Contexts of Pattern Learning

How do children learn patterns in their experience? Representations of associations among words, objects, people, and events are fundamental components of knowledge. Early science education develops pattern-finding skills and provides information about patterns in the natural world. Informal environments—for example, a children’s museum, nature, or the Internet—provide rich opportunities for this kind of learning.

This project aims to understand how different instructional contexts affect children’s pattern learning. There is a theoretical tradeoff in learning between focus and flexibility: Students may learn a single pattern really well, or distribute learning more broadly across patterns in experience. Empirical research explores this tradeoff and the conditions that lead to more or less focused and flexible learning.

The initial studies explore effects of age and context on pattern learning. For example, do people notice different patterns in directed contexts (e.g., classification) versus exploratory contexts (e.g., free-sorting or free-play)? What are the costs in terms of speed and accuracy of learning many patterns at the same time? The goal is to understand the consequences of instructional design decisions on children’s learning (e.g., exploratory vs. directed exhibits, complex vs. simple materials).

Later studies will address students’ expectations about relations among patterns. Studies will test interactions between museum-based and lab-based learning experiences on these “patterns of patterns” expectations. Can experience in a museum maintain the pattern learned in school? Conversely, can experience in a museum prepare students to learn a complex pattern during later instruction?


Karl Rosengren


Completed on August 31, 2018

Contact Information

Chuck Kalish