The design of computerized practice fields for problem solving and contextualized transfer

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Date: Winter 2003
Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,805 words

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Current theories of learning emphasize the importance of learner-centered, active, authentic, environments for meaningful knowledge construction. From this perspective, computerized case-based learning systems afford practice fields for learners to build domain knowledge and problem-solving skills and to support contextualized transfer of knowledge and skills to professional practice. Case-based learning systems are playing a more and more important role in clinical practice disciplines that deal with ill-structured problems, especially in medicine and education. Technology is an efficient means to provide such learning environments. However, the design of computerized case-based learning systems is extremely complex. This article applies the eight design principles for creating computer-based practice fields described by Barab and Duffy (2000) to two case-based learning systems: CAMPUS (Computer-assisted Education in Medicine via Platform-Independent System) and the TPSS (Teacher Problem Solving Skills) series of interactive cases. The authors describe the use of these design principles for practice fields in these two learning systems and summarize evaluation findings based on their implementation. The one practice field design principle that cannot be implemented within a computer-based learning system is to provide an opportunity to negotiate meaning within a community of learners. To achieve this design principle, instructors need to provide opportunities for discourse around the cases so that knowledge can be manipulated, re-constructed, and transferred beyond the computer-based learning environment.


Many of the current learning theories focus on authentic, student-centered learning environments. As Jonassen and Land (2000) stated, the past decade "has witnessed the most substantive and revolutionary changes in learning theory in history" (p. iv). In fact, newer theoretical learning foundations--such as socially shared cognition, situated learning, everyday cognition and reasoning, activity theory, ecological psychology, distributed cognition, and case-based reasoning--share many of the beliefs and assumptions of constructivism. For example, these learning theories are based on the belief that learning is neither a transmissive nor submissive process, but rather, a willful, intentional, active, conscious, constructive, activity that requires reciprocal intention-action-reflection cognition. The fundamental shift to constructivist-oriented learning theories asserts that learning is a process of meaning making, not of knowledge transmission, and that it is a social-dialogical process influenced by communities of practice.

The movement to a constructivist-learning paradigm has influenced the design and development of open-ended learning environments like problem-based learning (Hmelo, 1998) and goal based scenarios (Schank, Fano, Bett, & Jona, 1994). Land and Hannafin (2000) described open-ended learning environments generically as student-centered learning environments that focus on the affordances within environments that allow learners to affect their environments and make meaning. These learner-centered environments provide interactive, complementary activities that enable individuals to address unique learning interests and needs, study multiple levels of complexity, and deepen understanding (Hannafin & Land, 1997). Technology in these environments is frequently employed as a tool to support experimentation, manipulation, and idea generation in the construction of knowledge (Jonassen, 2000).

A critical extension of knowledge construction is transfer, which can be defined as the use of knowledge in applied, contextualized situations. Studies of differences between novice and expert use of knowledge demonstrate that experts go...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A115966471