Is self-explanation worth the time? A comparison to additional practice




Self-explanation, or generating explanations to oneself in an attempt to make sense of new information, can promote learning. However, self-explaining takes time, and the learning benefits of this activity need to be rigorously evaluated against alternative uses of this time.


In the current study, we compared the effectiveness of self-explanation prompts to the effectiveness of solving additional practice problems (to equate for time on task) and to solving the same number of problems (to equate for problem-solving experience).


Participants were 69 children in grades 2–4.


Students completed a pre-test, brief intervention session, and a post- and retention test. The intervention focused on solving mathematical equivalence problems such as 3 + 4 + 8 = _ + 8. Students were randomly assigned to one of three intervention conditions: self-explain, additional-practice, or control.


Compared to the control condition, self-explanation prompts promoted conceptual and procedural knowledge. Compared to the additional-practice condition, the benefits of self-explanation were more modest and only apparent on some subscales.


The findings suggest that self-explanation prompts have some small unique learning benefits, but that greater attention needs to be paid to how much self-explanation offers advantages over alternative uses of time.