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Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext as a Learning Environment in Economics A Pedagogical Note Duane B Graddy John T Lee and J Douglas Timmons Middle Tennessee State University Abstract Instructional design in complex subjects requires the application of a sophisticated theory of cognition Instructional techniques and strategies that work at the knowledge and comprehension stages of cognitive development may actually inhibit learning at more advanced levels Evaluation and synthesis require a different cognitive paradigm The theory of cognitive flexibility is a case based approach for the development of upper level cognitive skills particularly the ability to transfer knowledge to novel situations This paper applies the theory of cognitive flexibility to instructional design in economics An example from monetary economics illustrates the adaptation of cognitive flexibility hypertext to a knowledge management interface Simplification of complex subject matter makes it easier for teachers to teach for students to take notes and prepare for tests for test givers to construct and grade tests and for authors to write texts The result is a massive conspiracy of convenience Spiro et al 1987 p 180 The URL for the interface is http brainserver thebrain com get asp i a3f95 1 Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext as a Learning Environment in Economics A Pedagogical Note Duane B Graddy John T Lee and J Douglas Timmons Middle Tennessee State University I Introduction Bridging the knowledge gap between experts in economics analysis and novices through the economics curriculum requires innovative approaches to the construction of learning environments The ultimate aim of course is to train learners to think like experts in the field of economics Bransford et al John D Bransford Ann L Brown and Rodney R Cocking 2000 list the following characteristics of experts knowledge Experts notice relationships and patterns of information that are not evident to novices Experts have acquired a base of content knowledge that reflects deep understanding of the subject matter Experts have knowledge that is conditionalized by specific circumstances Experts are able to retrieve relevant aspects of knowledge with little attentional effort Experts know their discipline thoroughly Experts have varying levels of flexibility in approaching new situations or scenarios But how do we approach the daunting questions of creating learning environments that impart economic knowledge fosters deeper understanding of the discipline and enhances the learners ability to transfer economic principles to novel situations The theory of cognitive flexibility R Spiro P Feltovich M Jacobson and R Coulson 1995 R Spiro W Vispoel and J Schmitz 1987 provides a conceptual framework for developing a case based approach to addressing these issues Instructional strategies flowing from the theory of cognitive flexibility reflect two areas of educational research 1 Studies devoted to understanding the cognitive processes of experts and novices and 2 Analyses of the learning experiences that enhance knowledge transfer 2 Investigations of the differences between the problem solving capabilities of experts and novices conclude that the disparity between the two groups is not due to just memory and intelligence The extensive experience of experts affects what they notice and how they organize represent and interpret information in their area of expertise The knowledge of experts appears conditionalized by the contextual circumstances of an issue On the other hand studies find that novices focus on memorizing recalling and rote manipulation of formulas and symbols John D Bransford Ann L Brown and Rodney R Cocking 2000 Knowledge transfer is the ability to apply economic principles to novel circumstances and scenarios Research in the general area of knowledge transfer by Spiro et al finds that learners are able to comprehend the relevant features of important concepts and ideas better when they are taught in multiple contexts Exposure to many contextual situations increases the learner s capacity to think flexibly about complex problems and issues 1 II Cognitive Flexibility and Case Based Learning According to Spiro et al R Spiro P Feltovich M Jacobson and R Coulson 1995 cognitive flexibility is the ability to spontaneously restructure one s knowledge in many ways in adaptive response to radically changing situational demands That is in complex environments learners generally cannot retrieve an intact learning structure from memory instead the mind combines recombines and reinvents structural components to meet the requirements of each particular situation Thus knowledge becomes context dependent Cognitive flexibility theory focuses on learning processes in illstructured context dependent learning environments Ill structured environments are characterized by two properties 1 Knowledge applications involve interactive multiple concept structures each of which is individually complex 2 Across case irregularities are prevalent cases or outcomes that appear similar have different conceptual incidence and casual nexuses 1 Viewed in the context of Bloom s cognitive pyramid the issue is how to most effectively achieve level six evaluation The verbs or actions associated with this level are use appraise judge recommend critique justify defend and transfer 3 For example fundamental economic principles that are orderly and regular in the abstract and within the confines of textbook applications may be difficult to apply across varying actual economic scenarios The present value model used to explain the valuation of financial goods for instance is well structured but many of its applications drawn from reality are ill structured and complex Securities that appear similar to novices when applying the present value formula may be quite different in underlying fundamentals To the expert economic analyst these securities would look quite different Subject matter ill structuredness presents serious impediments to mastering conceptual complexity and the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations that are different from the ones posed in lower level economics courses Spiro et al contend that these impediments can be overcome by moving from a learning process that emphasizes the retrieval from memory of intact preceding knowledge to a system that stresses the flexible reassembly of preexisting knowledge to fit the needs of various situations The oversimplifications and polar

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