Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology


Educational Psychology and Methodology

Content Description

1 online resource (x, 108 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Marci S. DeCaro

Committee Members

Kim F. Colvin


analogical reasoning, conceptual knowledge, exploratory learning, physics education, problem solving, undergraduates, Physics, Analogy in science education, Learning by discovery, Concept learning

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Educational Psychology | Science and Mathematics Education


This study tested the hypothesis that exploratory learning, with and without analogous problems, would improve students’ ability to make connections between conceptually-related topics. In this randomized experiment, undergraduates in introductory physics (N = 171) studied a new topic under three different instructional conditions. Order and type of instruction varied: Two experimental groups explored the concept before hearing a lecture; a control group followed the typical sequence of hearing a lecture before working with the concept. Within the experimental condition, students in the analogy-first group simultaneously explored analogous problems; students in the explore-first group explored only the new problem with a prompt to refer to prior knowledge of the analogous concept. Students in the instruct-first group heard a lecture on the new material before attempting to solve the problem. Ability to conceptualize and solve the new problem type differed between all three groups: On the learning activity, instruct-first students outperformed analogy-first students who outperformed explore-first students. However, posttests measuring procedural and conceptual knowledge at the end of the lesson, once all students had experienced both lecture and problem-solving phases, revealed no main effect of condition. Although all groups’ scores dropped on a retention test two weeks later, the instruct-first group’s scores declined more steeply than the others’. These results suggest that benefits of direct instruction may be short-lived. Students’ self-reported process-level measures indicated that exploring the analogous problems was no more cognitively loading than problem solving after instruction and was less so than exploring without the analogy. Equal levels of motivation between the three conditions show that exploring did not dampen enthusiasm for learning. Exploring analogous problems was an effective way of learning a physics concept in this study, but did not exceed the advantages of a traditional method in the short time frame measured.