By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
My 8-year-0ld daughter is currently obsessed with a game called "Minecraft." She is using increasing portions of her precious screen time to sign into her "worlds" in order to build and develop elaborate houses and other buildings. As I understand it, the point isn't to rack up a high score or to "win" anything, it is just to transform a landscape by constructing things. As she describes it, the game seems to appeal to a basic cognitive need: The need to structure. What the game promotes is similar to what the brain wants to do with any new information. The brain's preference for order suggests that learning something is not based on acquiring new facts in a simple list-like fashion, but in coming up with a system for categorizing those facts. More important than the data, are the "drawers" we keep that data in. As we become an "expert" in any area, we gain more facts, but more importantly, we gain more structures.
It is called the "structure-builder" theory of learning (Gernsbacher, 1997), and based on a recent ScienceDaily release, the perspective posits that "deep comprehension requires a two-step process in which learners must first identify and understand key terms and concepts and then grasp how these pieces fit together into a cohesive framework." That idea is supported in a recent study on learning published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (Bui & McDaniel, 2015). Looking at individual differences in the way our minds process learning, the study found that "providing students with illustrative diagrams showing relationships among key concepts to be discussed in a lecture can boost student learning and recall." This worked for all learners, but particularly for the "low structure-builders" who did not take naturally to the process of seeing those relationships on their own. This research carries a high practical value, not just to lecturers, but to litigators. This post will provide a quick summary of the research and offer some simple advice on this way of improving courtroom teaching and persuasion.