Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 427–443 | Cite as

Giving Learning a Helping Hand: Finger Tracing of Temperature Graphs on an iPad

  • Shirley Agostinho
  • Sharon Tindall-Ford
  • Paul Ginns
  • Steven J. Howard
  • Wayne Leahy
  • Fred Paas
Review Article


Gesturally controlled information and communication technologies, such as tablet devices, are becoming increasingly popular tools for teaching and learning. Based on the theoretical frameworks of cognitive load and embodied cognition, this study investigated the impact of explicit instructions to trace out elements of tablet-based worked examples on mathematical problem-solving. Participants were 61 primary school children (8–11 years), who studied worked examples on an iPad either by tracing temperature graphs with their index finger or without such tracing. Results confirmed the main hypothesis that finger tracing as a form of biologically primary knowledge would support the construction of biologically secondary knowledge needed to understand temperature graphs. Children in the tracing condition achieved higher performance on transfer test questions. The theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.


Cognitive load theory Embodied cognition Tracing effect Tablets iPads 



This research was funded by the University of Wollongong’s Research Council Small Grant Scheme, 2013.


  1. Abrams, R., Davoli, C., Du, F., Knapp, W., III, & Paull, D. (2008). Altered vision near the hands. Cognition, 107, 1035–1047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alibali, M. W. (2005). Gesture in spatial cognition: expressing, communicating, and thinking about spatial information. Spatial Cognition and Computation, 5, 307–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alibali, M. W., & DiRusso, A. A. (1999). The function of gesture in learning to count: more than keeping track. Cognitive Development, 14, 37–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atkinson, R., Lin, L., & Harrison, C. (2009). Comparing the efficacy of different signaling techniques. In G. Siemens & C. Fulford (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2009 (pp. 954–962). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from Scholar
  5. Baddeley, A. (2012). Working memory: theories, models, and controversies. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bara, F., Gentaz, E., & Colé, P. (2007). Haptics in learning to read with children from low socio-economic status families. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 643–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bara, F., Gentaz, E., Colé, P., & Sprenger-Charolles, L. (2004). The visuo-haptic and haptic exploration of letters increases the kindergarten-children’s understanding of the alphabetic principle. Cognitive Development, 19, 433–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bartlett, F. (1932). Remembering: a study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Board of Studies NSW Syllabuses for the Australian curriculum (2012). Mathematics K-10, Stage 3, Statistics and Probability. Retrieved March 20, from
  10. Castro-Alonso, J. C., Ayres, P., & Paas, F. (2014). Learning from observing hands in static and animated versions of non-manipulative tasks. Learning and Instruction, 34, 11–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chum, M., Bekkering, H., Dodd, M. D., & Pratt, J. (2007). Motor and visual codes interact to facilitate visuospatial memory performance. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 1189–1193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Colonnesi, C., Stams, G. J. J. M., Koster, I., & Noom, M. J. (2010). The relation between pointing and language development: a meta-analysis. Developmental Review, 352–366.Google Scholar
  13. Cooper, G., & Sweller, J. (1987). Effects of schema acquisition and rule automation on mathematical problem-solving transfer. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 347–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cosman, J., & Vecera, S. (2010). Attention affects visual perceptual processing near the hand. Psychological Science, 21, 1254–1258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. de Koning, B., & Tabbers, H. (2013). Gestures in instructional animations: a helping hand to understanding non-human movements? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27, 683–689.Google Scholar
  17. Docebo (2014). E-Learning Market Trends & Forecast 2014–2016 Report. Retrieved from
  18. Evans, M. A., Williamson, K., & Pursoo, T. (2008). Preschoolers’ attention to print during shared book reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12, 106–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Foglia, L., & Wilson, R. A. (2013). Embodied cognition. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 4, 319–325.Google Scholar
  20. Geary, D. C. (2008). An evolutionarily informed education science. Educational Psychologist, 43, 179–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ginns, P. (2006). Integrating information: meta-analyses of the spatial contiguity and temporal contiguity effects. Learning and Instruction, 16, 511–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Glenberg, A. M., Witt, J. K., & Metcalfe, J. (2013). From the revolution to embodiment: 25 years of cognitive psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8, 573–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goldin-Meadow, S. (2011). Learning through gesture. WIREs Cognitive Science, 2, 595–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hostetter, A. B. (2011). When do gestures communicate? a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 297–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hu, F. T., Ginns, P., & Bobis, J. (2014). Does tracing worked examples enhance geometry learning? Australian Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 14, 45–49.Google Scholar
  26. Hu, F.-T., Ginns, P., & Bobis, J. (2015). Getting the point: tracing worked examples enhances learning. Learning and Instruction, 35, 85–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hulme, C., Monk, A., & Ives, S. (1987). Some experimental studies of multi-sensory teaching: the effects of manual tracing on children’s paired-associate learning. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 299–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC horizon report: 2014 K-12 edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.Google Scholar
  29. Justice, L. M., Kaderavek, J. N., Fan, X., Sofka, A., & Hunt, A. (2009). Accelerating preschoolers’early literacy development through classroom-based teacher-child storybook reading and explicitprint referencing. Language, Speech, and Hearing in Schools, 40, 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kalenine, S., Pinet, L., & Gentaz, E. (2011). The visual and visuo-haptic exploration of geometrical shapes increases their recognition in preschoolers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 35, 18–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kalyuga, S. (2007). Expertise reversal effect and its implications for learner-tailored instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 19, 509–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Kirschner, F., Paas, F., & Kirschner, P. A. (2009). A cognitive load approach to collaborative learning: united brains for complex tasks. Educational Psychology Review, 21, 31–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kirschner, F., Paas, F., & Kirschner, P. A. (2011). Task complexity as a driver for collaborative learning efficiency: the collective working memory effect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 615–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kita, S. (2001). How representational gestures help speaking. In D. McNeill (Ed.), Language and gesture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Leahy, W., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2003). When auditory presentations should and should not to be a component of multimedia instruction. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17(4), 401–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leahy, W., & Sweller, J. (2004). Cognitive load and the imagination effect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18(7), 857–875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Leahy, W., & Sweller, J. (2011). Cognitive load theory, modality of presentation and the transient information effect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(6), 943–951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leahy, W., & Sweller, J. (2005). Interactions among the imagination, expertise reversal, and element interactivity effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 11(4), 266–276.Google Scholar
  40. Leppink, J., Paas, F., Van Der Vleuten, C. P., Van Gog, T., & Van Merrienboer, J. J. (2014). Effects of pairs of problems and examples on task performance and different types of cognitive load. Learning and Instruction, 30, 32–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Liszkowski, U., Brown, P., Callaghan, T., Takada, A., & de Vos, C. (2012). A prelinguistic gestural universal of human communication. Cognitive Science, 36, 698–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Liszkowski, U., Carpenter, M., Henning, A., Striano, T., & Tomasello, M. (2004). Twelve-month-olds point to share attention and interest. Developmental Science, 7, 297–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Macken, L., & Ginns, P. (2014). Pointing and tracing gestures may enhance anatomy and physiology learning. Medical Teacher, 36, 569–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marshall, S. P. (1995). Schemas in problem solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mayer, R. E., & DaPra, C. S. (2012). An embodiment effect in computer-based learning with animated pedagogical agents. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18, 239–252.Google Scholar
  46. Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Montessori, M. (1912/1964). The Montessori Method. Cambridge, MA: Robert Bentley, Inc.Google Scholar
  48. Moreno, R., Reislein, M., & Ozogul, G. (2010). Using virtual peers to guide visual attention during learning. Journal of Media Psychology, 22, 52–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Paas, F. (1992). Training strategies for attaining transfer of problem-solving skill in statistics: a cognitive-load approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Paas, F., & Sweller, J. (2012). An evolutionary upgrade of cognitive load theory: using the human motor system and collaboration to support the learning of complex cognitive tasks. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Peterson, L., & Peterson, M. J. (1959). Short-term retention of individual verbal items. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 193–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Piasta, S. B., Justice, L. M., McGinty, A. S., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2012). Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: longitudinal effects on literacy achievement. Child Development, 83, 810–820.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ping, R., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2010). Gesturing saves cognitive resources when talking about nonpresent objects. Cognitive Science, 34, 602–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sheu, F.-R., & Chen, N.-S. (2014). Taking a signal: a review of gesture-based computing research in education. Computers in Education, 78, 268–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shams, L., & Seitz, A. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Science, 12, 411–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Spence, C. (2010). Crossmodal spatial attention. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1191, 182–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Spitzer, M. (2013). To swipe or not to swipe?—the question in present day education. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 2, 95–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sweller, J. (2003). Evolution of human cognitive architecture. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 43, 216–266.Google Scholar
  60. Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Talsma, D., Senkowski, D., Soto-Faraco, S., & Woldorff, M. G. (2010). The multifaceted interplay between attention and multisensory integration. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 400–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wong, A., Marcus, N., Smith, L., Cooper, G. A., Ayres, P., Paas, F., et al. (2009). Instructional animations can be superior to statics when learning human motor skills. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 339–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Van der Burg, E., Olivers, C., Bronkhorst, A., & Theeuwes, J. (2009). Poke and pop: tactile-visual synchrony increases visual saliency. Neuroscience Letters, 450, 60–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Van Gog, T., Ericsson, K. A., Rikers, R. M., & Paas, F. (2005). Instructional design for advanced learners: establishing connections between the theoretical frameworks of cognitive load and deliberate practice. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53, 73–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Van Gog, T., Paas, F., Marcus, N., Ayres, P., & Sweller, J. (2009). The mirror-neuron system and observational learning: implications for the effectiveness of dynamic visualizations. Educational Psychology Review, 21, 21–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wong, A., Leahy, W., Marcus, N., & Sweller, J. (2012). Cognitive load theory, the transient information effect and e-learning. Learning and Instruction, 22(6), 449–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shirley Agostinho
    • 1
  • Sharon Tindall-Ford
    • 2
  • Paul Ginns
    • 3
  • Steven J. Howard
    • 1
  • Wayne Leahy
    • 4
  • Fred Paas
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Early Start Research InstituteUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.School of Education, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Education and Social WorkThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.School of Education, Faculty of Human SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Institute of PsychologyErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations