For Whom Exploratory Learning May Not Work: Implications of the Expertise Reversal Effect in Cognitive Load Theory
Although exploratory (inquiry-based, discovery, problem-based) learning environments have been effective for certain categories of learners and instructional situations, they could also be very cognitively demanding, especially for novice learners. Such forms of instruction may generate a heavy working memory load caused by intensive unguided search processes and result in reduced learning outcomes for these learners. This paper considers this situation as an example of the expertise reversal effect in cognitive load theory. It reviews relevant previous studies within this theoretical framework that compared exploratory and direct forms of instruction with learners at different levels of prior knowledge. Even though most of these studies have been conducted in well-defined areas, a summary of some recent studies in ill-defined domains is also provided. Implications for the design of learning environments with learner-tailored levels of instructional guidance are discussed in the concluding sections.
Keywords: exploratory learning, expertise reversal effect, cognitive load theory, worked examples, adaptive instructional guidance.