Using a computer-based scientific discovery learning environment on buoyancy in fluids we investigated the effects of goal specificity (nonspecific goals vs. specific goals) for two goal types (problem solving goals vs. learning goals) on strategy use and instructional efficiency. Our empirical findings close an important research gap, because in earlier studies the goal specificity effect either was restricted to one goal type or goal type was confounded with goal specificity. In addition, there is hardly a study with empirical evidence for the goal specificity effect on strategy use, which counts even more for a cognitive cost-benefit ratio as a dependent variable. Instead, in earlier studies the goal specificity effect has been attributed to differences in strategy use and cognitive cost-benefit ratio in a rather theoretical way. In the present study for strategy use an interaction was found between goal specificity and goal type, indicating that the goal specificity effect occurs only in case of problem solving goals, but not in case of learning goals. Compared to students provided with specific problem solving goals, students who worked on nonspecific problem solving goals, used a control of variables-strategy more frequently. Additionally, we found a main effect of goal specificity on instructional efficiency for both of the goal types, pointing at a more favorable relationship between performance gain and cognitive load caused by nonspecific goals.

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Computers & Education
Department of Psychology

Künsting, J., Wirth, J., & Paas, F. (2011). The goal specificity effect on strategy use and instructional efficiency during computer-based scientific discovery learning. Computers & Education, 56(3), 668–679. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.10.009