Prompted Self-explanation

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Brief statement of principle

Many empirical studies have shown that there is a large amount of variance when it comes to individually produced self-explanations. Some students have a natural tenancy to self-explain, while other students do little more than repeat the content of the example or expository text. The quality of the self-explanations themselves can be highly variable (Renkl, 1997). One instructional intervention that has been shown to be effective is to prompt students to self-explain. Prompting can take many forms, including verbal prompts from human experimenters, prompts automatically generated by computer tutors, or embedded in the learning materials themselves.

Description of principle

Operational definition


An example of prompting for self-explanining

Now that all the given information has been entered, we need to apply
our knowledge of physics to solve the problem.

One way to start is to ask ourselves, “What quantity is the problem seeking?”
In this case, the answer is the magnitude of the force on the particle due to the electric field.

We know that there is an electric field. If there is an electric field,
and there is a charged particle located in that region, then we can infer
that there is an electric force on the particle. The direction of the
electric force is in the opposite direction as the electric field because
the charge on the particle is negative.

We use the Force tool from the vector tool bar to draw the electric force.
This brings up a dialog box. The force is on the particle and it is due to some
unspecified source. We do know, however, that the type of force is electric, so
we choose “electric” from the pull-down menu. For the orientation, we need to
add 180 degrees to 22 degrees to get a force that is in a direction that is
opposite of the direction of the electric field. Therefore we put 202 degrees.
Finally, we use “Fe” to designate this as an electric force.


Now that the direction of the electric force has been indicated, we can work on
finding the magnitude. We must choose a principle that relates the magnitude of

the electric force to the strength of the electric field, and the charge on the
particle. The definition of an electric field is only equation that relates these
three variables. We write this equation, in the equation window.


Experimental support

Laboratory experiment support

In vivo experiment support

Theoretical rationale

(These entries should link to one or more learning processes.)

Conditions of application

Caveats, limitations, open issues, or dissenting views

Variations (descendants)

Generalizations (ascendants)


Chi, M. T. H., DeLeeuw, N., Chiu, M.-H., & LaVancher, C. (1994). Eliciting self-explanations improves understanding. Cognitive Science, 18, 439-477.

Hausmann, R. G. M., & Chi, M. T. H. (2002). Can a computer interface support self-explaining? Cognitive Technology, 7(1), 4-14.

Hausmann, R. G. M., & VanLehn, K. (2007). Explaining self-explaining: A contrast between content and generation. In R. Luckin, K. R. Koedinger & J. Greer (Eds.), Artificial intelligence in education: Building technology rich learning contexts that work (Vol. 158, pp. 417-424). Amsterdam: IOS Press.

Renkl, A. (1997). Learning from worked-out examples: A study on individual differences. Cognitive Science, 21(1), 1-29.