Knowledge restructuring in the life sciences: A longitudinal study of conceptual change in biology



This study examined successive and progressive changes in the structural complexity of knowledge held by introductory, college-level biology students and how those changes are affected by the students' primary learning mode and gender. To examine the way learners restructure knowledge over the course of a semester, subjects constructed concept maps at 4-week intervals throughout the term. The maps were then evaluated for structural complexity and change based on the works of other investigators.

Results suggest that a substantial amount of knowledge restructuring takes place and that much of it is incremental in nature; “accretion” and “tuning” accounting for 75% of the observed structural changes. Of potential importance, however, is that “radical” changes involving higher order, superordinate concepts are concentrated in the first 4 weeks of the semester. The observed relationships between knowledge restructuring and predominant learning mode and gender of students are potentially significant. The evidence suggests that students who use “active,” “deep” information processing strategies construct more elaborate, well-differentiated knowledge structures. Furthermore, it appears that gender may be an important mediator of meaningful learning. It is particularly notable that where gender differences were found, they tended to favor females. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Sci Ed 81:193–215, 1997.