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Keywords:

  • Perceptual learning;
  • Pattern recognition;
  • Expertise;
  • Algebra;
  • Fluency;
  • Learning technology;
  • Mathematics learning;
  • Mathematics instruction

Abstract

Learning in educational settings emphasizes declarative and procedural knowledge. Studies of expertise, however, point to other crucial components of learning, especially improvements produced by experience in the extraction of information: perceptual learning (PL). We suggest that such improvements characterize both simple sensory and complex cognitive, even symbolic, tasks through common processes of discovery and selection. We apply these ideas in the form of perceptual learning modules (PLMs) to mathematics learning. We tested three PLMs, each emphasizing different aspects of complex task performance, in middle and high school mathematics. In the MultiRep PLM, practice in matching function information across multiple representations improved students’ abilities to generate correct graphs and equations from word problems. In the Algebraic Transformations PLM, practice in seeing equation structure across transformations (but not solving equations) led to dramatic improvements in the speed of equation solving. In the Linear Measurement PLM, interactive trials involving extraction of information about units and lengths produced successful transfer to novel measurement problems and fraction problem solving. Taken together, these results suggest (a) that PL techniques have the potential to address crucial, neglected dimensions of learning, including discovery and fluent processing of relations; (b) PL effects apply even to complex tasks that involve symbolic processing; and (c) appropriately designed PL technology can produce rapid and enduring advances in learning.