Sequencing Support for Sense Making and Perceptual Induction of Connections Among Multiple Visual Representations

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Making connections among multiple visual representations is key to students’ learning. This article considers two learning processes involved in connection making: explicit sense making of connections and implicit perceptual induction of connections. Instructional interventions support these processes via different problem types: sense-making problems ask students to verbally explain connections, whereas perceptual-induction problems ask students to quickly categorize numerous representations. Prior research shows that sense-making and perceptual-induction problems enhance students’ learning of domain knowledge—but only if both problem types are combined. Thus, one must ask whether the ability to make sense of connections enhances students’ ability to perceptually induce connections, or vice versa, and, consequently, which problem type students should receive first. This article investigates these questions in the context of undergraduate chemistry. Three experiments with 691 students compare instructional sequences that provide sense-making problems first or perceptual-induction problems first. Effects are assessed on problem-solving performance during the intervention and on chemistry knowledge learning gains after the intervention. Causal path analyses test whether working on sense-making problems first enhances (or impedes) students’ learning from subsequent perceptual-induction problems and vice versa. Results show that sequence interacts with prior chemistry knowledge: High prior-knowledge students show higher learning gains if they receive sense-making problems first. Low-prior-knowledge students show higher learning gains if they receive perceptual-induction problems first. Causal path analyses suggest that sense-making problems enhance students’ learning from subsequent perceptual-induction problems more so than the other way around. However, costs of switching between problem types interfere with low-prior-knowledge students’ ability to take advantage of this effect.

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