing difficulty but always overlapped by 2 or 3
learning steps, within which the items were randomly mixed. The same algebra test was applied
in all three follow-up sessions, because students were not supposed to remember the items.
Scoring. Transformation knowledge was determined by the number of correct answers.
In addition to the total score of the correctly solved problems, there was also a score of careless
errors. Careless errors were such mistakes as miscounting the number of letters, e.g., ”n · n · n · n ·
n = n4”, or an arithmetic error, e.g., “b · a · 4 · a · 4 · a = 62a3b”.
In addition, all problems the students worked on, regardless of whether they were solved
correctly, were analyzed according to the alphabetical-order convention and the number-one
convention. Alphabetical-ordering is a convention used to sort letters alphabetically, which
provides a better overview when there are many variables, e.g., “u2 · ax · u2 · u · ax = a2u5x2“, or “n + b +
n + x + b + n = 2b + 3n + x”. The number-one convention is an agreement that it is not necessary to
write the number "1" if there is a single letter, e.g., “z + n + n = 2n + z” and not “2n + 1z”, or “b · a · 4 · a ·
4 · a = 64a3b”, and not “64a3b1”. Therefore, for convention errors, we assessed the number of
answers with incorrect alphabetical-ordering as well as the number of answers with a
superfluously written number 1. These conventions were not explicitly taught during the training,
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 19
and mistakes involving them were not marked as errors in the algebra tests, because these
conventions are not central to understanding and distinguishing algebraic additions and
multiplications. Nevertheless, these conventions help to provide an overview when handling
complex algebraic expressions and thus are practical to be learned. Students could learn the
conventions incidentally while processing the work sheets, and the purpose of this analysis was
to determine the extent to which learners directed their attention to superficial characteristics
when focusing on structures. If the students did not pay attention to these two conventions, their
attention was sometimes directed to these points, however not in a systematic way. This
assistance was eliminated in Experiment 2 to make the convention-processing clearly incidental
(see section 4.1).
2.3.6. Algebraic transformation explanations: presented in follow-up sessions 1 – 3
In this test, students’ ability to elucidate how to apply algebraic additions and
multiplications was assessed. Students were asked to write down two separate descriptions
explaining how to solve each type of problem. For each explanation, they were prompted with
four hints, which were designed to help activate their knowledge: (a) "Describe in detailed steps
how problems with letters are solved", (b) "Mention what one has to pay attention to", (c) "You
can explain it by means of examples", and (d) "Imagine you would like to explain the rules to
classmates".
Scoring. The two written transformation explanations of algebraic addition and
multiplication were scored for accuracy and completeness of the answer. To do so, a coding
scheme was developed, which is depicted in the Appendix. Two measures were assessed: (a)
Explicit transformation knowledge was judged by the amount of correctly reported algebra
concept features. For both addition and multiplication, the features were divided into defining
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 20
features and secondary features, and the scores for each were added to the overall score of
explicit transformation knowledge. (b) Misconceptions were judged by the number of errors in
the transformation explanations including errors in the examples used in the explanations. The
errors of both the addition and multiplication explanations were added for a total score of
misconceptions.
Two trained raters independently coded the algebraic transformation explanations. The
raters discussed and unified diverging judgments together. Inter-rater reliability for coding the
answers was 93.8% for the first point of measurement, and 94.3% for the second point of
measurement (exact agreement). Because of the high reliability there was only one of the two
raters who coded the third point of measurement.
3. Experiment 1
The primary purpose was to compare two different methods of teaching students
introductory algebra by using a contrasted self-study program for one group and a sequential
self-study program for the second group. In the contrasted condition, addition and multiplication
problems were mixed and juxtaposed, whereas in the sequential condition, addition problems
were presented first, and multiplication problems were presented second. Students in the contrast
group were expected to outperform students in the sequential group on both algebraic
transformations (Hypothesis 1) and algebraic transformation explanations (Hypothesis 2). We
also expected the gains in learning to persist in the long run one week and three months later
(Hypothesis 3). Although we expected that the contrasted comparison program would especially
help learners construct meaningful and applicable algebra knowledge, we also assumed that it
would not affect their routines; therefore, we did not expect any differences between the numbers
of careless errors made by each group. To find differences in learning trajectories between the
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 21
two groups, we registered the solution rates achieved during the training sessions.
3.1. Participants
A total of 74 students (37 females) participated from three schools that had two parallel
classes in the sixth grade so that one class of each school could be randomly assigned to the
contrast and the other to the sequential group. Two students were excluded because they did not
finish the training. Each group comprised 36 students (contrast group: M = 12.9 years, SD = 0.5;
sequential group: M = 12.6 years, SD = 0.5). At the third point of measurement, three months
later and after the summer holidays, we were only able to retest 65 students (32 in the contrast
group and 33 in the sequential group) because the students had moved to secondary schooling
and were dispersed in different classes and school levels.
3.2. Results
The results are presented in three sections: the students' preconditions, the effect of group
on the follow-up tests, and the effect of group on immediate learning during the training. No
significant gender differences were observed on any of the immediate or follow-up measures.
3.2.1. Students’ preconditions: algebra pretest and control variables
Prior algebra knowledge. As expected, given the age of students chosen for the study,
there was no difference between groups on prior algebra knowledge, p = .96. A floor effect was
found, indicating that the students appeared to have almost no prior algebra knowledge before
the training (M = 1.9 out of 8, SD = 1.4). The few correctly solved tasks showed that the students
were solving almost only the algebraic addition problems with equal letters, similar to length
measures they knew from school (“a + a + a + a =”; “7b + 7b =”, and “xy + xy + xy + xy =”;
however, they appeared to have no intuition about solving algebra problems that went beyond
these simple additions.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 22
Control variables. The control variables included logical reasoning, arithmetical
knowledge, and grades in mathematics and German. A multivariate analysis of variance
(MANOVA) revealed no significant difference between groups, F(4, 67) = .44, p = .78, ns. None
of the separate univariate ANOVA tests showed a significant effect, all p > .53, indicating that
both the contrast group and sequential group did not differ in cognitive preconditions nor school
achievement.
3.2.2. Group differences on performance in the follow-up tests
Students in the contrast group performed better in most of the three main follow-up test
measures: (a) transformation knowledge, (b) explicit transformation knowledge, and (c)
misconceptions. Figure 3 illustrates means and standard errors across the three points of
measurement for both groups. For each of the follow-up test measures, separate mixed-factorial
ANOVAs were conducted with group as a between-subject factor (contrast versus sequential)
and time as a within-subject factor (T1: one day, T2: one week, T3: three months). When there
was a main effect of group, separate post-hoc comparisons were made for the three points of
measurements. Students in the contrast group were expected to perform better in all follow-up
test measures. After a main effect of time, post-hoc tests were conducted to determine how stable
the effects were over time.
Transformation knowledge. As expected, there was a main effect of group on the main
score of algebraic transformations, F(1, 63) = 3.35, p = .036, η2 = .05 in favor of the contrast
group. Post-hoc tests revealed a tendency of group differences at T1, t(70) = 1.61, p = .057, d =
.33, and a significant group difference at T2, t(70) = 2.26, p = .014, d = .53, whereas at T3, the
difference between the groups was no longer significant at p = .127. These results indicate the
advantage of contrast learning, although the effect was only weak-to-moderate and disappeared
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 23
three months later. There was also a main effect of time, F(2, 126) = 60.44, p < .001, η2 = .49,
and no interaction. Simple contrasts revealed a significant change from T1 to T3, F(1, 63) =
69.40, p < .001, η2 = .52, yet not from T1 to T2, p = .053, showing that the effects remained
stable for one week and then declined. This decrease in performance after several weeks during
which material is not repeated is normal and expected in learning environments. Again, as
expected for careless errors, there was neither a group (p = .66), a time (p = .45), nor an
interaction effect (p = .33) concerning the amount of careless errors, indicating that careless
errors were independent of group and intervention.
Transformation knowledge: additional analysis of conventions. As previously
described, there were two types of conventions that were not taught explicitly but were assessed
in the learning analysis: the alphabetical-order convention and the number-one convention. We
did not formulate hypotheses concerning these two conventions because they were not explicitly
taught, and we only decided to analyze them later. For both conventions, there was no main
effect of group, p = .64 and p = .28 (see Table 3 for the means and standard deviations). For the
number-one convention, there was also no time effect or interaction; however, there was a main
effect of time for the alphabetical-order convention, F(1.79, 112.73) = 24.79, p < .001, η2 = .28,
that was opposite of what we expected, but with no interaction. Simple contrasts revealed a
significant increase at T2, F(1, 63) = 6.96, p = .011, η2 = .10, but a reduction at T3, F(1, 63) =
18.67, p < .001, η2 = .23, indicating an improvement for both groups at T3. These deviant time
effects indicate that over the three months between the first and last follow-up test, the
conventions were remembered and followed better over time.
Explicit transformation knowledge. Unexpectedly, there was no significant main effect
of group in the main score of the algebraic transformation explanations, p = .39 (see Figure 3);
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 24
however, there was a main effect of time, F(2, 124) = 3.47, p = .034, η2 = .05. Simple contrasts
showed a decrease from T1 to T2, F(1, 62) = 4.33, p = .041, η2 = .07, and from T1 to T3, F(1,
62) = 5.42, p = .023, η2 = .08, indicating that the algebra concept knowledge initially acquired
was not sustained. There was no interaction, showing that both groups’ scores decreased equally.
Misconceptions. As expected, there was a main effect of group in the misconceptions,
F(1, 62) = 8.80, p = .002, η2 = .12 (see Figure 3). Post-hoc tests revealed tendencies of group
differences in favor of the contrast group at T1, t(70) = 1.51, p = .065, d = .25 and at T2, t(70) =
3.05, p = .002, d = .50, and a clear difference three months after the training at T3, t(70) = 4.02, p
< .001, d = .66. There was a main effect of time, F(1.79, 110.80) = 11.81, p < .001, η2 = .16, with
the simple contrasts revealing a significant increase of errors from T1 to T3, F(1,62) = 16.68, p <
.001, η2 = .21, and a significant interaction, F(1.79, 110.80) = 3.38, p = .043, η2 = .05, showing
that the increase in the number of misconceptions during this time period was more pronounced
in the sequential group.
In summary, students in the contrast group showed better results in algebraic
transformations than the sequential group, with clear gains on the follow-up tests one day and
one week later, but there were no longer differences in sustained knowledge three months later.
The students in the contrast group also did not perform better in the section of written
explanations. Conversely, the contrast group’s lower score on misconceptions in the long-term
indicates better knowledge about both algebraic addition and multiplication.
3.2.3. Group differences on performance during the training
The previous section revealed a clear superiority of the contrast group on most of the
follow-up test measures. The question now arises: was this result predictable from the students’
achievement during the training, or does it only appear delayed? By analyzing group differences
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 25
in the two immediate learning tests presented during the training, we find a reversed effect with a
better performance of the sequential group.
Immediate learning gains. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed a
significant effect of group, F(2, 69) = 9.27, p < .001, η2 = .21. Surprisingly, students in the
sequential group outperformed students in the contrast group on both immediate learning
measures (see Figure 4 for the means and standard errors). The separate univariate ANOVA tests
on the outcome variables revealed significant treatment effects on repetition tests, F(1, 70) =
5.15, p = .026, η2 = .07, and on learning tests, F(1, 70) = 18.80, p < .001, η2 = .21. Therefore,
with regard to short-term learning, the results show a clear advantage of the sequential group.
3.2.4. Does general reasoning ability moderate learning gains?
We wanted to test whether higher or lower-achieving students benefited more from the
contrasted introduction. The results were examined for the influence of intelligence (logical
reasoning ability) by contrasting the results of the upper half with the lower half of the
participants. We conducted a 2 (group: contrast versus sequential) x 2 (ability: high versus low) x
3 (time: one day, one week, three months) ANOVA on the follow-up test measures.
No significant interaction was found for any of the five follow-up measures:
transformation knowledge (p = .76), explicit transformation knowledge (p = .41), misconceptions
(p = .22), the alphabetical-order convention (p = .60), and the number-one convention (p = .96).
With respect to the two immediate learning measures, no interaction was found for the repetition
tests was non-significant (p = .30). However for the learning test the interaction was significant
(p = .008), with the graphs revealing that the low-achieving contrast learners performed
especially poor. Checking the means of the learning test revealed high solution rates for the
sequential learners (96.7% for the high-achievers, 93.2% for the low-achievers), implicating
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 26
limited variance caused by ceiling effects. More importantly, however, the low-achieving
contrast learners entirely compensated their disadvantage in the follow-up tests. Altogether, there
is no evidence from our data set that the extent to which students gain from comparison
instruction depends on the individual characteristics of logical reasoning.
3.3. Discussion of Experiment 1
The results from Experiment 1 showed that the contrasted training led to greater gains in
algebraic transformation knowledge compared to the sequential training, with the strongest effect
found one week after the training (Hypothesis 1). Three months after training, however, this
effect disappeared, although the means remained higher in the contrast group (Hypothesis 3).
The test conditions at this third point of measurement (after summer holidays and dispersed in
different classes) were not as controlled as they were for the first two follow-up tests. The fact
that the contrast group remained slightly better at this third point of measurement was a hint that
there might be a long-term advantage for the contrasted learning.
Students in the contrast group also showed fewer misconceptions in the written
explanations than students in the sequential group; however, there was no group difference in the
total score of explicit transformation knowledge (Hypothesis 2). During the testing, it became
obvious that many students did not like writing down the written explanations and thus did not
write them in very much detail. This result may show that students have more explicit knowledge
than they are willing or able to express. Time restrictions and insufficient instruction might have
been responsible for the fact that students’ written explanations were not as informative and
complete as they could have been. Moreover, writing explanations may be hard for students, as
knowledge is often intuitive and only implicitly represented, which makes it difficult to
formalize (Bou-Llusar & Segarra-Ciprés, 2006; von Aufschnaiter & Rogge, 2010). Therefore, it
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 27
is very important to direct students to express their knowledge and to prompt them appropriately.
For our next experiment, we plan to reject minimally written explanations and to request more
detailed descriptions to examine this question. We also decided to give students more time
during the follow-up tests so they could write their explanations more carefully and have time to
review the test after finishing it.
A remarkable finding of Experiment 1 was that the contrast group, which outperformed
the sequential group in transformation knowledge and misconceptions, showed clearly worse
results in immediate learning during the four days of training. This pattern of delayed benefits
corresponds to retention effects found for intermixed concept learning (e.g., Rohrer & Pashler,
2010). Good performance during training often leads teachers to mistakenly conclude that
sequential learning is favorable; however, with regard to learning and instruction, knowledge
acquisition must be considered on a long-term basis. The fewer errors made by sequential
learners revealed that the training was less challenging for them and that they did not need to
invest as much effort to learn the material as the contrast learners did. We also sensed through
casual observation that more sequential learners finished their work sheets earlier, although we
did not assess this phenomenon systematically. Therefore, the facility of learning in the training
phase appears to be a poor indicator of long-term learning gains. The fact that the contrast
students had higher error rates may indicate that some errors must be made for meaningful
learning to occur.
In the trial tasks and the repetition tests, all the students received a “right” or “wrong”
feedback on the problems they completed, and they had to correct the problems that had been
marked “wrong”. Corrections had to be made more often by the contrast learners because they
made more errors. This feedback and the resulting corrections may have helped them deepen
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 28
their processing, and allowed them to consciously distinguish between the two algebra
principles. Feedback is seen as an important means of instruction (e.g., Hattie & Timperley,
2007). Although our feedback was given as a simple mark of “right” or “wrong”, it entailed
revising the incorrect problems and we cannot exclude that it contributed to the effect of
contrasted learning.
A limitation in the sampling procedure that may have contributed to the moderate effects
of Experiment 1 was that the classes were matched as a whole to the same group. Although there
were no group differences in the control variables, some classes were more disciplined and
motivated to achieve, whereas others needed more guidance and control. This difference may
have been due to different styles of the teachers, but we did not systematically assess this
phenomenon. Despite the limitations discussed above, the findings of the first experiment
supported the contrasted training as a promising introductory method for teaching two similar
principles in algebra with long-term benefits. Hence, we decided to replicate the first experiment
under improved conditions and a controlled, within-class matching to the groups to see if the
results would be the same and highlight the superiority of a contrasted and mixed training.
4. Experiment 2
The two-group experimental design, the hypotheses, the training materials, and the tests
were the same as in Experiment 1 (see sections 2.2, 2.3 and 3), whereas the way of assigning the
participants to the groups and some details of the procedure were changed.
4.1. Procedure
In Experiment 2, there were slight differences in the procedure and in the instruction.
Assignment of the participants to the groups. In Experiment 1, assignment to the two
conditions was performed using entire classes. To avoid selection effects, a within-classroom
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 29
assignment was used to assign groups in Experiment 2. For each class, half the students were
assigned to the contrast group, and the other half were assigned to the sequential group. As in
Experiment 1, the students were matched according to their grades in mathematics and German.
Time allocated to the follow-up tests. Students were given an extra 15 minutes on the
follow-up tests, i.e., 60 minutes instead of 45 minutes, so they could work through the test
without time pressure, review it and make corrections.
Time between the second and third presentation of the follow-up test. The third follow-
up test was conducted 10 weeks after the training instead of 3 months, so that the test would not
interfere with the summer holiday.
Follow-up test instructions. To ensure the thorough processing of the materials and to
improve the reliability of the tests, more detailed and precise instructions were provided. First,
students were instructed to write down the intermediate steps to the solutions of the algebraic
transformation problems, which only some of the students did in Experiment 1. Second, after
finishing the transformation test, students were instructed to review all their answers for omitted
problems and careless errors because some students skipped a problem or an entire sheet in
Experiment 1. Third, if the algebraic transformation explanations did not have enough detail,
students were asked to expand their answers.
Elimination of assistance. In Experiment 1, students were sometimes given help when
they had difficulties. For instance, with respect to self-explanations, students were helped when
the experimenter directed their attention to the corresponding worked examples and tell them to
describe what to do first, second, and third. In addition, concerning the trial tasks, some students
were given hints to pay attention to the alphabetical-ordering convention and the number-one
convention. Again, this help was only given to some students and not provided in a controlled
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 30
way. The assistance was never given during the assessment in the follow-up testing. In
Experiment 2, we decided to eliminate this assistance: students were not given any hints to notice
conventions or to describe the steps needed to reach a solution.
For self-explanations, the feedback was standardized to the following: (a) “This is
incorrect, look at this worked example” or (b) “This is not enough detail, can you supplement
it?For the trial tasks, the feedback was standardized to the following: (a) “This is incorrect,
check it again” and (b) “This is incorrect, look at this worked example”.
4.2. Participants
A total of 157 sixth graders (84 females) from six schools participated. The participation
conditions were the same as in Experiment 1. Three students did not finish the training and were
excluded. For each class, students were first assigned randomly to the two groups. If there was
an imbalance in the students’ grades in German and Mathematics, the assignment of the students
was aligned. The contrast group comprised 79 students (M = 12.4 years, SD = 0.5), and the
sequential group comprised 75 students (M = 12.3 years, SD = 0.5).
4.3. Results
As in Experiment 1, the results are presented in three sections. Again, no significant
gender differences were observed on any of the immediate or follow-up measures.
4.3.1. Students’ preconditions: algebra pretest and control variables
Prior algebra knowledge. There was no difference between groups concerning prior
algebra knowledge, p = .97. Compared to Experiment 1, students' mean solution rates on the
pretest were even lower (M = 0.8 out of 8, SD = 1.0). Only 23% of the students solved more than
one task correctly, and none of the students solved more than three tasks. This finding strongly
confirmed that the students had negligible direct prior algebra knowledge and no intuition about
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 31
how to solve algebra problems.
Control variables. There was no significant difference between the two groups in their
logical reasoning, arithmetical knowledge, and grades in mathematics and German, F(4, 149) =
.44, p = .78, ns. None of the separate univariate ANOVA tests showed a significant effect, all p
> .48.
4.3.2. Group differences on performance in the follow-up tests
Students in the contrast group performed better in most of the three main follow-up test
measures: (a) transformation knowledge, (b) explicit transformation knowledge, and (c)
misconceptions. Figure 5 illustrates means and standard errors across the three points of
measurement for both groups. As expected, the results of Experiment 1 were replicated with
improved significance levels. The same statistical analyses used in Experiment 1 were used in
Experiment 2.
Transformation knowledge. As expected, there was a main effect group, F(1, 151) =
15.59, p < .001, η2 = .09, in favor of the contrast group. Post-hoc tests revealed significant group
differences at all points of measurements, at T1, t(152) = 2.79, p = .003, d = .46, at T2, t(152) =
3.08, p = .002, d = .50, and at T3, t(151) = 4.65, p < .001, d = .76, indicating an advantage of
contrast learning with moderate-to-strong effects. There was also a main effect of time, F(1.38,
207.89) = 78.48, p < .001, η2 = .34, and a significant interaction, F(1.38, 207.89) = 7.24, p =
.003, η2 = .05. Simple contrasts also showed a decline of the results over time from T1 to T2,
F(1, 151) = 4.49, p = .036, η2 = .03, and from T1 to T3, F(1, 151) = 91.84, p < .001, η2 = .38,
although the significant interaction effect shows that the decrease over time is more pronounced
for the sequential group than for the contrast group. As expected, there was no difference
between groups in the number of careless errors, p = .52.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 32
Transformation knowledge: additional analysis of conventions. Based on the results
from Experiment 1, we did not expect any differences in the convention errors. Surprisingly,
however, the contrast group performed worse on these measures than the sequential group (see
Table 4 for the means and standard deviations). There was a main effect of group for
alphabetical ordering, F(1, 151) = 19.56, p < .001, η2 = .12, with significant post-hoc tests at all
points of measurements, at T1, t(152) = 2.64, p = .009, d = .43, at T2, t(152) = 3.50, p = .001, d =
.57, and at T3, t(151) = 5.25, p < .001, d = .86. There was a time effect, F(1.64, 248.29) = 33.82,
p < .001, η2 = .18, with the simple contrasts showing a reduction in errors at T3 for both groups,
F(1,151) = 34.88, p < .001, η2 = .19. There was also an interaction of Group x Time, F(1.64,
248.29) = 6.35, p = .004, η2 = .04, that indicated a less pronounced decline for the contrast group
at T3. For the number-one convention, the contrast group was slightly worse on all points of
measurement; however, the effect was not significant, p = .13. Only the time effect was found to
be significant, F(1.76, 265.77) = 12.77, p < .001, η2 = .08, with the simple contrasts showing a
decline of errors at T3 for both groups, F(1,151) = 14.58, p < .001, η2 = .09. The results suggest
that the sequential group performed better in maintaining the two conventions, which had not
been explicitly taught.
Explicit transformation knowledge. Different from Experiment 1, there was a significant
main effect of group, F(1, 151) = 12.62, p = .001, η2 = .08 (see Figure 5). Significant post-hoc
tests at all points of measurement showed that students from the contrast group expressed more
explicit knowledge in their written explanations than did students from the sequential group, at
T1, t(152) = 2.77, p = .003, d = .45, at T2, t(152) = 3.01, p = .002, d = .49, and at T3, t(151) =
3.20, p = .001, d = .52. Unlike Experiment 1, there was no time effect and no interaction,
indicating that the explicit transformation knowledge was sustained over time in both groups.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 33
Misconceptions. Similar to Experiment 1, the contrast group had fewer misconceptions
than the sequential group F(1, 151) = 17.11, p < .001, η2 = .10 (see Figure 5). Post-hoc tests
revealed significant group differences at T2, t(70) = 3.05, p = .002, d = .50, and at T3, t(70) =
4.02, p < .001, d = .66. At T1, there was only a tendency, t(70) = 1.51, p = .067. There was a
time effect, F(1.83, 276.16) = 17.68, p < .001, η2 = .11, with the simple contrasts showing an
increase from T1 to T3, F(1,151) = 27.14, p < .001, η2 = .15, and an interaction of Group x Time,
F(1.83, 276.16) = 5.46, p = .006, η2 = .04. The graph revealed that the increase of
misconceptions was more pronounced in the sequential group.
4.3.3. Group differences during the training
Experiment 1 revealed superior performance of the sequential group in the immediate
tests presented during the training. We were interested in determining whether this finding would
be replicated in Experiment 2.
Immediate learning gains. In accordance with Experiment 1 the MANOVA revealed a
significant effect of group on immediate learning gains, F(2, 151) = 27.75, p < .001, η2 = .27, in
favor of the sequential group (see Figure 6). Separate univariate ANOVA tests on the outcome
variables revealed significant group effects on both variables: on repetition tests, F(1, 152) =
31.84, p < .001, η2 = .17, and on learning tests, F(1, 152) = 52.26, p < .001, η2 = .26, indicating a
clear advantage for the sequential group on the short-term learning outcome.
4.3.4. Does general reasoning ability moderate learning gains?
Similar to Experiment 1, the examination for the influence of logical reasoning ability by
median split showed no significant treatment effects for all the follow-up measures:
transformation knowledge, (p = .28), explicit transformation knowledge (p = .81) ,
misconceptions (p = .21), the alphabetical-order convention (p = .35), and the number-one
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 34
convention (p = .85). Also the pattern of the immediate learning measures was similar to
Experiment 1: no significant interaction was found for the repetition tests (p = .83), while the
interaction for the learning test (p = .014) was significant. The graphs again revealed
disadvantages for the low-achieving contrast learners which, however, were compensated in the
follow-up. The solutions rates of the learning tests were again high for the sequential learners
(94.5% for the high-achievers, 92.6% for the low-achievers) which underline potential ceiling
effects. Altogether, also the results of Experiment 2 suggest that students of all abilities benefited
more from the contrasted than from the sequential exposure to material.
4.4. Summary of Experiment 2
Students in the contrast group again performed better on transformation knowledge with
a strong effect on the ten-week follow-up test (Hypothesis 1). After the more consequent
instruction, the two not-explicitly-taught conventions were better perceived by sequential
exposure to the material. Concerning explicit transformation knowledge, under the improved
conditions for more detailed transformation explanations in Experiment 2, students in the
contrast group clearly performed better with significant differences at all measurement points
(Hypotheses 2 and 3). Most remarkably, students in the contrast group again scored clearly lower
in the two immediate learning measures. Therefore, we may conclude that, as expected, the
results of Experiment 2 were essentially the same as Experiment 1, but with clearer results.
5. General Discussion
The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of repeated contrasted comparisons on
algebra learning in a classroom setting. In two experimental training studies, we showed that
juxtaposing addition and multiplication algebra problems in a self-learning program is a
promising method for supporting early secondary school students in learning elementary
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 35
principles of algebraic transformations. Both experiments revealed that the students who
processed the contrasted, mixed program performed better in differentiating superficially similar
algebra principles than the students who received the more conventional sequential teaching
materials (Hypotheses 1 and 2). There was a significant decline in performance after several
weeks, but this finding was expected, as learning was not continued. Nevertheless, the
persistence of the group difference, despite the decline in performance with its strong effect over
ten weeks, is important (Hypothesis 3). These results strengthen the robustness of previous
findings regarding the comparison effect on gaining problem solving knowledge (Rittle-Johnson
& Star, 2007); however, both experiments revealed that the superiority of the contrasted learning
program could not be predicted from the students’ performance during the training. Rather, in
both experiments, the contrast group made more errors on the immediate tests compared to
sequential group.
Some of the limitations of Experiment 1 were overcome in Experiment 2 by randomizing
the participants on an individual level rather than on a classroom level and by optimizing the
instructions and the timing of the follow-up tests. As a consequence, although the findings were
similar in both experiments, they were more pronounced in Experiment 2. This finding
especially applies to explicit transformation knowledge, with clear gains found for contrast
learners, who concurrently perform better on all three follow-up measures. This finding may
confirm that students in Experiment 1 did not write all they knew in the written explanations;
therefore, in Experiment 2, when given more time and prompted to write in greater detail,
students appear to express more of their knowledge – an important point to consider when
designing tests.
Our findings of delayed benefits for contrasted mixed learning represent a confirmation
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 36
of previous results of mixed practice, which has been demonstrated with categorization tasks or
mathematical rule and formula learning (e.g., Kang & Pashler, 2012). We have contributed with
an experimentally controlled intervention study, which was run under realistic classroom
conditions over several days and included a ten-week follow-up test. Our results have
highlighted misleading discrepancies between short-term and long-term results; i.e., the short-
term benefit and the long-term disadvantage of the conventional sequential introduction of
algebraic addition and multiplication. This finding emphasizes the importance of follow-up
studies investigating long-term learning gains instead of relying on immediate learning gains.
Moreover, it reveals the importance of organizing and assessing learning from a long-term
perspective.
Another benefit of contrasted learning may be splitting the learner’s attention between
addition and multiplication from the very beginning. The switching between concepts and
procedures helps the learner become aware of the existence of the two concepts that must be
distinguished. This effect may lead to the learner’s making more conscious choices when using
memorized procedures and may reduce the random, overly automatic retrieval of memorized
procedures when problem solving. The higher number of errors observed in the contrast group
during the training period may be a concern for teachers who do not like to overburden students,
especially lower-achieving students; however, our results revealed that even though contrasting
is a more demanding instruction method, the added challenge also appears to provide an
advantage.
In our data, there was no indication that either lower- or higher-ability students benefited
more from the contrast materials. These results confirm the lack of evidence for aptitude-
treatment interactions, which are scarcely found despite the increasing interest in individual
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 37
differences (Scott, 2013). Studies have established the interactions of learning gains in a field
with prior knowledge in this field (Day & Goldstone, 2010; Hiebert & Wearne, 1996; Rittle-
Johnson, Durkin, & Star, 2009). For example, Rittle-Johnson and colleagues found that
comparing is only beneficial if students have had some prior knowledge on a topic. In contrast,
our participants performed very poorly on prior algebra knowledge; they appeared to have
negligible prior knowledge and no intuitive algebra comprehension. The algebra material in our
experiments was new for all students, and contrasting was their first contact with the new topic;
therefore, we can recommend the practice of comparing and contrasting from the beginning of a
student’s training.
The additional analyses of students’ transformation errors suggested that the two training
programs shaped learners’ attention in different ways. Particularly in Experiment 2, students
from the sequential group adopted the not-explicitly-taught number-one and alphabetical-order
conventions better. Learners of both groups could incidentally deduce these conventions from
the worked examples, but the sequential learners made more use of this information. This finding
suggests that sequential students had unused capacities and were better able to process these
secondary superficial characteristics of the material, although these capacities may have
distracted students from completely learning the more crucial core features for distinguishing the
two concepts over an extended period of time.
Together with the aforementioned better performance in immediate learning, it appears
that sequential learning is less demanding. This finding also corresponds with the results of
reduced intrinsic cognitive load in sequential learning (Sweller & Chandler, 1994; Sweller, Van
Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998) and with the demand of desirable difficulties (E. Bjork & Bjork,
2011; Kester, Paas, & Van Merriënboer, 2010). Desirable difficulties are those that increase the
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 38
intrinsic cognitive load or complexity of materials in such a way that it helps learners to focus
their attention on critical aspects of the material. The principles of algebraic addition and
multiplication are perceptually very similar, comparable to near-miss contrasts (Gick & Paterson,
1992; Winston, 1975). Desirable difficulties in our algebra material are the difficulties that help
students to distinguish between the two operations and the corresponding rules.
The superiority of the contrasted practice compared to the sequential practice was
surprisingly clear. We ascribe the clear learning gains to the explicit comparisons the contrast
learners were prompted for. The juxtaposition may have highlighted the underlying core
principles (Gick & Paterson, 1992; Loewenstein & Gentner, 2001; Mitchell et al., 2008),
whereas the explicit comparisons may have forced students to connect the two similar principles
and to become aware of the features and rules that help to distinguish them (Sweller & Chandler,
1994). Kang and Pashler (2012) investigated the difference between the interleaved and
simultaneous presentation of different concepts. Their simultaneous group showed slightly,
though not significantly, better results than their interleaved group. In our instruction, not only
were algebra problems processed simultaneously, but students were explicitly prompted to
compare and describe addition and multiplication differences, which may have been the main
reason for the strong contrast effect. Our design does not allow the full disentanglement of the
impact of explicit comparison from the impact of desirable difficulties caused by mixed
presentation. Therefore, we cannot exclude that the effect may be due entirely to desirable
difficulty. By including a condition with mixed problem presentations, which does not explicitly
request comparisons, we could have tested whether solely simultaneous processing of addition
and multiplication problems would have caused learning gains. However, it was not the goal of
this study to demonstrate the efficacy of comparison, as this has already been done extensively in
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 39
many other studies. In our study, the prompts to compare for contrast learners were implemented
to ensure the deep processing of the materials. Similarly, the sequential learners were prompted
for explicit and thorough explanations of their sequential materials. The instruction “to compare”
and “to explain in detail” had the same intention: to guarantee deep processing.
5.1. Limitations and Future Directions
Contrast learners showed clear gains in the ability to apply transformations and in the
explicit availability of transformation knowledge. Because of the already loaded design, we had
no additional measure to assess conceptual understanding, e.g., as questions about the principles,
or ratings of definitions (Rittle-Johnson & Star, 2007). Nevertheless, we assert that the ability to
distinguish and correctly apply the two algebra principles of addition and multiplication is a clear
sign of understanding the syntactic structure of algebra. This seeing of the structure is crucial for
algebra learners and forms the basis for a later flexible use in applications (Kirshner & Awtry,
2004; Ottmar et al., 2012). Further research should differentiate whether and how the thorough
distinction of the two principles from the beginning will influence a broader understanding of
algebra.
Further controlled studies are needed to replicate the present results with other topics
before deciding whether text books should be changed so they introduce similar concepts in a
contrasted format. We intentionally restricted the investigation to algebraic additions and
multiplications and did not include subtractions and divisions so as not to overload the
experimental setting, but we would expect subtraction and division to be analogous to addition
and multiplication, as they are each operations of the same level (Kirshner & Awtry, 2004). This
phenomenon should be tested in a classroom setting. We also suggest the further examination of
contrasted comparisons with many algebraic and mathematical topics, an area where we would
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 40
expect broad application possibilities. It is especially important to investigate all characteristics
of compared examples in greater depth.
In our experiments, contrasting was applied in a self-learning program; however, a very
common instruction technique is direct instruction. Therefore, it would be interesting to
investigate a learning environment in which students receive direct instruction with a
simultaneous and contrasted introduction of two concepts, i.e., a contrasted direct instruction
compared to a sequential direct instruction. Only further research will show whether our results
are an algebra-specific or a method-specific effect and whether contrasting may be established as
general method of instruction for introducing similar and frequently confused concepts.
Acknowledgements
We are grateful to Sara Ziegler for her assistance in the implementation of the
Experiments in the school classes and the evaluation of the test materials. We thank Theresa
Treasure for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
Parts of this article report findings from the author’s unpublished doctoral dissertation
accepted at the ETH of Zurich, Switzerland.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 41
Appendix
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 42
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Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 50
Table 1
Overview of the Activities of Each Session
Session
Duration
Activities
1st day (Mon.)
2 lessonsa
Pretest - prior algebra knowledge (5 min)
Introduction - short slide presentation: (5 min)
Training session 1: work sheets and learning tests 1 - 3
2nd day (Tue.)
2 lessonsa
Repetition test (5 min)
Training session 2: work sheets and learning tests 4 + 5
3rd day (Wed.)
2 lessonsa
Repetition test (5 min)
Training session 3:
contrast group: work sheets and learning tests 6 + 7
sequential group: work sheets and learning tests 6 - 8
4th day (Thu.)
2 lessonsa
Repetition test (5 min)
Training session 4:
contrast group: work sheets and learning tests 8 + 9
sequential group: work sheets and learning tests 9 + 10
1 day later
(Fri.)
2 lessons
Follow-up test 1: “algebraic transformation test” and
“algebraic transformation explanations” (45 minb)
Survey part: personal data, logical reasoning test, and
arithmetic test (45 min)
1 week later
1 lesson
Follow-up test 2: “algebraic transformation test” and
“algebraic transformation explanations” (45 minb)
3 monthsc later
1 lesson
Follow-up test 3: “algebraic transformation test” and
“algebraic transformation explanations” (45 minb)
Note. ain total 90 min. b60 min in Experiment 2. c10 weeks later in Experiment 2.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 51
Table 2
Work Sheets: Presentation Order of Learning Steps
Group
Work sheet
Contrast
1
A1 + M1
2
A2 + M2
3
A3 + M3
4
A4 + M4
5
A5 + M5
6
A6 + M6
7
A7 + M7
8
A8 + M8
9
A9 + M9
10
--
Note. A1 – A9 = addition learning steps, and M1 – M9 = multiplication learning steps.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 52
Table 3
Experiment 1: Means and Standard Deviations (in Parentheses) of Students' Performance by
group on the Convention Errors of the Transformation Tests
T1
T2
T3
Contrast
Sequential
Contrast
Sequential
Contrast
Sequential
Alphabetical-ordering
10.2 (4.0)
8.9 (4.3)
10.8 (4.6)
9.9 (4.8)
6.6 (4.1)
7.5 (4.9)
Number-one
1.3 (1.6)
1.6 (3.1)
1.2 (2.0)
2.3 (3.1)
1.9 (3.1)
1.8 (2.7)
Note. T1 = one day later, T2 = 1 week later, T3 = 3 months later.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 53
Table 4
Experiment 2: Means and Standard Deviations (in Parentheses) of Students' Performance by
group on the Convention Errors of the Transformation Tests
T1
T2
T3
Contrast
Sequential
Contrast
Sequential
Contrast
Sequential
Alphabetical-ordering
11.8 (4.2)
9.9 (4.8)
12.5 (4.2)
9.8 (5.2)
11.0 (5.1)
6.9 (4.6)
Number-one
4.7 (4.1)
3.9 (3.4)
4.7 (4.1)
4.1 (3.3)
3.9 (3.5)
2.9 (2.9)
Note. T1 = one day later, T2 = 1 week later, T3 = 10 weeks later.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 54
Figure 1. An excerpt of the worked examples: addition learning steps (A3 - A6), and
multiplication learning steps (M3 - M6). Grey-cursive = the intermediate steps to the solution
that were marked red in the original version; black-bold = the problems and the results.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 55
Figure 2. Worked examples of the contrast group, example of work sheet 3 (A). Worked
examples of the sequential group, example of work sheet 2 (B). Grey-italic = the intermediate
steps to the solution that were marked red in the original version; black-bold = the problems and
the results.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 56
Figure 3. Experiment 1: Performance on the follow-up tests. T1 = 1 day later, T2 = 1 week later,
T3 = 3 months later. + p < .10, * p < .05, ** p < .01. Error bars represent standard errors.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 57
Figure 4. Experiment 1: Performance on the immediate learning testes. * p < .05, *** p < .001.
Error bars represent standard errors.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 58
Figure 5. Experiment 2: Performance on the follow-up tests. T1 = 1 day later, T2 = 1 week later,
T3 = 10 weeks later. + p < .10, ** p < .01, *** p < .001. Error bars represent standard errors.
Running head: DELAYED BENEFITS OF CONTRASTED LEARNING 59
Figure 6. Experiment 2: Performance on the immediate learning tests. *** p < .001. Error bars
represent standard errors.
... The students' HLs play a catalyst role in acquiring the TL as the new language is compared to the rules and structures of the old (Hall & Cook, 2012). Comparing and contrasting between the two languages is believed to promote an in-depth processing of the features and systems of the TL (Ziegler & Stern, 2014). The explicit underlining of the differences between the two languages has been found to be one of the main practices that students expect their teachers to employ in the EAL classroom (Neokleous, 2017). ...
Chapter
While recent studies underline that English as an Additional Language (EAL) classrooms are increasingly becoming linguistically and culturally diverse (Flores & Aneja, 2017), research also stresses the dearth of empirical studies that would shed light on how teachers should foster multilingual practices through the integration of translanguaging pedagogies (al-Bataineh & Gallagher, 2018). This study utilizes interview and classroom data from multilingual EAL classrooms in Cyprus to identify teacher and student attitudes towards the translanguaging practices and strategies adopted. The findings suggest that key stakeholders should reconsider the predominant language policy that still permeates in teacher-training courses and lesson planning perspectives.
... First, we separated interleaving from spacing by quizzing students only once on the concepts taught in each week. Second, most of the prior studies have focused on content that either has not yet been taught by teachers (Ziegler & Stern, 2014) or is not currently being taught by the teacher (e.g., concepts learned in a prior semester or in a prior school year; Rohrer et al., 2014). In our study, the weekly quizzes were administered as the students were learning the concepts in class. ...
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Can interleaved retrieval practice enhance learning in classrooms? Across a 4-week period, ninth- through 12th-grade students ( N = 155) took a weekly quiz in their science courses that tested half of the concepts taught that week. Questions on each quiz were either blocked by concept or interleaved with different concepts. A month after the final quiz, students were tested on the concepts covered in the 4-week period. Replicating the retrieval-practice effect, results showed that participants performed better on concepts that had been on blocked quizzes ( M = 54%, SD = 28%) than on concepts that had not been quizzed ( M = 47%, SD = 20%; d = 0.30). Interleaved quizzes led to even greater benefits: Participants performed better on concepts that had been on interleaved quizzes ( M = 63%, SD = 26%) than on concepts that had been on blocked quizzes ( d = 0.35). These results demonstrate a cost-effective strategy to promote classroom learning.
... To create bridges between the several languages, contrastive language teaching through explicit language comparison is used (Gentner, 2010;Rittle-Johnson and Star, 2011). This creates meta-linguistic knowledge about differences and similarities in typologically related languages but, at a different level, also in typologically divergent languages (Ziegler and Stern, 2014). With the aim of raising receptive skills and developing language learning strategies, receptive multilingualism, which is a form of asymmetrical communication in which each speaker speaks a different language while trying to understand the other (Braunmüller, 2013;ten Thije and Zeevaert, 2007), is used. ...
Book
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This book provides insight into an ambitious project to re-invent the educational method practiced at our institution. The predecessors used different ap­proaches to the delivery of education. One of them used Competency-Based Education, whilst the other practiced Problem-Based Learning. The choi­ce to combine the advantages of both methods, as well as to develop an entirely new concept that provided a better response to the fast and ever-in­creasing pace of changes in the workplace, was made by both institutions together. This approach was called Design-Based Education (DBE). Given the significant changes required of stakehol­ders to facilitate learning according to the new DBE approach, it is important to take stock of what the­se changes mean in terms of teaching and learning and to ascertain from early steps how everybody can stay, or step, on board. The ultimate litmus test for this new method is of course how our graduates perform. DBE has its origins in Design Thinking and blends this with problem-based and competence-based learning as practiced at the predecessor institutes of NHL Sten den UAS. The aim of the multi-layered DBE concept is to create sustainable education with an environment where effective, efficient, and ambitious learning processes are stimulated that challenge our students to develop their talents and create unique profiles. The concept of DBE not only stimulates our students to learn, but also empo­wers our lecturers and the associated professional field to combine with them in a trialogic learning process creating social value, the development of metacognitive skills, and multidisciplinary collabo­ration and knowledge.
... To create bridges between the several languages, contrastive language teaching through explicit language comparison is used (Gentner, 2010;Rittle-Johnson and Star, 2011). This creates meta-linguistic knowledge about differences and similarities in typologically related languages but, at a different level, also in typologically divergent languages (Ziegler and Stern, 2014). With the aim of raising receptive skills and developing language learning strategies, receptive multilingualism, which is a form of asymmetrical communication in which each speaker speaks a different language while trying to understand the other (Braunmüller, 2013;ten Thije and Zeevaert, 2007), is used. ...
... To create bridges between the several languages, contrastive language teaching through explicit language comparison is used (Gentner, 2010;Rittle-Johnson and Star, 2011). This creates meta-linguistic knowledge about differences and similarities in typologically related languages but, at a different level, also in typologically divergent languages (Ziegler and Stern, 2014). With the aim of raising receptive skills and developing language learning strategies, receptive multilingualism, which is a form of asymmetrical communication in which each speaker speaks a different language while trying to understand the other (Braunmüller, 2013;ten Thije and Zeevaert, 2007), is used. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This study was conducted to investigate the impact of applying a Design Based Education approach to teaching on International Branch Campuses. A focus group was held with staff from Stenden Hotel Management School’s IBCs after which themes were identified from the transcripts and the academic literature on Transnational Education, Design Based Education and Problem Based Education. Four themes were identified – definitions and understanding of DBE; the impact of culture on teaching using DBE; opportunities and challenges of DBE, and Recommendations. Within these themes key findings were that the focus in DBE is on validation and creativity; that local culture plays a role in its adoption; that there is much confusion amongst both staff and students about what is expected of them; that there may be different challenges depending on whether the subjects are social sciences or technical; that management processes must also support DBE in their systems, and that IBCs are sometimes ahead of ‘home’ campus in DBE implementation and experimentation. In order for this approach to teaching to be adopted successfully across all campuses, significant amount of time needs to be spent explaining and allowing staff and students to experiment with this new approach. Additional training and support may be required to move students from rote and surface learning to a DBE approach. How this can best be achieved will need to be an act of co-creation between, campuses, staff, students, and industry.
... First, we separated interleaving from spacing by quizzing students only once on the concepts taught in each week. Second, most of the prior studies have focused on content that either has not yet been taught by teachers (Ziegler & Stern, 2014) or is not currently being taught by the teacher (e.g., concepts learned in a prior semester or in a prior school year; Rohrer et al., 2014). In our study, the weekly quizzes were administered as the students were learning the concepts in class. ...
Preprint
Can interleaved retrieval practice enhance learning in classrooms? Across a four-week period, students (N = 155) took a weekly quiz in their science courses testing half of the concepts taught in that week. Questions on each quiz were either blocked by concept or interleaved with different concepts. A month after the final quiz, students were tested on the concepts covered in the four-week period. Replicating the retrieval practice effect, participants performed better on concepts that had been on blocked quizzes (M = 54%, SD = 28%) than on concepts not been quizzed (M = 47%, SD = 20%, d = .30). Interleaved quizzes led to even greater benefits, revealing an interleaving benefit: participants performed better on concepts that had been on interleaved quizzes (M = 63%, SD = 26%), than concepts that had been on blocked quizzes (d = .35). These results demonstrate a cost-effective strategy to promote classroom learning.
... The Compare conversation allows the participant to discuss similarities or differences between two objects. Ziegler and Stern found that when encouraged to make comparisons between conceptually different material, students benefited from larger long-term learning gains [90]. In terms of cognitive operations, Describe supports cognitive memory while Explain and Compare support convergent thinking [34]. ...
Preprint
While learning by teaching is a popular pedagogical technique, it is a learning phenomenon that is difficult to study due to variability in the tutor-tutee pairings and learning environments. In this paper, we introduce the Curiosity Notebook, a web-based research infrastructure for studying learning by teaching via the use of a teachable agent. We describe and provide rationale for the set of features that are essential for such a research infrastructure, outline how these features have evolved over two design iterations of the Curiosity Notebook and through two studies -- a 4-week field study with 12 elementary school students interacting with a NAO robot and an hour-long online observational study with 41 university students interacting with an agent -- demonstrate the utility of our platform for making observations of learning-by-teaching phenomena in diverse learning environments. Based on these findings, we conclude the paper by reflecting on our design evolution and envisioning future iterations of the Curiosity Notebook.
... Thus, it is recommended that teachers follow the structure of school textbooks and teach topics one after another chronologically. From a scientifically accurate perspective, however, students who engage in interleaved learning (mixed, juxtaposed learning of different topics) have better scores on long-term performance tests (after several weeks or months have passed) and develop fewer misconceptions than students who sequentially learn content on one topic after another (e.g., Rohrer and Taylor, 2007;Ziegler and Stern, 2014). Research findings on desirable difficulties demonstrate the positive effects on students' knowledge acquisition of deliberately making learning processes more difficult (e.g., Bjork and Bjork, 2011;Dunlosky et al., 2013;Lipowsky et al., 2015) and that interleaved learning is superior to blocked learning in the long term (e.g., Mayfield and Chase, 2002). ...
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The buzzword brain-based learning emerged in the 1970s and continues to fascinate teachers and learners in schools and universities today. However, what interested teachers often fail to realize is that brain-based or brain-friendly learning can not only be a plausible concept, but also a myth when applied incorrectly. Numerous empirical studies reveal a high degree of support for misconceptions about learning and the brain, known as neuromyths, among both pre-service and in-service teachers. When applied in the classroom, these myths can waste the educational system's money, time and effort. Even though the neuromyths issue has been known for two decades and the topic remains a focus of constant research, even today, the research discourse barely goes beyond replicating the earliest research findings. This review article provides an overview of the theoretical and empirical state of research on neuromyths. As part of this, ten neuromyths on the subject of learning and memory will be described in terms of content and the results of prior studies on neuromyths will be summarized. The overview of the theoretical and empirical state of research serves as a basis for highlighting controversies, fundamental concepts, issues and problems, current research gaps and potential developments in the field. Topics discussed include whether controversial research findings on correlations with endorsement of neuromyths are merely a methodological artefact, and why contradictions exist between the theoretical and empirical state of research. In addition, three central research gaps will be identified: First, studies should be conducted on whether and to what extent the endorsement of neuromyths really deprives teachers and students of opportunities to spend the education system's money, time and effort on more effective theories and methods. Second, there is too little work on developing and evaluating intervention approaches to combat neuromyths. Third, a standard scientific methodology or guidelines for determining new neuromyths are lacking. As desirable future developments in the field, more work educating people on neuromyths, uniform vocabulary, and interdisciplinary cooperation are highlighted. This contributes to answering the question of to what extent interweaving neuroscience, educational science and cognitive psychology can contribute to reducing the prevalence of neuromyths in education.
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Suggestions for improving text understanding often prescribe activating prior knowledge, a prescription that may be problematic if students do not have the relevant prior knowledge to begin with. In this article, we describe research about a method for developing prior knowledge that prepares students to learn from a text or lecture. We propose prior knowledge that prepares students to learn from a text or lecture. We propose that analyzing contrasting cases can help learners generate the differentiated knowledge structures that enable them to understand a text deeply. Noticing the distinctions between contrasting cases creates a "time for telling"; learners are prepared to be told the significance of the distinctions they have discovered. In 3 classroom studies, college students analyzed contrasting cases that consisted of simplified experimental designs and data from classic psychology experiments. They then received a lecture or text on the psychological phenomena highlighted in the experiments. Approximately 1 week later, the students predicted outcomes for a hypothetical experiment that could be interpreted in light of the concepts they studied. Generating the distinctions between contrasting cases and then reading a text or hearing a lecture led to more accurate predictions than the control treatments of (a) reading about the distinctions between the cases and hearing a lecture, (b) summarizing a relevant text and hearing a lecture, and (c) analyzing the contrasting cases twice without receiving a lecture. We argue that analyzing the contrasting cases increased students' abilities to discern specific features that differentiated classes of psychological phenomena, much as a botanist can distinguish subspecies of a given flower. This differentiated knowledge prepared the students to understand deeply an explanation of the relevant psychological principles when it was presented to them. These results can inform constructivist models of instruction as they apply to classroom activities and learning from verbal materials. In particular, the results indicate that there is a place for lectures and readings in the classroom if students have sufficiently differentiated domain knowledge to use the expository materials in a generative manner.
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