Design Principles of Worked Examples: A Review of the Empirical Studies

By Shen, Chun-Yi; Tsai, Hui-Chun | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Design Principles of Worked Examples: A Review of the Empirical Studies


Shen, Chun-Yi, Tsai, Hui-Chun, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Many researchers investigated the efficacy of using worked examples in classroom instruction and provided evidence in the effectiveness of worked example instruction in mathematics, computer programming, physics, and etc. However, there are limited studies in worked example design. The purpose of this study is to generate the instructional design principles of worked examples. After reviewing the empirical studies dealing with worked example in the last two decades, eight principles are identified in this study, (a) imagination principle, (b) completion principle, (c) fading principle, (d) process principle, (e) presentation principle, (f) media principle, and (g) timing principle, (h) self-explanation principle. Future research suggestions are also provided.

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A number of researchers examined the effectiveness of worked examples in classroom instruction (e.g. Sweller, 1990). According to Sweller (1990), a worked example is to focus on the problem and state and carry on a relevant a kind of course that carry out (such as the order of solving the problem) to give a demonstration, help students to assimilate the base mould or improve the problem of combining and solve ability, too. According to Atkinson, Derry, Renkl, and Wortham (2000), a worked example is an instructional device that provides an expert's problem solution for a learner to study. Atkinson and others (2000) pointed out, as an instructional device, a typical worked example includes a problem statement and a step-by-step procedure for problem solving. Both of these two elements are meant to show how similar problems might be solved. In addition, worked examples provide an expert's problem solving model for the learner to study and follow (Atkinson et al., 2000). In the last two decades, many researchers (e.g. Renkl, Atkinson, Maier, & Staley, 2002) concluded that worked examples instruction is superior to the conventional problem solving instruction, especially in the field of mathematics, computer programming, and physics.

Sweller and his colleagues conducted many studies to examine how students learn schemas and patterns that facilitate problem solving, via conventional, practice-oriented instruction when practice was a preferred instructional approach. Sweller's studies found empirical evidence showing that traditional, practice-oriented problem solving was not an ideal method for improving problem solving when compared to instruction that paired practice with worked examples (Cooper & Sweller, 1987; Sweller & Cooper, 1985). Van Gerven, Paas, Van Merrienboer, and Schmidt (2002) suggested that worked examples could promote acquisition of complex cognitive skills for adults by reducing their cognitive load and irrelevant information. As Zhu and Simon (1987) pointed out, worked examples can be an appropriate and acceptable substitute instructional method comparing to conventional classroom activity. In addition, in Carroll (1994) indicated that worked examples could promote students' mathematics confidence, and illustrate mathematical principles and classes of problem situations.

However, most of the worked example studies focus on the effectiveness of worked examples comparing to other instructional methods. The amount of studies on how to design effective worked examples is limited. The purpose of this paper is to review the empirical studies and construct the instruction design principles of worked examples.

Design Principles of Worked Examples

The design or structure of worked examples plays an important role in the effectiveness of worked examples (Mwangi & Sweller, 1998). In many cases, worked examples consist of assisting representations, such as diagrams, verbal instruction, and paired problems. While the worked example s used by many researchers were not similar, however, they shared the same fundamental purpose: to demonstrate a pattern or principle (Atkinson et al., 2000). …

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