Learner vs. system control in using online support for simulation-based discovery learning

Janine Swaak, Ton de Jong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic


Learning in discovery environments, such as simulations, requires both planning and complex inference processing from learners. Studies evaluating simulations learning have indicated that, without added instructional support, simulation learning knowledge gains are disappointing and/or unclear. With regard to the problems that learners could encounter, we feel, on the one hand, that learners should be supported in their discovery processes whenever possible. On the other hand, we believe that learners' own responsibility in the learning process should be emphasised. The discovery environment in the present study is called CIRCUIT, in which the behaviour of current and voltage sources in electrical circuits is simulated. CIRCUIT includes three main types of instructional support: model progression, assignments, and explanations. Two experimental conditions were created. Although these conditions were similar with respect to the support, they differed with respect to the amount of freedom given to the subjects. That is, the first group of subjects was free to choose their own sequence exploring the simulation environment. In the second group, the sequence was largely controlled by the environment. In determining the instructional value of the interaction, special attention is paid to acquiring intuitive knowledge as compared to definitional knowledge. The evaluation followed a pretest-posttest design. Results showed no gain in definitional knowledge but a gain in intuitive knowledge. No major differences between the experimental groups were detected in the posttest results or in the interaction processes, a cognitive load measure, and the subjective ratings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages24
JournalLearning environments research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Cognitive load
  • Definitional knowledge
  • Discovery learning environments
  • Intuitive knowledge
  • Learner vs. system control
  • Simulations


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