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Explanations for problem solving

A good skills course has tasks (exercises students do), explanations (course material students read and watch), and relationships (with instructors and peers). We've talked about how tasks help students learn problem solving. Explanations should help them learn problem solving, too.

Research suggests how that can be done. For example, courses should help students use a field's core ideas to solve important problems, rather than overload them with so much much information that they never learn how to actually do tasks.

This is an issue of course goals and design. Skilling is more about implementing well-designed courses. Here, we'll mention just a few ways authors can write good explanations, and how Skilling helps.

Worked examples

Worked examples let students read or watch as someone completes a task. Good worked examples show the problem solving process, as students would experience it. The examples can show common errors, and how to recover from them.

You can read about how Skilling helps authors create effective worked examples.

Schemas

Schemas are patterns that are useful in solving problems in a particular field. For example, a programmer might talk about "looping across a data set." Other programmers would know exactly what that means. A journalist might say, "Remember the inverted pyramid." That's a way of organizing a story, that all journalists know about.

Schemas are central to the way humans think about the world. Learning the schemas of a field helps students become better problem solvers. You can read more about schemas and their use in Skilling.

Metacognition

Strictly, metacognition means "thinking about thinking," but the term is used in different ways in learning research. "Think about what you just learned" captures the essence of it.

For example, a lesson might say: "You just saw an example of [something]. Earlier, you read about [something similar, but not the same]. How would you compare them?" Students are asked to infer something from their existing knowledge. They might write a paragraph on what was common in the two examples, and what was different. The might form a new schema as a result.

You can read more about metacognition and Skilling.

Activating prior knowledge

Human memory learns new information by connecting it to existing information. The more connections there are, and the stronger those connections are, the more memorable the information will be.

Suppose we have a geography lesson on alluvial soil ("a fine-grained fertile soil deposited by water flowing over flood plains or in river beds" - thank you, The Free Dictionary). We want students to remember the Nile floodplain as one place that benefits from regular deposits of alluvial soil. They already learned about Nile flooding in an earlier course. If we "prime" students' memories by reminding them about Nile flooding at the start of the lesson, they are more likely to remember the association between "alluvial soil" and "Nile flooding."

Skilling supports multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions. They're not for testing students, as is the usual case, but for activating prior knowledge. In other words, Skilling has MCQs and FiBs, because of their cognitive side effects. Asking students questions about Nile flooding at the start of the alluvial soil lesson, will activate those memories, and build stronger connections as students read the lesson.

You can read more about activating prior knowledge.

Skilling is a toolkit

Skilling is a toolkit for making good skills courses. That includes making good explanations. Skilling has the usual writing features. An editor, formatting, lists, tables, images... blah blah. However, it also has more specific features, applicable to skills courses.

You wouldn't want to use Skilling to make a flashy consumer website to sell vacations. Skilling is optimized for making and running skills courses, and that's all.