Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada conducted a meta-analysis on research that investigated learning outcomes for students who received self-explanation prompts while studying or solving problems. Self-explanation is a process by which students use prior knowledge to make inferences in order to fill in missing information or monitor understanding.
Their study, published in Educational Psychological Review, examined 69 independent effect sizes from 64 studies (5,917 participants). Studies had to include a treatment condition in which learners were directed or prompted to self-explain during a learning task, with a comparison treatment where learners were directed not to self-explain. The measure was a cognitive outcome such as problem solving or comprehension. Learning activities were mostly of short duration (less than an hour) and carried out with undergraduate students.
The analysis found that:
- There was a positive overall weighted mean effect size on learning outcomes for students who were prompted to self-explain compared to those who were not. (ES = +0.55)
- However, most of the studies were very brief and artificial, so the outcomes cannot be assumed to apply to actual classroom practice.
- Moderating variables were also examined in order to investigate how learning outcomes varied under a range of conditions, but were found to have no significant difference on effect sizes.
The study concludes that having students come up with an explanation themselves is often more effective than presenting them with an explanation.