All other things being equal: Acquisition and transfer of the control of variables strategy

Z. Chen and D. Klahr. All other things being equal: Acquisition and transfer of the control of variables strategy. Child Development, 70(5):1098–1120, September/October 1999. [url]


The authors were interested in understanding how the transfer of specific skills in the control of variables strategy can affect the learning process. Initially they discreiminate between Discovery learning and Formal learning. They believe that Discovery learning may be effective when problems outcomes provide informative feedback (Siegler, 1976). Therefore they envisioned the transfer of the above strategy as the result of explicit training (using examples and direct instraction to teach the general strategy) and implicit training via probes (providing systematic questions following children’s activities).

Their findings showed that with appropiate instruction, elementary schoolchildren are capable of understanding, learning, and transferring the basic strategy when designing and evaluationg simple tests. For them the analogical reasoning (analogical = ANALOGIES) plays a central role in the real world of scientific discovery.

In the literature of analogical transfer and problem solving appears several major cognitive processes:

1. contruct a representation of the source problem;

2. when encoutering a similar problem, students need to access the relevant source information and notice the similarity shared by the problems;

3. the key components of the problems needs to be mapped, so that the source solutions or strategies can be extended;

4. the relevant solution needs to be implemented in the new context or domain. Finally the authors concluded that one critical factor facilitating schema construction is the opportunity to process diverse instances that share a similar goal structure or solution principle.

In addition to this point, they report that when the task or problems generate outcomes that provide clear feedback, children are capable of modifying their initial mental model and discovering a rule or principle.

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