Information enforcement in learning with graphics : improving syllogistic reasoning skills

Dobson, Michael W. (2000). Information enforcement in learning with graphics : improving syllogistic reasoning skills. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is an investigation into the factors that contribute to good choices among graphical systems used in teaching, and the feasibility of implementing teaching software that uses this knowledge.

The thesis describes a mathematical metric derived from a cognitive theory of human diagram processing. The theory characterises differences among representations by their ability to express information. The theory provides the factors and relationships needed to build the metric. It says that good representations are easily processed because they are more vivid, more tractable and less expressive, than poor representations.

The metric is applied to abstract systems for teaching and learning syllogistic reasoning, TARSKI'S WORLD, EULER CIRCLES, VENN DIAGRAMS and CARROLL'S GAME OF LOGIC. A rank ordering reflects the value of each system predicted by the theory and the metric. The theory, the metric and the systems are then tested in empirical studies. Five studies involving sixty-eight learners, examined the benefit of software based on these abstract systems.

Studies showed the theory correctly predicted learners' success with the circle systems and poorer performance with TARSKI'S WORLD. The metric showed small but clear differences in expressivity between the circle systems. Differences between results of the learners using the circle systems contradicted the predictions of the metric.

Learners with mathematical training were better equipped and more successful at learning syllogistic reasoning with the systems. Performance of learners without mathematical training declined after using the software systems. Diagrams drawn by learners together with video footage collected during problem solving, led to a catalogue of errors, misconceptions and some helpful strategies for learning from graphical systems.

A cognitive style test investigated the poor performance of non-mathematically trained learners. Learners with mathematics training showed serialist and versatile learning styles while learners without this training showed a holist learning style. This is consistent with the hypothesis that non-mathematically trained learners emphasise the use of semantic cues during learning and problem solving.

A card-sorting task investigated learners' preferences for parts of the graphical lexicon used in the diagram systems. Preferences for the EULER lexicon increased difficulty in explaining the system's poor results in earlier studies. Video footage of learners using the systems in the final study illustrated useful learning strategies and improved performance with EULER while individual instruction was available.

Further work describes a preliminary design for an adaptive syllogism tutor and other related work.

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