Procedural instructions, principles, and examples: How to structure instructions for procedural tasks to enhance performance, learning, and transfer

  • Eiriksdottir E
  • Catrambone R
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Objective: The goal of this article is to investigate how instructions can be constructed to enhance performance and learning of procedural tasks. Background: Important determinants of the effectiveness of instructions are type of instructions (procedural information, principles, and examples) and pedagogical goal (initial performance, learning, and transfer). Method: Procedural instructions describe how to complete tasks in a stepwise manner, principles describe rules governing the tasks, and examples demonstrate how instances of the task are carried out. The authors review the research literature associated with each type of instruction to identify factors determining effectiveness for different pedagogical goals. Results: The results suggest a trade-off between usability and learnability. Specific instructions help initial performance, whereas more general instructions, requiring problem solving, help learning and transfer. Learning from instructions takes cognitive effort, and research suggests that learners typically opt for low effort. However, it is possible to meet both goals of good initial performance and learning with methods such as fading and by combining different types of instructions. Conclusion: How instructions are constructed influences their effectiveness for the goals of good initial performance, learning, and transfer, and it is therefore important for researchers and practitioners alike to define the pedagogical goal of instructions. Application: If the goal is good initial performance, then instructions should highly resemble the task at hand (e.g., in the form of detailed procedural instructions and examples), but if the goal is good learning and transfer, then instructions should be more abstract, inducing learners to expend the necessary cognitive effort for learning.

Author-supplied keywords

  • examples
  • instructional materials
  • principles
  • procedures

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  • Elsa Eiriksdottir

  • Richard Catrambone

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