Research in Science Education

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 495–513 | Cite as

The Effect of Three-Dimensional Simulations on the Understanding of Chemical Structures and Their Properties

  • Detlef Urhahne
  • Sabine Nick
  • Sascha Schanze


In a series of three experimental studies, the effectiveness of three-dimensional computer simulations to aid the understanding of chemical structures and their properties was investigated. Arguments for the usefulness of three-dimensional simulations were derived from Mayer’s generative theory of multimedia learning. Simulations might lead to a decrease in cognitive load and thus support active learning. In our studies, the learning effectiveness of three-dimensional simulations was compared to two-dimensional illustrations by use of different versions of a computer programme concerning the modifications of carbon. The first and third study with freshman students of chemistry and biochemistry show that no more knowledge was acquired when participants learnt with three-dimensional simulations than with two-dimensional figures. In the second study with 16-year old secondary school students, use of simulations facilitated the acquisition of conceptual knowledge. It was concluded that three-dimensional simulations are more effective for younger students who lack the experience of learning with different visual representation formats in chemistry. In all three studies, a significant relationship between spatial ability and conceptual knowledge about the modifications of carbon was detected.


Three-dimensional simulations Information technology Conceptual knowledge Spatial ability Chemistry education 



We are thankful to Prof. Dr. Reinhard Demuth for providing opportunities to realise this study as well as to the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology of Excellence in Business and EducationLudwig-Maximilians-University of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Leibniz-Institute for Science EducationUniversity of KielKielGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Science EducationLeibniz University of HannoverHannoverGermany

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