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Abstract

Function learning tasks are widely used in cognitive science to explore the mechanisms involved in learning. Recently, these tools have been deemed useful in probing different approaches to problem solving widely found in university-age students. We use the labels “exemplar (or rote) learners” and “abstraction (or theory-based) learners” to distinguish students who principally solve problems by learning a spectrum of examples from those who connect underlying rules to a category of problems. Through collaboration with a consortium of institutions, we have employed an on-line instrument to evaluate the learning approach of first-year chemistry students and compare their learning approach to their academic performance. This paper describes the on-line assessment instrument used and reports on three years of data. In conjunction with this study, the same students completed entering and exit surveys that were designed to assess students’ attitudes towards learning chemistry. Correlations between the student learning approach and their attitudes are reported. Going forward, this tool can be used to assess the effectiveness of different learning interventions that will attempt to help exemplar learners develop into abstraction learners.


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