Cognitive Flexibility and Transfer in Complex Content Domains
Rand J. Spiro, Walter P. Vispoel, John G. Schmitz, Ala Samarapungavan, and A. E. Boerger University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
A fundamental tenet of all recent theories of comprehension, problem solving, and decision making is that success in such cognitive arenas depends on the activation and appropriate application of relevant preexisting knowledge. Despite the substantial agreement on this general claim, we know very little about the organization of background knowledge and the method of its application to the understanding of new situations when, because of a combination of the breadth, complexity, and irregularity of a content domain, formulating knowledge in that domain to explicitly prescribe its full range of uses is impossible. We call knowledge domans of this type ill-structured and contrast them with more routinizable knowledge domains that we refer to as well-structured.1 What does one do when relevant prior knowledge is not already organized to fit a situation (as will frequently be true in ill-structured domains, by definition) and so must be assembled from different knowledge sources in memory? This is a problem of knowledge transfer. We address a crucial issue in transfer: How should knowledge be acquired and organized to facilitate a wide range of future applications?
The principle contentions developed in this chapter are:____________________