The impact of principle-based reasoning on hands-on, project-based learning

Marcelo Worsley, Paulo Blikstein

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Prior research suggests that experts and novices employ markedly different approaches to engineering design tasks. For example, novice designers commonly use trial and error, which researchers liken to backward-reasoning. Experts use forward-reasoning, which allows them to accurately predict the impact of certain decisions. In this paper, we present a complementary conceptualization for how experience affects design approaches. We liken backward-reasoning to example-based reasoning, and forward-reasoning to principlebased reasoning. In study 1 (N=13) students complete an engineering design activity. A qualitative analysis shows clear instances of example-and principle-based reasoning strategies. Study 2 (N=20) compares the efficacy of the two approaches by using a between subject design. We find that principle-based reasoning improves the quality of designs (p < 0.01) and learning of important engineering principles (p < 0.001). This suggests that handson learning environments may benefit from encouraging students to employ principle-based reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1147-1151
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of International Conference of the Learning Sciences, ICLS
Issue numberJanuary
StatePublished - 2014
Event11th International Conference of the Learning Sciences: Learning and Becoming in Practice, ICLS 2014 - Boulder, United States
Duration: Jun 23 2014Jun 27 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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