Exploring the Assistance Dilemma: Comparing Instructional Support in Examples and Problems

  • Bruce M. McLaren
  • Tamara van Gog
  • Craig Ganoe
  • David Yaron
  • Michael Karabinos
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 8474)


An important question for teachers and developers of instructional software is how much guidance or assistance should be provided to help students learn. This question has been framed within the field of educational technology as the ‘assistance dilemma’ and has been the subject of a variety of studies. In the study reported in this paper, we explore the learning benefits of four types of computer-based instructional materials, which span from highly assistive (worked examples) to no assistance (conventional problems to solve), with support levels in between these two extremes (tutored problems to solve, erroneous examples). In this never-before conducted comparison of the four instructional materials, we found that worked examples are the most efficient instructional material in terms of time and mental effort spent on the intervention problems, but we did not find that the materials differentially benefitted learners of high and low prior knowledge levels. We conjecture why this somewhat surprising result was found and propose a follow-up study to investigate this issue.


assistance dilemma classroom studies empirical studies worked examples erroneous examples tutored problems to solve problem solving 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce M. McLaren
    • 1
  • Tamara van Gog
    • 2
  • Craig Ganoe
    • 1
  • David Yaron
    • 1
  • Michael Karabinos
    • 1
  1. 1.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Erasmus University RotterdamThe Netherlands

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