Pre-college electrical engineering instruction: Do abstract or contextualized representations promote better learning?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

12 Scopus citations


Pre-college students were randomly assigned to learn about electrical circuit analysis with an instructional program that included two problem solving practice conditions. In the first condition, students learned to solve parallel circuit problems that were contextualized around real electrical devices and represented with realistic diagrams. In the second condition, students learned to solve the same problems except that they were de-contextualized and represented with abstract diagrams. To measure learning, students were given near and far transfer problem solving tests. In addition, students' learning perceptions were measured using a program-rating survey that included three subscales: overall program usefulness, problem representation usefulness, and perceived cognitive load. Students who learned with abstract problems produced higher scores on the near transfer test and made better problem representations during problem solving than those who learned with contextualized problems. The contextualized group gave marginally higher ratings for the program representation usefulness. The findings suggest that abstract electrical circuit representations promote better learning because they facilitate thinking about a variety of problem contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings - Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event39th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference: Imagining and Engineering Future CSET Education, FIE 2009 - San Antonio, TX, United States
Duration: Oct 18 2009Oct 21 2009


Other39th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference: Imagining and Engineering Future CSET Education, FIE 2009
CountryUnited States
CitySan Antonio, TX



  • Abstract representation
  • Cognitive learning theory
  • Contextualized representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Software
  • Education

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