Trninic, D., Kapur, M., & Sinha, T. (2020). The disappearing “advantage of abstract examples in learning math.”

Cognitive Science, 44(7), e12851.

ABSTRACT: When teaching a novel mathematical concept, should we present learners with abstract or concrete examples? In this experiment, we conduct a critical replication and extension of a well-known study that argued for the general advantage of abstract examples (Kaminski, Sloutsky, & Heckler, 2008). We demonstrate that theoretically motivated yet minor modifications of the learning design put this argument in question. A key finding from this study is that participants who trained with improved concrete examples performed as well as, or better than, participants who trained with abstract examples. We argue that the previously reported “advantage of abstract examples” manifested not because abstract examples are advantageous in general, but because the concrete condition employed suboptimal examples.

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