|Interactive science (Image credit: Franco Landriscina)|
Much of our intelligence as humans originates from our ability to run mental simulations or thought experiments in our mind to decide whether it would be a good idea to do something or not to do something. We are able to do this because we have already acquired some basic ideas or mental models that can be applied to new situations. But how do we get those ideas to begin with? Sometimes we learn from our experiences. Sometimes we learn from listening to someone. Now, we can learn from computer simulation, which, in the cases that the subject is entirely alien to students such as atoms and molecules, is perhaps the most effective form of instruction.
Although enough ink has been spilled on this topic and many thoughts have existed in various forms for a long time, I found the book "Simulation and Learning: A Model-Centered Approach" by Dr. Franco Landriscina, an experimental psychologist in Italy, is a masterpiece that I must have on my desk and chew it over from time to time. What this book has accomplished in less than 250 pages is amazingly deep and wide. The book starts with fundamental questions in cognition and learning that are related to simulation-based instruction. It then gradually builds a solid theoretical foundation for understanding why simulations can help students learn and think by grounding cognition in the interplay between mental simulation and computer simulation. This leads to some insights as for how the effectiveness of computer simulation as an instructional tool can be maximized in various cases. For example, the two figures in this blog post represent how two ways of using simulations in learning, which I coined as "Interactive Science" and "Constructive Science," differ in terms of the relationships among the foundational components in cognition and simulation.
|Constructive science (Image credit: Franco Landriscina)|