How Should Exemplars Be Sequenced in Inductive Learning? Empirical Evidence Versus Learners’ Opinions

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Abstract

The sequencing of exemplars during study can have a large effect on category or concept induction. Counter to learners’ intuitions, interleaving exemplars from different categories is often more effective for learning the different underlying categories than is blocking all the exemplars by category (e.g., Kornell & Bjork, 2008). Prior research suggests that blocking and interleaving each support different aspects of induction: Interleaving appears to enhance between-category discrimination, whereas blocking appears to promote the learning of within-category commonalities. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants studied paintings by 12 artists and were asked to induce the different artists’ painting styles. We explored whether hybrid schedules can leverage the benefits of both types of schedules, comparing blocked, interleaved, and 3 hybrid schedules—blocked-to-interleaved, interleaved-to-blocked, and miniblocks. The miniblocks and blocked-to-interleaved schedules were as effective, statistically, but not better than pure interleaving. The blocked schedule led to the worst performance. In Experiments 3 and 4, we explored participants’ a priori beliefs by having them self-schedule hypothetical future category-learning tasks. Although participants demonstrated some metacognitive sophistication with respect to the relative benefits of blocked and interleaved study, pure interleaving was the least popular schedule, despite its being one of the most, effective schedules for learning.

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