The acquisition of qualitative physics knowledge during textbook-based physics training

Rolf Ploetzner, Kurt VanLehn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Several earlier investigations found that teaching standard textbook physics causes only moderate change in qualitative understanding. Many investigations have tried to explain why teaching textbook physics results in so little learning of qualitative physics. In contrast, we examined cases where learning did occur and tried to understand them, hoping that this might help us to understand how to support such learning. We developed computerized simulation models of both qualitative, conceptual problem solving and quantitative problem solving and used them to assess changes in students' qualitative knowledge as they learned textbook physics. In many cases, qualitative knowledge has been acquired on the basis of information explicitly presented in the textbook. We also found cases, however, where learning of qualitative physics took place on the basis of information only implicitly addressed in the instruction. Even more important, in various cases, this newly acquired qualitative knowledge led to a less frequent use of incorrect qualitative preknowledge. This suggests that successful students not only learn what has been explicitly presented in the instruction but also learn by deriving and constructing information left implicit in the instruction, relating this information to their preknowledge and possibly refining and modifying their preknowledge in those cases where conflicts became salient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-205
Number of pages37
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • General Psychology


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