A worked example consists of a problem statement and then a detailed explanation of the solution. Worked examples are a routine feature in subjects where problem solving is a prominent goal, such as mathematics, sciences and other technical subjects. But they can also be used in non-technical subject areas. We have all experienced worked examples as students. In a typical scenario, a teacher introduces a new concept or type of problem by showing and explaining how to solve it—that is—by providing a worked out example. Students may ask questions, the teacher may provide another worked example and so forth. After a few worked examples, the teacher asks students to solve similar problems in class and/or for homework.
Worked examples are widely used but their true potential is rarely tapped. Research shows that in the initial phases of learning something new, students learn better and faster by studying worked examples of problems than by solving problems on their own. Studying worked examples means that instead of solving the problem, students study the solved problem. This is beneficial for the novice who can look at different parts of the problem without getting bogged down [cognitive overload] in trying to keep all aspects of the problem active in working memory.
Strategies that Involve WORKED EXAMPLES as a Way to Promote Deeper Processing
- Assign worked examples as homework. At the start of new topics provide a few worked examples for students to study outside of class. Use some class time to quiz students on the solutions and give additional feedback on the thinking behind the solution.
- Do think alouds to show how to solve problems. In a think aloud the instructor narrates his or her thinking while solving a problem. In contrast to a typical class demonstration of solving a problem, a think aloud is a closer approximation to the kind of thinking experts actually do when they solve problems. It exposes students to the thinking that goes into developing or finding a solution.
- Think aloud screencasts. Screencasts are a way to create animated worked solutions. Students have an opportunity to see the solution develop and can stop and replay any parts of the example.
Guidelines for Using Worked Examples
- Worked examples are a natural fit for STEM areas where problem solving is an integral part of learning. But a worked example can be any type of complex task accompanied by detailed annotation and explanations of the solution, e.g., an annotated case study, an annotated research report or lab report, etc.
- In creating worked examples, teachers should try to tap into their own long-lost novice. Good worked examples externalize how novices are likely to think about the subject and anticipate the difficulties they may have with the problem.
- Worked examples are effective for students who are just starting a new topic. As students learn the basics of the problem, worked examples should be withdrawn and students should solve problems on their own. Research shows that there is an expert reversal shift in which worked examples actually hamper the progress of students who know the basics and need to develop fluency in solving problems on their own.
Renkl, A. (2014). Learning from worked examples: How to prepare students for meaningful problem solving. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science in the curriculum (pp. 118–130). Washington, DC: Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Retrieved from https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
Yeo, D. J. & Fazio, L. K. (2019) The optimal learning strategy depends on learning goals and processes: Retrieval practice versus worked examples, Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(1), 73-90.