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Journal Article  January 1, 1990

Discovery Learning And Transfer Of Problem Solving Skills



McDaniel, M. A. & Schlager, M. S. (1990). Discovery learning and transfer of problem solving skills. Cognition and Instruction, 7(2), pp. 129-159, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


A framework for understanding the effects of discovery learning on the transfer of problem-solving skill is presented.A distinction is drawn between applying a learned strategy on a transfer problem versus having to generate a novel strategy to solve a transfer problem. The main premise of the framework is that requiring discovery of a strategy while in training encourages the activation or refinement of procedures that are useful for generating a novel strategy. In general, then, the primary benefit of discovery is that it should facilitate transfer to tasks requiring a novel strategy. Learning by discovery, however, may provide little benefit for tasks that can be completed only by applying the learned strategy. Two experiments provided support and further refinement of this hypothesis. Experiment 1 used a transfer problem that could be solved with the general strategy learned in training but required new move sequences to instantiate the strategy. The results indicated that, when transfer required new move sequences to implement a general strategy learned previously, discovery did not enhance transfer of that strategy. In experiment 2, some transfer problems required using a strategy other than that learned in training. As predicted, in this transfer situation, having to discover a strategy while in training produced better transfer than being provided with a strategy in training. Thus, discovering a strategy provided  benefits when a new strategy had to be generated to solve a transfer problem but not when the learned strategy could be applied, albeit with new moves, to the transfer problem. Educational implications are discussed.

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