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Learning Concepts and Categories from Examples: How Learners' Beliefs Match and Mismatch the Empirical Evidence


The compelling intuition in learning to abstract categories and concepts from examples is that such inductive learning is enhanced when the examples are blocked by category, such as solving addition problems first before moving on to subtraction problems, or learning painters' styles by comparing multiple paintings by one artist before moving on to the paintings of another artist. Recent research, however, suggest that interleaving examples of separate to-be-learned categories enhances such inductive learning. Learners typically fail to appreciate the benefit of interleaving (as compared to blocking study by category), both before study experience (Tauber, Dunlosky, Rawson, Wahlheim, & Jacoby, 2013) and even after completing a test in which their performance demonstrates better learning after interleaved study (e.g., Kornell & Bjork, 2008; Kornell, Castel, Eich, & Bjork, 2010). Across ten experiments, I investigated learners' metacognitive beliefs as to what optimizes inductive learning and how those beliefs, when in error, can be modified. In Chapter 2, I report on my efforts, using theory- and experience-based de-biasing procedures (Koriat & Bjork, 2006), to dislodge learners' beliefs in the superiority of blocking. Learners' intuitions favoring blocking proved remarkably difficult to dislodge, despite my taking multiple steps to direct participants' attention to the link between initial study schedule and subsequent test success, and providing explanations of the interleaving benefit. In Chapter 3, I report on my efforts to extend the cognitive literature by investigating whether hybrid schedules of study--that is, schedules that combine elements of blocking and interleaving--are effective. While learners remained insensitive to the benefits of purely interleaved study, they demonstrated some appreciation of hybrid schedules that were about as effective as a purely interleaved schedule. Finally, in Chapter 4, I report on my efforts to examine learners' a priori beliefs by analyzing self-scheduled study orders in light of the cognitive results found in Chapter 3, which revealed that learners can demonstrate some metacognitive sophistication with respect to category learning, when given the right opportunity to do so.

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