Tinker: a programming by Demonstration System for Beginning Programmers by Henry Lieberman Media Laboratory Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Learning By Example Is The Most Effective Learning Strategy

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Learning By Example Is The Most Effective Learning Strategy

In some ways, the need for examples is a paradox, because the examples don't add any more information from a strictly logical viewpoint. If the rules are precise and complete, a teacher’s presentation of the rules and the student’s memorization of them "should" be enough.

But people don’t work that way. Teachers can never be absolutely sure that they are presenting rules that are correct and complete, nor can students ever be sure that they are learning all and only the correct principles. Concrete examples serve as a means for both students and teachers to check their understanding and reduce reliance on limited . If the procedure to be learned is at all complex, examples should be demonstrated step-by-step, so that if an anomaly appears at any point, the teacher or student will know which step was at fault. Lawler [Lawler 85] relates a compelling case of the superiority of example based learning. A child who was unable to reliably perform addition with numbers written on paper [where numbers were abstractions] was nevertheless quite competent in adding the value of coins when she needed to buy something!

Teaching is also a learning experience for the teacher. Teachers often remark that the process of teaching a subject leads to deepening their own understanding of that subject. "I thought I understood the material before, but after teaching it, now I feel I really understand it!" a teacher will often say. This understanding often develops in the process of elaborating examples for the benefit of students. Part of good teaching requires teachers to put themselves in the student's shoes to verify to themselves that each lesson is succeeding in conveying the intended information. Checking the connection between abstract knowledge and concrete examples helps the teacher to empathize with the students' viewpoint.

If examples play such an important role in teaching, the analogy between teaching and programming leads us to ask, Why can't examples play a more important role in programming?

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