The Power of the Plural: Effect of Conceptual Analogies on Successful Transfer
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BACKGROUND: Transfer, using a previously learned concept to solve a new, apparently different problem, is difficult. Students who know a concept will typically only be able to access it to solve new problems 10% to 30% of the time. However, one solution is to have students work through parallel, apparently different problems. METHOD: Learning materials for three cardiology-related concepts--Laplace Law, Starling Law, and Right Heart Strain--were devised. One group read a physiological explanation; two other groups read a combination of physiological and mechanical explanations, either paired up or separate. The sample was students in an undergraduate health sciences program (n = 35) who did the study for course credit. Outcomes were measured by accuracy of explanation on a test of nine clinical cases, as rated by one clinician on a seven-point scale. RESULTS: Groups who read two explanations did significantly better on the test, with mean scores of 3.6/5 and 4.1/5 versus 1.8/5 for the single group. Effect sizes were 1.3 and 1.7, respectively, against the single-example group. CONCLUSIONS: Active learning with multiple examples can have large effects on a student's ability to apply concepts to solve new problems.
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