Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Perry D. Klein


Content learning can be enhanced through writing-to-learn. Research into cognitive load theory suggests that the use of backwards faded, worked-out examples increases schema acquisition and concept transfer. However, these effects have not yet been demonstrated for writing-to-learn, particularly for the conceptual understanding of evolution. The effects of two writing conditions were investigated in a pre-test post-test quasi-experimental design. Groups in two conditions wrote explanations of evolution using six Darwinian principles: students in the completion condition completed backwards faded, worked-out examples of explanations; students in the problem solving condition wrote full explanations, thought to require means-end problem solving. The dependent variables included the following: a writing task explaining evolution in a novel scenario; an evolution post-test; the number of total principles and target principles, reported difficulty, and perceived effort for each writing activity. The problem solving group demonstrated significantly higher concept transfer compared to the completion group on the evolution post-test, as well as marginally higher concept transfer on the sixth writing task. In addition, the problem solving group included a significantly higher number of total principles over the first four writing tasks. The completion group reported significantly less perceived effort over the first four writing tasks, compared with the problem solving group. Both writing conditions resulted in positive gains between the pre- and post-tests, suggesting that overall, writing-to-learn is effective for teaching evolutionary concepts. It is proposed that writing full explanations using means-end problem solving provides increased task complexity for learners, leading to concept transfer.