Introductory circuit analysis learning from abstract and contextualized circuit representations: Effects of diagram labels

Amy Johnson, Kirsten R. Butcher, Gamze Ozogul, Martin Reisslein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Novice learners are typically unfamiliar with abstract engineering symbols. They are also often unaccustomed to instructional materials consisting of a combination of text, diagrams, and equations. This raises the question of whether instruction on elementary electrical circuit analysis for novice learners should employ contextualized representations of the circuits with familiar components, such as batteries, or employ abstract representations with the abstract engineering terms and symbols. A further question is if text labels in the circuit diagrams would aid these learners. This study examined these research questions with a '2 × 3' experimental design, in which the two forms of representation (abstract or contextualized) were considered under three types of diagram labeling (no labels, static labels, or interactive labels). The design was implemented in an instructional module on elementary circuit analysis for novice learners. Results indicated that abstract representations led to higher near- and far-transfer post-test scores, and that interactive (student-generated) labeling resulted in higher near-transfer scores than either the no-labels or static-labels conditions. These findings suggest that abstract representations promote the development of deep, transferrable knowledge and that generative methods of integration, such as interactive diagram labeling, can facilitate learning with multiple external representations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6637101
Pages (from-to)160-168
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE Transactions on Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Circuit analysis instruction
  • circuit diagram
  • diagram label
  • electrical circuit analysis
  • multiple external representations
  • novice learner

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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