Thursday, May 28, 2015

Domain-specific knowledge and why teaching generic skills does not work.

Tricot, A., & Sweller, J. (2014). Domain-specific knowledge and why teaching generic skills does not work. Educational Psychology Review, 26, 265-283.

Domain-general skills are skills that can be used to solve any problem in any area. Tricot and Sweller argue that these skills are acquired automatically for biological evolutionary reasons and so are unteachable. Examples of such biologically primary knowledge include learning to listen and speak, learning to recognize faces, engage in social relations, or basic number sense.

Domain-specific knowledge, on the other hand, refers to memorized information that can lead to action permitting specified task completion over indefinite periods of time. Tricot and Sweller argue that acquiring domain-specific knowledge requires learning of specific rules for solving a problem (e.g., an equation), and the moves associated with this state (e.g., when the equation must be applied). The authors consider domain-specific information to be teachable aspects of problem solving skills. The acquisition of this domain-specific or biologically secondary knowledge is viewed as heavily dependent on the prior acquisition of primary knowledge. Tricot and Sweller go on to review several lines of evidence showing that expert knowledge in a specific domain does not yield expertise across domains, but can be applied within the domain to advantage.

The authors provide two examples of instructional strategies that follow from their views on the acquisition of domain-general (biologically primary) and domain-specific (biologically secondary) information. (1) The worked example effect. Novice learners benefit from studying worked example formats. Studying a worked exampled reduces the amount of extraneous (unnecessary) work being done by working memory to generate a large set of potential solutions to a problem. By seeing the solution, working memory resources can be devoted to learning to recognize the problem and its associated moves. (2) The expertise reversal effect. Reviewing worked examples is a disadvantage for expert learners probably because working memory resources are devoted to information the expert learner has already acquired. Instead, expert learners need practice at solving the problems so that they can more automatically recognize the relevant problems and their associated moves.

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