Two comparative studies of computer simulations and experiments as learning tools in school and out-of-school education

Interactive computer simulations and hands-on experiments are important teaching methods in modern science education. Especially for the communication of complex current topics with social relevance (socioscientific issues), suitable methods in science education are of great importance. However, previous studies could not sufficiently clarify the educational advantages and disadvantages of both methods and often lack adequate comparability. This paper presents two studies of direct comparisons of hands-on experiments and interactive computer simulations as learning tools in science education for secondary school students in two different learning locations (Study I: school; Study II: student laboratory). Using a simple experimental research design with type of learning location as between-subjects factor (NStudy I = 443, NStudy II = 367), these studies compare working on computer simulations versus experiments in terms of knowledge achievement, development of situational interest and cognitive load. Independent of the learning location, the results showed higher learning success for students working on computer simulations than while working on experiments, despite higher cognitive load. However, working on experiments promoted situational interest more than computer simulations (especially the epistemic and value-related component). We stated that simulations might be particularly suitable for teaching complex topics. The findings reviewed in this paper moreover imply that working with one method may complement and supplement the weaknesses of the other. We conclude that that the most effective way to communicate complex current research topics might be a combination of both methods. These conclusions derive a contribution to successful modern science education in school and out-of-school learning contexts.

Krüger J. T., Höffler T. N., Wahl M., Knickmeier K. & Parchmann I., in press. Two comparative studies of computer simulations and experiments as learning tools in school and out-of-school education. Instructional Science. Article.

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