SHOULD ACTION BE AWARDED A SPECIAL STATUS IN LEARNING?
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Progress in educational psychology research
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The role of action has been strongly emphasized, not only in cognitive research on learning and problem solving, but also in education and instructional psychology. The Constructivism tradition has long asserted that action plays a crucial role for learners in developing their own knowledge. In an educational context, active engagement entails students examining their own ideas, considering alternative explanations for newly taught concepts, and evaluating competing perspectives. Some theorists (e.g., Anzai & Simon, 1979) propose that these processes are found when learning is by doing. However, a constructivist perspective implies that instructional formats enable self-monitoring (e.g., Covington, 2000; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990), which includes reflective activities such as describing, explaining, and evaluative thinking (e.g., Covington, 2000; Zimmerman, 1990), which are not exclusive to action. The present article discusses findings that concern two related and thus far, unexplored two questions: How affective is observation-based learning in a complex skill learning task that usually requires processes that involve active engagement with it? How does monitoring affect the transfer of problem solving skills in complex skill learning task? The first aim of the article is to introduce ways of using common educational tools like the self-observation technique, which involves re-exposing individuals to their own self-generated behaviors, in novel way. This can provide insights into how people use self-regulatory mechanisms like monitoring on internally represented behaviors. The second aim is provide support for the view that in the absence of active learning, learning indirectly (i.e. Observation-based learning) is a practical and, in some cases, necessary method of knowledge and skill acquisition, and does not in turn lead to decrements inacquired knowledge and skill. Finally, the article presents the argument that the degree of self-monitoring that takes place may be a mediating factor in preserving the view that action has a special status in knowledge acquisition. Many believe that without actively engaging with a to-be-learned task we cannot fully learn the essentials of it. This claim seems to be particularly popular in explaining the effectiveness of the acquisition of highly practiced behaviors (e.g., car driving, operating electrical devices – e.g. mp3 players, mobile phones, DVD/video recorders, camcorders) in which a sequence of behaviors is needed to reach a specific outcome. However, there is growing psychological literature (e.g., Bird, Osman, Saggerson, & Heyes, 2005; Osman, in pressA, in pressB; Osman, Bird & Heyes, 2005) that challenges the claim that direct active experience is essential, and that other forms of learning simply fail to extract the essential properties of a task. This chapter discusses findings that have sustained the view that active-based learning has a privileged status over observationbased learning, with specific focus on research that explore learning in complex dynamic problem solving tasks. Next, this chapter introduces related research that has examined the affects on knowledge acquisition when learning is observation-based. The tension generated by these different approaches to knowledge acquisition is the basis for the empirical study that follows. The study aims to address the following questions: What are the differences between action-based and observation-based learning? Do people gain more from performing, or from observing their performance? In so doing, the empirical techniques used in the study, and the findings that are reported, illuminate ways of understanding some of the differences between action-based vs. observation-based learning. Finally, this chapter aims to provide a convincing challenge to the view that action should be awarded a special status in learning.