Experts and the elements of understanding

Filling the pail

This is one for the cognitive science nerds. A paper has just been released pre-publication by Ouhao Chen, Slava Kalyuga, John Sweller*. It attempts to unify the well-known ‘expertise reversal effect’ with the ‘element interactivity effect’. I’ll try to put this succinctly but I’ll surely miss some important nuances in the process.

Imagine we are solving a problem and that different parts of the problem rely upon each other. A typical example would be rearranging an equation: We can’t do the steps in isolation because the second step depends upon the first and so on. Similarly, construction of a paragraph will draw upon different elements that each depend upon the other. Contrast this with learning a list of labels. The example Chen et. al. use is learning the Periodic Table in chemistry. It would be a complicated task to complete but learning the symbol for fluorine is not dependent upon learning the symbol…

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