Learning by constructing self-explanation diagrams

Ainsworth, Shaaron and Iacovides, Ioanna (2005). Learning by constructing self-explanation diagrams. In: 11th Biennial Conference of European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI 2005), 23-27 Aug 2005, Nicosia, Cyprus.


The self-explanation effect (whereby students generate explanations to themselves as they are studying) has been shown to enhance learning in many domains. Recent research has demonstrated that the way that material is presented influences the self-explanation effect. Ainsworth & Loizou (2003) presented students with information about the circulatory system in either text or diagrams and prompted them to self-explain. Diagrams students outperformed text students at post-test, generated more self-explanations and their learning was more dependent on self explaining.

The current study sought to explore if these same benefits would ensue if students constructed self-explanations in diagrammatic form. Consequently, twenty-four subjects were given information about the human circulatory system to learn. Half of them were given the information in the form of diagrams and asked to write down their self-explanations. The other half were given the information in the form of text and asked to construct their own self-explanation diagrams as they self-explained.

The results showed that students in both conditions learnt and at post-test performed identically on every measure of learning. They also generated the same number and quality of explanations. The only ways these two groups differed is in the amount of information they chose to translate across representations. Text students included almost twice as much information in their pictures as diagram students in their summaries. Furthermore, the amount of information translated predicted learning outcomes whereas the number of self-explanations did not. Overall, these results showed that by generating their own diagrammatic self explanations while studying, students can overcome the previously reported text disadvantage. It also suggests that some of the some of the benefits of self-explanation may be due to translating information over representations of different forms.

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