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Well, hi there! Thanks for joining me to chat about some learning science this week. Today, we’re interested in a couple of questions:

  1. Do physical movements, specifically circling and pointing, improve learning?
  2. How do consumers learn while using configuration tool kits?

I hope you enjoy!

Reach for the Stars (and then Circle Them)

Our first article this week focuses on moving our bodies (or, at least our fingers) while learning. Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is the main framework for this research. Essentially, extraneous cognitive load references information our brains need to process that are unrelated to what we’re learning. This can be generated by the layout of information, design, etc. For example, if we’re worried about navigating a particular software, we’re not likely to be focused on the information we should be learning. Thus, extraneous cognitive load will end up reducing our learning. Within the Cognitive Load Theory, recent work has centered on evolutionary aspects of cognitive load.

CLT takes into account biologically primary knowledge and biologically secondary knowledge. Biologically primary knowledge references those processes that we acquire to survive; we did not evolve to acquire biologically secondary knowledge, which takes a great deal of mental effort (i.e., mathematics). The authors of the current paper, Ginns and King (2021), suggest that the acts of pointing and tracing are biologically primary knowledge, pointing out that they are culturally universal phenomena. Thus, the question of this article is: Do pointing and tracing enhance learning?

To assess this, 44 university students were randomly assigned to complete an astronomy computer lesson with tracing and pointing or with no tracing/pointing. A pre-test, questionnaire, and post-test were administered regarding the lifecycle of stars. Throughout the lesson, learners were to physically circle topics they deemed important, trace arrows on the slides, etc., while the control group kept their hands in their laps. From this study, they found that students in the tracing group, compared to the control group, reported lower extraneous cognitive load, higher recall of lesson information, higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and higher transfer test performance. Pointing and tracing might enhance learning by decreasing the extraneous cognitive load because attention is being directed to the learning materials, leaving more available working memory for information-processing related to learning.

Key Takeaway: Even in computer-based learning environments, pointing and tracing are effective methods to help direct attention, increase intrinsic motivation, and improve transfer.

Read More ($): Ginns, P., & King, V. (2021). Pointing and tracing enhance computer-based learning. Education Technology Research and Development, 69.

The Key to Configurator Tool Kits

The second article for this week focuses on configurators, a package that allows consumers to customize their product(s). The aim of this study was to assess the learning process of customers throughout their online configuration tool kit experience (Stevens & Jouny-Rivier, 2020). One specific area of interest was the information provided in the configurator, which can be used to educate customers during their use. The researchers recruited 35 participants with comparable internet experience, but none of the subjects had prior experience with configurators. The participants were able to explore six different configurators from 3 goods categories (accessories, cars, and shoes).

Since this study was exploratory in nature, the authors found some really interesting nuggets! However, I encourage you to check out the full article if you feel like nerding out. For now, I will stick with some practical implications from the study. First, it was found that experiential learning plays a huge role in configurators. The findings suggest that customers “may feel disappointed” or frustrated when they do not understand the process, vocabulary, or the options provided. Thus, information should be provided throughout the process in a configuration tool kit, as consumers appear to crave that clarity. Remember, not all information presentation is created equal though (see LSW Issue 26 on Pedagogical Agents). The results also suggest that consumers may get bored with the process after some time, so the process should be quick and/or include gamification aspects. Adding gamification elements can help boost positivity and customer satisfaction (for recent tips on gamification from us, see LSW Issue 47). Lastly, the results showed that self-accomplishment was associated with customer-brand relationship. Customers felt “happy” and “proud” when they were able to customize a product that was different and/or personal. With this knowledge, the authors suggest adding a section where consumers can see the latest configurations for inspiration!

Key Takeaway: Implementing configurators can be an excellent form of customer education, leading to customer-brand loyalty and feelings of “self-accomplishment” for the consumer.

Read More ($): Stevens, E., & Jouny-Rivier, E. (2020). Customers’ learning process during product customization: The case of online configuration tool kits. Information & Management, 57(6).

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Here's a huge shoutout to Scott M. for sharing his excellent business partner, Jackson! Although, word on the street is that this Shetland Sheepdog like to sleep on the job . Although he might be napping through some quality newsletter reading, his cute face gives a free pass.

Thank you for sharing your buddy and continuing to be an awesome reader, Scott!

Send me (hi, I'm Julia) your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D. and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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