Refinement and Fluency

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The PSLC Refinement and Fluency cluster


The studies in this cluster concern the design and organization of instructional activities to facilitate the acquisition, refinement, and fluent control of critical knowledge components. The core concepts developed in this cluster include:

  1. task analysis: to design effective instruction, we must analyze learning tasks into their simplest components,
  2. 'in vivo evaluation: the work in this cluster is targeted toward the in vivo evaluation of instruction in basic skills,
  3. basic skills: for true fluency, higher level skills must be grounded on well-practiced lower level skills,
  4. scheduling of practice: the optimal scheduling of practice uses principles of memory consolidation to maximize robust learning and achieve mastery,
  5. resonance: the acquisition of knowledge components can be facilitated by evoking associations between divergent coding systems,
  6. explicit instruction: explicit rule-based instruction facilitates the acquisition of specific skills, but only if the rules are simple,
  7. implicit instruction: on the other hand, implicit instruction or exposure serves to foster the development of initial familiarity with larger patterns,
  8. cue validity: in both explicit and implicit instruction, cue validity plays a central role in determining ease of learning of knowledge components,
  9. focusing: instruction that focuses the learner's attention on valid cues will lead to more robust learning than unfocused instruction or instruction that focuses on less valid cues, and
  10. transfer: a learner's earlier knowledge places strong constraints on new learning, promoting some forms of learning, while blocking others.

The general hypothesis is that the structure of instructional activities affects learning. These activities can include practice, scheduling, recall, explicit instruction, implicit presentation, focusing, combining, resonance, and other activities.

This hypothesis can be rephrased in terms of the PSLC general hypothesis, which is that robust learning occurs when the learning event space is designed to include appropriate target paths, and when students are encouraged to take those paths. The studies in this cluster focus on the formulation of well specified target paths with highly predictable learning outcomes.


See material provided by Phil Pavlik for the general glossary.

Research question

The research pursued in this cluster tests the empirical adequacy of the nine core assumptions listed in the Abstract. Studies focusing on these various issues include the following:

  1. task analysis: All studies in the cluster rely on task analysis to generate stimuli, instructional procedures, and evaluation methods.
  2. basic skills: All studies in the cluster focus on basic skills, such as: vocabulary, dictation, grammatical categorization, and auditory learning.
  3. scheduling of practice: The Pavlik and MacWhinney studies emphasize the role of scheduling in minimize the time students require to achieve mastery of a basic skill.
  4. resonance: Studies that examine resonance between representations as a facilitator of learning include: the study of Hanzi character learning by Liu et al., and the Pavlik-MacWhinney study of vocabulary learning in Chinese,
  5. explicit instruction: The studies examining explicit instruction include the Presson-MacWhinney study of French gender cue learning, the Zhang-MacWhinney study of pinyin dictation, and the Mitamura-Wylie study of article selection.
  6. implicit instruction: No studies are currently examining the generalized effect of implicit instruction.
  7. cue validity: The Presson-MacWhinney gender study, the Zhang-MacWhinney pinyin dictation study, and the Mitamura-Wylie study of article selection all specifically examine the role of cue validity in predicting initial learning and robustness.
  8. focusing: The study of articulatory cues to consonant and tone production by Liu et al. emphasize the role of focusing. The Tokowicz-Degani study of vocabulary learning examines the role of novelty in increasing attentional focusing during learning episodes.
  9. transfer: The Zhang-MacWhinney study of pinyin dictation examines negative transfer from English phonology to the learning of Mandarin phonology. The Mitamura-Wylie study of article selection examines negative effects of L1 article usage on learning of English article usage.

Independent variables

Alternative structures of instructional events based on alternative analyses of task demands, relevant knowledge components, and learner background. Assessing the learner’s background is essentially part of the learning task analysis.

Dependent variables

Measures of normal and robust learning.


Robust learning is increased by instructional activities that require the learner to attend to the relevant knowledge components of a learning task.


Attention to features of the task domain as a knowledge component is processed leads to associating those features with the knowledge component. If the features are valid, then forming or strengthening such associations facilitates retrieval during subsequent assessment or instruction, and thus leads to more robust learning.


  • Using syntactic priming to increase robust learning (de Jong, Perfetti, DeKeyser)
  • First language effects on second language grammar acquisition (Mitamura)
  • Semantic grouping during vocabulary training (Tokowicz)
  • Mental rotations during vocabulary training (Tokowicz)

Annotated bibliography