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The Relation Between Reasoning and the Structure of Knowledge When Solving Mechanical Problems


An important outcome of formal education is the acquisition of knowledge that will facilitate domain specific problem-solving skill. Theories of human intelligence identify general reasoning as a cognitive ability that is strongly associated with solving novel problems where learning about the problem is necessary. This dissertation investigates individual differences, such as general reasoning, that may influence how an individual structures knowledge within a domain, such as bicycle gears, and subsequent problem-solving skill. Special focus is given to identifying the structural characteristics of the acquired bicycle gear knowledge and relating these characteristics to general reasoning and skill at solving bicycle gear problems. College participants (N = 174, 111 female) completed a general reasoning test, reported the bicycle parts they knew, and their mechanical self-efficacy was assessed before they watched a training video on bicycle gear adjustment. After training, the extent of their procedural knowledge was tested, the structure of their knowledge was elicited, and then their skill at fixing bicycle gear problems was tested. Professional bicycle mechanics (N = 3) were recruited to provide a criterion for evaluating the structural characteristics of bicycle gear knowledge. The results from regression analysis indicated that bicycle gear problem-solving skill had a stronger relation with how knowledge was structured, as compared to the extent of procedural knowledge, general reasoning, mechanical self-efficacy, or problem-solving effort. Regression analysis of knowledge structure indicated that general reasoning was associated with acquiring an expert-like knowledge structure, as was learning effort and pre-training bicycle part knowledge, but not mechanical self-efficacy. These results support the view that general reasoning is associated with problem solving because it facilitates the acquisition of knowledge that is structured similarly to experienced professionals. If it is the structure of knowledge that facilitates or hinders problem-solving, as suggested by this study’s results, mechanical training may be enhanced by an explicit focus on structuring knowledge to replicate that of experts. A focus on using educational materials that impart the desired knowledge structure may significantly reduce the need of general reasoning in achieving mechanical expertise.

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