Example Design

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Examples are a common feature of online teaching and learning. Examples may be of various types, and they may be based on facts or on the imagination. This module addresses some aspects of examples used in online learning, how they are selected, how they are packaged for online learning, how some methods for designing examples for effective online learning.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • consider what examples are…what various types of examples are…and what a positive example is vs. a negative example
  • review how example sets are created…and what real-world examples are vs. hypothetical examples vs. counterfactual examples… and when particular example types are used in learning…
  • study what example-based learning is and what relevant learning theories related to examples include…and what explanation-based learning is
  • review how examples are used in online learning and think about when examples are avoided in online learning and why
  • consider example design for online learning


Module Pretest

1. What are examples? What are various types of examples? What is a positive example? What is a negative example?

2. How are example sets created? What are real-world examples vs. hypothetical examples? What are counter-factual examples? How are counter-factual examples used for teaching and learning? When are various example types used in learning? Why?

3. What is example-based learning? What are some learning theories that relate to the uses of examples? What is explanation-based learning?

4. How are examples used in online learning? When is one example used vs. multiple examples? How are they presented in digital contexts? How are examples contextualized? How do these various presentation approaches and contexts affect the usefulness of the examples for learning purposes? Why is it critical to select proper examples for particular learning? When are examples avoided in online learning, and why?

5. How are examples “designed” for effective online learning?


Main Contents

1. What are examples? What are various types of examples? What is a positive example? What is a negative example?

A dictionary definition of an “example” is “a thing characteristic of its kind or illustrating a general rule,” courtesy of a Google Search. Examples are supposed to be somewhat typical of a rule and should inherently illustrate that rule.

Examples may come from the real world, or they may be hypothetical (or faux) examples. Examples may vary in terms of length—from highly brief ones to extended ones. Some examples may be “cases” and full “stories.” Examples may be singular and stand-alone, or they may be full sets. Examples vary from highly specific to more general.

A “positive” example is one that illustrates a target concept or rule. A “negative” example is a counter-example, or one that challenges the target concept or rule. A “negative” example may be a non-example for a particular rule, to nuance and clarify what is in-set and what is external to a set. Negative examples may contrast well against positive examples. (Some people may argue that a negative example is the “exception that proves the rule,” but certainly, a negative example may be informative about the domain.

In online teaching and learning, examples help further explicate and define a phenomenon or rule.


2. How are example sets created? What are real-world examples vs. hypothetical examples? What are counter-factual examples? How are counter-factual examples used for teaching and learning? When are various example types used in learning? Why?

The collection of example sets for various learning domains will vary. In life sciences, physical examples are collected and digitized in various ways for study and learning. In business school, real-world cases are written up based on experiences by leaders in the business world. Images from social media may be scraped from social media platforms for content analysis. There are numerous ways to find and create examples.

Real-world examples are fact-based ones; hypothetical examples may be partially based on real-world facts or wholly fictional. Counterfactuals are theorized examples of what-might-have-been or what-could-have-been, had history or some other precursor event taken a different course. Counter-factual examples are commonly used in various fields to help learners consider alternate possibilities, in order to hone their analytical skills.

When are various example types used in online learning? While there are taxonomies of examples based on particular learning domains, there is not a working taxonomy of general example types used in learning. There are general categories such as whether examples are fact-based or imaginary, whether the examples are short or extended, and so on. Some have differentiated between procedural (process-based) and conceptual (rule-based) examples. One author described the difference:

”Conceptual problems include all nonprocedural ones for which there is no decision procedure (the student is expected to know and apply) but require creative thinking in the form of pattern matching or educated guesses.” (Gulwani, Aug. 2014, p. 71)

Examples enhance learning because they enable learners to understand abstract concepts, divide examples into different categories (to better understand schemas), problem-solve similar issues through transfer and analogy and generalization, connect concepts to the real-world, and other methods. Example-based learning is effective for learning a wide range of tasks and skills (Van Gog & Rummel, 2010, p. 159). Examples have a way of fleshing out abstract concepts and practices that would remain undefined and confusing otherwise.

In terms of the uses of examples in online learning, some examples are in order:

  • Macro photos of insects are used for conveying their bilateral symmetry from a range of angles.
  • Math problems are set up and solved as worked-problems using lecture capture software and neon-digital ink on black digital surfaces.
  • Walk-throughs of how to use complex software are captured using screen capture software.
  • Real-world accidents described in the academic literature are recreated in page-long frames showing from-life sequences, critical moments of decision-making, and their aftermath.
  • Contagious disease movement through human populations are expressed as agent-based modeling simulations.
  • Video-based re-creations of people engaging in illegal behaviors are captured as examples of what not to do, so as not to break laws.

One additional point: While examples tend to be typical (think of the main bulge of a bell curve) in order to convey the basic nature of the example set, there are special outlier cases as well. Sometimes, the study of the outliers and “near-examples” or “close-examples” (but which are outside the set) and of negative-examples may be useful for the teaching and learning, particularly for higher-level learners and studies of complex issues and topics.


3. What is example-based learning? What are some learning theories that relate to the uses of examples? What is explanation-based learning?

Example-based learning applies from pre-K through K-16 and onwards. In other words, the uses of examples for teaching and learning are very common through formal education from childhood onwards.

“Example-based learning” follows a particular sequence: First, learners are introduced to new concepts or practices, and then they are introduced to examples which instantiate the concepts. One shortcoming of this approach may be that learners are not asked to create mental schemas (through self-explanations) of the concepts first before being exposed to the examples. One research team found the following:

”We consistently found that organization prompts fostered learning regardless of whether the learners also received self-explanation prompts. Hence, in example-based learning, learners should be prompted to not only generate principle-based self-explanations but also to organize the content of the instructional explanations” (Roelle, Hiller, Berthold, & Rumann, 2017, p. 1).

They suggest that learners benefit from being able to organize different example types within a learning domain for deeper learning and understandings (Roelle, Hiller, Berthold, & Rumann, 2017, p. 2).

There are variations on other types of example-based learning, such as the uses of examples for problem solving (Example-Problem-Based-Learning or “EPBL”), which suggests that it is possible to prepare learners to face future complex challenges by exposing them to similar problems that have arisen in the past. If there is some equivalency of context or challenge, the learning may prepare learners to face future challenges. Example-problem-based learning is built on two practices: worked examples (examples which an expert subject matter expert or “SME” demonstrates how to solve step-by-step), and problem-solving. Worked examples are beneficial to novice learners, and after a period of preparation, they advance to actual problem solving:

”After they have gained sufficient knowledge, worked-examples may no longer be appropriate because the positive effects of worked-examples will be lost. Therefore, learning through problem-solving should be applied since students have already equipped themselves with profound domain knowledge. Established in an experiment conducted, the EPBL teaching method enhances students’ knowledge acquisitions, learning transfer, and mental effort during learning, as well as increasing their learning efficiency.” (Jalani & Sern, 2015, p. 872)

Oftentimes, in complex learning contexts, difficult problems are set up for groups of learners to mitigate excessive cognitive loads

”Besides problem-solving which generates an extraneous load, higher difficulties and complexities of the learning content also results in high intrinsic loads. If the intrinsic or extraneous load is high, limited working-memory resources are insufficient for the learning task. Therefore, the limitation of working-memory capacity at the individual level is considered an important reason why complex learning tasks must be completed in groups rather than individually” (Jalani & Sern, 2015, p. 878).

Applied learning theories related to the uses of examples do not come in a neat package. There has long been the idea of “learning by example” (Bandura, 1971, p. 1, as cited in Renkl, 2013, p. 7), which suggests that expert demo-ing of processes may be helpful for novice learners. Cognitive theory has informed the use of examples to trigger self-explanations from learners, who may infer insights from the examples they see. Some common related practices to example-based learning include worked examples, observational learning, and analogical reasoning in one theorist’s integrative theory (Renkl, 2009).

Examples play a key role in learning in complex domains: “Reduce extraneous load by employing examples, maximize germane load by fostering self explanations, prevent cognitive overload by pretraining in the case of difficult learning materials, and by focusing attention on the most relevant aspects” (Renkl, Hilbert, & Schworm, 2009, p. 67).

Explanation-based learning is based on the idea of extracting general problem-solving techniques by analyzing specific problems and applied solutions. This approach requires both inductive logic (from the specific examples) and deductive logic (extracting general rules from the inductive observations and applying those rules to other problems through transfer. There is clear need for reflectance in this approach.


4. How are examples used in online learning? When is one example used vs. multiple examples? How are they presented in digital contexts? How are examples contextualized? How do these various presentation approaches and contexts affect the usefulness of the examples for learning purposes? Why is it critical to select proper examples for particular learning? When are examples avoided in online learning, and why?

As noted earlier, examples are used in a variety of ways for online learning. They instantiate concepts and rules. They are used for content analysis. They are used descriptively and analytically.

While it is rare to only use one example, it is also fairly rare to have whole sets of examples. Having multiple examples helps learners better understand the issue at hand because the shared examples may be variations on a theme, or they may be extreme examples within a problem set, and so on.

Examples may be expressed in a variety of ways in digital contents, with combinations of modalities: text, audio, video, multimedia, interactive simulation, and others.

Examples can be contextualized in rich ways in digital formats. How examples are introduced and employed for learning affects how effective these can be for applied learning.

To control against negative learning or misconceptions, examples should be selected carefully and presented accurately to the underlying and relevant facts.

Examples may be avoided in online learning for different reasons. One reason may be that the learning itself is highly theoretical, and any example would be a work of the imagination. If the available examples are limited and potentially misleading, it may be better to do without. There are various pedagogical considerations, but these are some early examples.


5. How are examples designed for “effective” online learning?

Examples may be (1) found and selected, and / or (2) they may be created. Examples may be presented in particular ways, with lead-up text and multimedia as well as lead-away contents. There may be assignments designed around the examples. There may be debriefings created around the examples as well.

There are pockets of research on effective ways to apply example-based learning in particular learning domains. One author has surfaced some design principles in the uses of examples for learning:

”Self-explanation and comparison principle
Explanation-help principle
Model-observer similarity principle
Example-set principle
Easy-mapping principle
Meaningful building blocks principle
Studying errors principle
Imagery principle
Interleaving by fading principle” (Renkl, Sept, 2013, p. 5).

The most accurate representation here may be that there are complex considerations for instructional design around the uses of examples.

Examples

To see examples used in online learning, identify a domain of interest, and conduct a search via a preferred web search engine. There are many common examples used for online learning. Some are procedure-based worked examples (such as math-based ones on Khan Academy). Others are conceptual examples (such as images retrieved from text-based queries on image search features of image-sharing social media sites, like Flickr…or queries on image-based search engines from the Web, such as via Google Images). More formal examples may be found in massive open online courses (MOOCs) and in digital learning objects (DLOs).

How To

There are a number of factors to consider in terms of example design for online learning, depending on various factors:

  • learning domain
  • learners and their prior knowledge about the topic
  • the purposes of the learning (learning objectives, learning outcomes)
  • the learning contents
  • the available technologies, and
  • other factors.

It is beyond the purview of this short module to address steps to proper example design for learning.

Possible Pitfalls

What are some possible pitfalls to example-based learning? As noted in the body of this module, the research suggests that worked examples are useful for new learners to a particular domain but that certain aspects of the worked-parts and the explanations may be “faded” over time as the learners become more informed on the topic and learning domain.

If examples used in online learning are poorly selected and poorly presented, without consideration for possible negative learning and unintended interpretations, it is possible for learners to focus on side elements of the examples and have skewed impressions. Learners may make incorrect inferences and come out with inaccurate senses of the target concepts (based on poorly selected or poorly contextualized examples).

Another concern raised in the literature is that the examples tapped may require rethinking of the illustrated concepts. If sets of examples are limited, and new examples are not included, it is possible to forgo advancements in the domain field. In dynamic fields, new examples may be acquired, and these examples may aid in the reconceptualization of phenomena and models in the domain.

Another possible concern is that examples may be mis-used by learners as products to “clone” for their own work instead of reflecting on the examples and extracting reflected insights. In some cases, emulation may be desirable for early and novice learning. In other cases, examples may be needed for more inferential learning. Differentiating between such contexts would be important.

Module Post-Test

1. What are examples? What are various types of examples? What is a positive example? What is a negative example?

2. How are example sets created? What are real-world examples vs. hypothetical examples? What are counter-factual examples? How are counter-factual examples used for teaching and learning? When are various example types used in learning? Why?

3. What is example-based learning? What are some learning theories that relate to the uses of examples? What is explanation-based learning?

4. How are examples used in online learning? When is one example used vs. multiple examples? How are they presented in digital contexts? How are examples contextualized? How do these various presentation approaches and contexts affect the usefulness of the examples for learning purposes? Why is it critical to select proper examples for particular learning? When are examples avoided in online learning, and why?

5. How are examples “designed” for effective online learning?


References

“Explanation-based learning.” (2017, July 25). Wikipedia. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explanation-based_learning.

Gulwani, S. (2014, Aug.) Example-based learning in computer-aided STEM education. Communications of the ACM: 57(8), 70 – 80.

Jalani, N.H. & Sern, L.C. (2015). The example-problem-based learning model: Applying cognitive load theory. In the World Conference on Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences: 195(2015), 872 – 880.

Renkl, A. (2013, Sept. 24). Toward an instructionally oriented theory of example-based learning. Cognitive Science: 38(1), 1 – 37.

Renkl, A., Hilbert, T., & Schworm, S. (2009). Example-based learning in heuristic domains: A cognitive load theory account. Educational Psychology Review: 21 (2009): 67 – 78. .

Roelle, J., Hiller, S., Berthold, K., & Rumann, S. (2017). Example-based learning: The benefits of prompting organization before providing examples. Learning and Instruction: 49(2017), 1 – 12.

Van Gog, T. & Rummel, N. (2010). Example-based learning: Integrating cognitive and social-cognitive research perspectives. Educational Psychology Review: 22(2010), 155 – 174.

Extra Resources

"Explanation-based learning." (2017, July 25). Wikipedia. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explanation-based_learning.