Learners’ Often Use Poor Learning Strategies — From a Research Review


I just read the following research article, and found a great mini-review of some essential research.

  • Hagemans, M. G., van der Meij, H., & de Jong, T. (2013). The effects of a concept map-based support tool on simulation-based inquiry learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(1), 1-24. doi:10.1037/a0029433

Experiment-Specific Findings:

The article shows that simulations—the kind that ask learners to navigate through the simulation on their own—are more beneficial when learners are supported in their simulation playing. Specifically, they found that learners given the optimal learning route did better than those supplied with a sub-optimal learning route. They also found that concept maps helped the learners by supporting their comprehension. They also found that learners who got feedback on the correctness of their practice attempts were motivated to correct their errors and thus provided themselves with additional practice.

Researchers’ Review of Learners’ Poor Learning Strategies

The research Hagemans, van der Meij, and de Jong did is good, but what struck me as even more relevant for you as a learning professional is their mini review of research that shows that learners are NOT very good stewards of their own learning. Here is what their mini-review said (from Hagemans, van der Meij, and de Jong, 2013, p. 2:

  • Despite the importance of planning for learning, few students engage spontaneously in planning activities (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).  
  • Novices are especially prone to failure to engage in planning prior to their efforts to learn (Zimmerman, 2002).  
  • When students do engage in planning their learning, they often experience difficulty in adequately performing the activities involved (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998; Quintana et al., 2004). For example, they do not thoroughly analyze the task or problem they need to solve (Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Veenman, Elshout, & Meijer, 1997) and tend to act immediately (Ge & Land, 2003; Veenman et al., 1997), even when a more thorough analysis would actually help them to build a detailed plan for learning (Veenman, Elshout, & Busato, 1994).  
  • The learning goals they set are often of low quality, tending to be nonspecific and distal (Zimmerman, 1998).
  • In addition, many students fail to set up a detailed plan for learning, whereas if they do create a plan, it is often poorly constructed (Manlove et al., 2007). That is, students often plan their learning in a nonsystematic way, which may cause them to start floundering (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998), or they plan on the basis of what they must do next as they proceed, which leads to the creation of ad hoc plans in which they respond to the realization of a current need (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).  
  • The lack of proper planning for learning may cause students to miss out on experiencing critical moments of inquiry, and their investigations may lack systematicity.
  • Many students also have problems with monitoring their progress, in that they have difficulty in reflecting on what has already been done (de Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998).
  • Regarding monitoring of understanding, students often do not know when they have comprehended the subject matter material adequately (Ertmer & Newby, 1996; Thiede, Anderson, & Therriault, 2003) and have difficulty recognizing breakdowns in their understanding (Ertmer & Newby, 1996).
  • If students do recognize deficits in their understanding, they have difficulty in expressing explicitly what they do not understand (Manlove & Lazonder, 2004).
  • One consequence is that students tend to overestimate their level of success, which may result in “misplaced optimism, substantial understudying, and, ultimately, low test scores” (Zimmerman, 1998, p. 9).

The research article is available by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

This research, and other research I have studied over the years, shows that we CANNOT ALWAYS TRUST THAT OUR LEARNERS WILL KNOW HOW TO LEARN. We as instructional designers have to design learning environments that support learners in learning. We need to know the kinds of learning situations where our learners are likely to succeed and those where they are likely to fail without additional scaffolding.

The research also shows, more specifically, that inquiry-based simulation environments can be powerful learning tools, but ONLY if we provide the learners with guidance and/or scaffolding that enables them to be successful. Certainly, some few may succeed without support, but most will act suboptimally.

We have a responsibility to help our learners. We can't always put it on them…