A Guided Exploration Model of Problem-Solving Discovery Learning


This dissertation concerns development of a model to represent problem-solving discovery learning. The model shows the steps learners must take when content is presented in a form that requires that they discover solutions to problems encountered in pursuing a challenging learning task. Confidence, interest, and learning are increased when learners make use of a minimal knowledge base containing facts and rules that are essential to know to accomplish the task but are difficult or impossible to infer solely from exploring the task environment. Because only facts and rules can be acquired from the knowledge base, learners must discover and correctly sequence the problem solution procedures by reflecting on content acquired from both the task environment and the knowledge base. The model is based on convergent theories of learning, both cognitive and behavioral, and extensive data obtained from eight subjects engaged with an intrinsically motivating, software-based learning task. The software used for the learning task was a popular commercial adventure game with a point-and-click interface. Intrinsic motivation and exploratory learning are characterized from responses to experience sampling questionnaires and analysis of the video/audio recordings of subjects' interactions with the software. For subjects who solved the game, retention of procedural knowledge was assessed with a comprehensive, written posttest proctored one day and one week following completion of the last data collecting session. Across the eight subjects, a continuum of individual differences was observed. Five of the eight completed the learning task in 7-10 hours and were moderately or strongly motivated, scoring higher than 97% on both posttests. In sharp contrast, the three nonlearners experienced high levels of frustration and boredom and, despite spending between 2.5 and 5 hours on task, made insignificant progress toward the learning objectives. The essential difference in performance between the learning and nonlearning groups, as well as the differences in performance between individuals, was the degree to which subjects understood the guided exploration learning model and applied it to the task.

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