A recent study published in Journal of Educational Psychology examined the role of graphic organizers in promoting generative processing in learners. Graphic organizers are common ways of structuring texts. These include compare-and-contrast (e.g., matrix), sequence (e.g., flowchart) and hierarchy (e.g., tree diagram). In this study, matrix was the form of graphic organizer used to compare the northern and southern climates in China.
Two approaches were compared to text-only information (NGO). The first approach used filled-in graphic organizers (FGO), in which comparison of the two climates described in the text had already been filled-in in a matrix. In this way, students can learn through a spatial arrangement of the text but may still not engage in deeper processing. The second approach used interactive graphic organizers (IGO). Students were required to create their own matrix through using apps for the comparison. The act of building a matrix graphic organizer requires more generative cognitive processing. A generative learning process occurs when a learner selects important material, organizes it into a coherent structure, and relates it to relevant prior knowledge.
Researchers conducted two experiments. The first experiment examined whether graphic organizers aided generative learning, and the second investigated whether students preferred to use graphical organizers in learning.
In experiment 1, 60 participants (34 male, age: 12-14) were recruited from three 8th grade classes (20 students per class) of a middle school in the northern part of Tianjin, China. Class 1 was given an online lesson by reading a passage with text-only, i.e. no graphic organizer (NGO), class 2 was given the text along with FGO, and class 3 the text with access to IGO. After the lesson, students were required to take a retention test, which measured to what extent the learners remembered information, and comprehension test, which asked learners to apply the knowledge learned in the article to their own living area. The results indicated that:
- Both IGO (ES = .65) and FGO (ES = .72) outperformed the text-only group (NGO) on retention test scores. There was no difference was found between the IGO group and the FGO group (ES = .09). This suggests that it is helpful to memorize key information through accessing a graphic organizer (either IGO or FGO).
- IGO group outperformed both FGO group (ES = 1.45) and NGO group (ES = 2.59) in terms of comprehension test scores, and FGO group scored better than NGO group (ES = .93). This pattern suggests that using interactive graphic organizers helped the generative learning process.
- The results of experiment 2 showed that passages with IGO were the most selected (42.9%), followed by FGO (39.0%), and the least preferred was NGO (18.1%).
Researchers also applied eye-tracking technology to study eye movements of participants during learning. Based on the findings, they believed IGO helped to increase students’ generative cognitive processes as compared to using FGO. Consequently, students accessing IGO scored higher in comprehension tests.
Source: Wang, X., Mayer, R. E., Zhou, P., & Lin, L. (2021). Benefits of interactive graphic organizers in online learning: Evidence for generative learning theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(5), 1024–1037. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000606