Research by Cristine Legare and Tania Lombrozo on the Selective Effects of Explanation on Learning Featured by GoldieBlox

 

Students Can Learn by Explaining

Ninety-six children ages 3 to 5 were presented with a complex toy made up of colorful, interlocking gears with a crank on one end and a propeller on the other. With half the children, the researchers asked each one, “Can you explain this to me?” With the other half, they simply said, “Oh look, isn’t this interesting?” The two groups of children focused on different things, researchers found. Children who were asked to observe noticed the colors of the toy, while those asked to explain focused on the chain of gears working on each other to eventually turn the propeller when the child turned the crank at the other end. Children who had explained the toy were better at re-creating it and not being distracted by ornamental gears, and they were better able to transfer what they had learned about how gears work to new tasks. The children who had observed the toy outperformed the children in the explanation group on a memory task focused on the toy’s colors.

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