Epistemology, situated cognition, and mental models: 'Like a bridge over troubled water'
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Over the past two decades important educational implications have beendrawn mainly from two movements of epistemology: Constructivismand situated cognition. Aside from a meta-theoretical use ofconstructivism, the concept 'situated cognition' refers to a conceptionof situational context bound to a historically and socially determinedsituational logic. Focusing on educational processes, situated cognitionis considered to be a central construct for instruction, as is theclosely related concept of the construction of mental models.
There are various kinds of the construction and change of mental modelsin a situational context: self-guided inductive construction is oneexample; another is the processing of a conceptual model providedto the learner. An emerging question is how the preconception changesand if the effects of such a model transition are stable. An exploratorystudy will be sketched which investigates the significance of aconceptual model provided at the beginning of the learning process;it has been hypothesized, that such a conceptual model significantlyimpacts the stability (i.e. the successful reconstruction) of mentalmodels built in the course of learning. Also considerableintraindividual differences and changes between two points of assessingthe learners' causal explanations were found. Similarities of theindividuals' reconstructions could be explained with regard tosimilarities of the structures of the learning situations and therelated instructional intervention. In general, the results of thisexploratory study support the assumption that mental models areconstructed in dependence on the demands of learning situations.
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