An evaluative review of selected aspects of “Discovery Learning” and implications on Numeracy teaching within the Adult Education Sector.
In this report I shall be reviewing the “Discovery Learning” method of teaching and how it can both positively and negatively impact the learners experience in the class room. I shall be illustrating the approach to “Discovery Learning that I take when teaching groups of adults Numeracy.
Discovery learning is a problem solving or “inquiry-based” method of teaching calling on learners to use their own experience and knowledge to discover facts and answers for themselves through exploring ideas and even performing experiments which is why it lends itself to more practical subjects as Numeracy and Science.
The discovery theory believes that learners will remember knowledge that they have “discovered” better than facts that have been memorised.
There are several different models of Discovery Learning, these include: guided discovery, problem based learning, simulation and incidental learning.
Discovery learning as it is known today is based on Jerome Bruner’s argument that “practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving” (Bruner 1961 – the act of discovery – Harvard educational review) or to put it simply we should “learn by doing”.
This problem-solving theory formally originated in the 1890’s with educational reformer John Dewey, he wrote twice on the subject; first in 1897 in his paper “My pedagogical Creed” where he stated that “emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and problem-solving skills than simply in the memorisation of lessons”. These views were then reinforced in his paper “How We Think” (1910) with the statement “We should not focus on the outcome of learning at the expense of the process”.
When thought through, well planned and executed proficiently the Discovery method can offer learners the opportunity to be active in their own education and have ownership of their work. By using their own knowledge and experience to solve a problem gives a learner more intrinsic motivation to complete a task - to see if their theory is right and achieve something for themselves. The discovery method also allows more practical learners to visualise, relate and master concepts that may seem more confusing on paper.
In 1956 Craig investigated the effectiveness of discovery learning by comparing two groups of learners given the same set of logic problems, the first were left to complete the problems with no help at all (the pure discovery group) the second were given a “hint”, these were the guided discovery group. His research showed that the guided group learned more efficiently, remembered more and transferred the skill to new problems better than the pure discovery group. Kittel in 1957 repeated this study but added a pure exposition group who were told exactly how to solve the problems and given the correct answer for each. The pure discovery group performed the worst on tests of immediate retention, delayed retention and transfer of skills but the guided discovery group performed the best.
More recently there have been studies into the effectiveness of discovery learning, although these have been mainly focussed within the schools sector the findings can be applied to adult learners. Kirschner, Sweller and Clarke in 2006 undertook a study that found Discovery learning falls down as it “is often used inappropriately to teach novices” so learners should already have “been given some direct instruction first” and that “there is little empirical evidence to support the achievements of purely discovery based learning”. The conclusion of this study widely reflects the work of both Craig and Kittel, reinforcing the negative attitude towards pure discovery learning that has been held for the last 50 years
The main criticism of pure discovery is that...
Bibliography: Jeff Petty, Teaching Today 3rd edition 2004
Dewey, J (1897) “My Pedagogic Creed’ in The School Journal, Vol 14, No 3,
The Essential Dewey: Volumes 1 and 2. Edited by Larry Hickman and Thomas Alexander. (1998). Indiana University Press.
Discovery Learning (Bruner) www.learning-theories.com/discovery-learning-bruner.html
Paul A. Kirschner (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 41(2), 75–86 Copyright © 2006, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Bruner, J. S. (1961). The art of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31,
Richard E. Mayer (2004) The case for guided methods of instruction. American Psychologist Jan 04 P14 – 19
Kittel, J. E. (1957). An experimental study of the effect of external direction during learning on transfer and retention of principles. Journal of Educational Psychology, 48, 391– 405.
Craig, R. C. (1956). Directed versus independent discovery of established relations. Journal of Educational Psychology, 47, 223–234.
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