Recent studies have shown benefits of problem-solving prior to instruction (cf. Productive Failure, Invention to prepare for future learning). However, it is unclear whether these benefits are based on the cognitive processes related to the problem-solving activity prior to instruction or originate from comparing and contrasting students’ solutions to the canonical solution during subsequent instruction. To separate these effects, we conducted a quasi-experimental study varying the two factors timing of instruction (problem-solving prior to instruction versus instruction prior to problem-solving) and form of instruction (standard instruction versus instruction that compares and contrasts typical student solutions). Our results indicate that comparing and contrasting typical student solutions is a prerequisite for the effectiveness of problem-solving prior to instruction. Based on the literature on guided discovery learning one could further assume that guidance during the problem-solving phase may facilitate learning even more. In further studies, we therefore varied the amount of guidance students received during the problem-solving phase. In our studies guidance increased the quality of students’ solutions, but it did not facilitate learning. Thus, our results suggest different learning mechanisms underlying guided discover learning and problem-solving prior to instruction. This research was conducted in collaboration with Katharina Loibl as part of her dissertation work.
Dr. Nikol Rummel is a Professor and head of the Educational Psychology Research Group at the Institute of Educational Research at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, and an Adjunct Professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.