How to Make Instructional Explanations in Human Tutoring More Effective


Although tutoring is often dominated by tutor-generated explanations, they are rarely beneficial to tutees’ learning. In line with previous research, the relative ineffectiveness of tutorial explanations might be attributed to tutors’ insufficient skills in assessing tutees’ understanding. We conducted an experiment in which we tested whether the effectiveness of tutor-generated explanations can be enhanced by helping tutors to assess the tutees’ prior knowledge. We compared a condition in which tutors received explicit information about the tutees’ prior knowledge (n = 15 dyads) and a condition without such help (n = 15 dyads). Results showed that tutees in both experimental conditions did not differ with respect to the acquisition of declarative knowledge. However, tutees whose tutors were provided with knowledge information were better able to apply their newly acquired knowledge to novel problems. In addition, these tutees also had fewer false beliefs about the concepts being applied. With respect to tutees’ question-asking, we found that instructional explanations generated by tutors with knowledge information reduced the incidence of questions that tutees returned in response to the tutors’ explanations. The findings demonstrate that the effectiveness of tutor explanations depends on how well tutors adjust their explanations to the tutees’ individual knowledge


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