The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of different types of worked examples on student learning, transfer, cognitive load, and attitude. In a context of learning two comma rules, four types of worked examples were examined: standard worked examples, worked examples with self-explanation prompts, worked examples with instructional explanations, and worked examples with a transitional combination of instructional explanations and self-explanation prompts. In addition, a control group, the conventional problem condition, was included.
Two hundred and five 7th and 8th grade students enrolled in nine Language Arts classes in a middle school in northwestern Florida were randomly assigned to one of the five conditions. All students studied a five-lesson self-paced instructional program on using two comma rules over a period of seven days. On each day of the first five days, students studied one lesson and completed a corresponding condition-dependent practice exercise. On the sixth day, students completed a final practice exercise. Students in each of the worked example conditions received example-problem pairs during each practice, with examples varying depending on the conditions, while students in the control group received problems without any worked examples. All students completed a pretest one week before the study and a posttest and attitude survey on the seventh day of the study.
Student learning, transfer, cognitive load, and attitude were measured. Learning was measured by an achievement test consisting of 18 individual sentences without any commas inserted. Transfer was measured by a 3-paragraph prose passage punctuated only with periods. Students were required to place commas whenever appropriate by applying the two comma rules. Cognitive load was measured by a single item 9-point rating scale developed by Paas and van Merriënboer (1994), and attitude was measured by a 12-item survey.
In addition to the quantitative measures mentioned previously, a think-aloud protocol was used to examine how learners studied the different types of worked examples. Four students with average ability were selected to think aloud while studying the program. Each of them participated in five think-aloud sessions, one for each of the five lessons that were part of the instructional program.
Analysis of the data found that when self-explanation prompts were not provided, students who received instructional explanations performed better on both learning and transfer test than students who did not receive instructional explanations. In addition, it was found that students presented with self-explanation prompts reported higher cognitive load and spent more time during practice than students who did not receive such prompts; while students presented with instructional explanations reported lower cognitive load than those who did not receive such explanations during practice.
The factors that may have contributed to the results are discussed. Where appropriate, results from the qualitative data analysis are used to support the discussion points. Limitations and implications for research and practice are also provided.