The question of how students learn best has fueled a controversial debate within the field of educational psychology and instructional design. There is limited consensus as to which type of instructional technique best supports conceptual learning. Instructional techniques cover a wide spectrum of guidance that ranges from direct instruction, which often encompasses the use of lectures and worked examples, to pure discovery learning which includes little to no teacher guidance at its most extreme interpretation. Research on cognitive load theory and motivational strategies have both touted the benefits and criticized elements of both these instructional techniques (Hiebert, Carpenter, Fennema, Fuson, Human, & Murray, 1996; Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006; Kuhn, 2007; Sweller, 1988), creating a muddled path for researchers and educators to manage for themselves.
In following the scientific and practical contributions of Pasteur (cite?), both field researchers and classroom educators would benefit from empirically supported and well-reasoned arguments on how instructional techniques can be used to maximize learning through motivation. The combination of both a psychological and educational understanding of how instruction influences learning would result in a less fragmented, more comprehensive focus for future research and current classroom application. Research comparing instructional methods often pits one technique against the other in hopes of determining a clear winner, however, such arguments do little to advance the field to a deeper understanding of how such techniques work separately to achieve similar goals. Often, contrasting perspectives of instruction have much to offer and the goal is to use the strengths of both techniques to work towards an integrative model of improved learning and instruction.
This paper is divided into four sections. First, I explore the cognitive debate regarding the limited working memory and its role in direct instruction versus inquiry instruction. Second, I discuss the relationship between learning and cognition and how learner motivation varies during direct and inquiry instruction. Next, I present an instructional model for conceptual learning that combines the unique strengths associated with both direct and inquiry instruction. I argue that using elements of inquiry and direct instruction in combination can overcome the weaknesses associated with either used in isolation. Finally, I provide suggestions for areas of future research that would help lend support to a model of combined instructional techniques.
Working memory and instruction: How much guidance is enough?
Cognitive load theory (CLT) suggests that the human cognitive architecture and working memory in particular have an extremely limited capacity for consciously processing new information (Sweller, 1988). Such limitations allow for very few pieces of information to processed at one time. This is unlike the long-term memory, which...