Julie Colhoun, Northwestern University
Dedre Gentner, Northwestern University
Jeffrey Loewenstein, University of Texas, Austin
Abstract: Considerable evidence indicates that comparing example cases can increase learners' understanding and ability to transfer to new situations. Analogy theorists hypothesize that comparison highlights relational commonalities that can then serve as an organizing schema. However, if the benefits of comparison reside chiefly in delivering the correct domain principles, then providing the principles directly should be an even more efficient route to expert understanding. Yet there is evidence that providing the principle to learners, even with an example, often fails to improve transfer unless the participants are instructed to explicitly link the principle and case (Gentner, Loewenstein & Thompson, 2004).
This research seeks to understand the role of comparison in understanding and using principles. We supply the principle directly, and ask whether comparison with the case improves understanding of the principle, as assessed by the ability to apply the principle to new contexts and to restate the principle after a delay. We also seek to discover exactly how case comparison improves principle understanding.