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Why Johnny Can’t Apply:
Using Cognitive Psychology to Redesign
a Business Statistics Class
Ronald Bruce
Associate Professor
Gwynedd Mercy University
[email protected]
Goals for Today
• Discuss the concept of “Cognitive
• Describe the implications of cognitive
apprenticeship for the business curriculum.
• Describe the redesign of a business statistics
course based on principles of Cognitive
Why Johnny Can’t Apply
• Are you ever frustrated that students can’t
seem to apply the domain knowledge that
they have acquired to practical situations?
Cognitive Apprenticeship
• Collins, Brown, and Newman (1989)
– Provided a general framework for designing
learning environments based on constructivist
– Apply apprenticeship learning principles to
cognitive domains.
Characteristics of Apprenticeship
Learning Environments
• Content
– Domain Knowledge
• The stuff that we would like them to learn
– Heuristic Strategies
• Rules of thumb to help students apply skills
• “If you are trying to determine which statistical technique to use,
first identify the level of measurement of the independent and
dependent variables.”
– Control Strategies
• Monitor and evaluate learning
– Learning Strategies
• “When learning statistics, it is best to attempt the problems, then
check the solutions and identify where you made mistakes.”
Teaching Methods
• Modelling
– Show students what to do
– Model the thought processes that experts use.
• Coaching
– Provide feedback and guidance on students performance.
• Scaffolding and fading
– Provide more support initially, then gradually remove the support.
• Articulation
– Get students to articulate the processes that they are using to solve
the problem.
• Reflection
– Have students reflect on the success of the processes that they used
• Exploration
– Encourage students to explore, try new things.
• Increasing complexity
– Simple to more complex tasks
• Increasing diversity
– Different types of contexts where skills are applied
• Global before local skills
– Show students where what they are learning falls
into the big picture instead of focusing on small
parts of the task
Social aspects of learning
• Situated Learning
– Traditional view
Step 2
Apply skill to a context.
Step 1 Learn Skill
Skill, Knowledge
Situation 2
Situated Cognition
“All learning occurs within a context”
It is impossible to separate
knowledge or skills from the context
in which they are learned.
If that context is how to perform on
an exam, it is not surprising that
students would have difficulty
applying to authentic situations.
Learning needs to take place in
authentic, rich situations where
application of the skill/knowledge is
necessary to do some meaningful
Social Aspects of Learning
• Culture of expert practice
– Social aspects of learning
– Storytelling
– How to think like experts
• Intrinsic motivation
– Authentic tasks and contexts
• Exploiting cooperation
– Peers an additional source of scaffolding
• Exploiting competition
Rethinking the
Business Statistics Course
• Why do students take business
statistics/quantitative methods as part of a
business curriculum?
Characteristics of Students
• Students are in the fields of Accounting,
Management, Marketing, Finance, Sports
• Students are below-average quantitatively.
Why take statistics
• So that students learn to provide support for
decisions that business professionals must
Situated Cognition
• What decisions do managers in businesses
need to make and support?
– Management, Marketing, Finance etc.
• Ensure that every example, exercise, project
and assessment involves an authentic
management-related situation.
Situated Cognition example
• Students are given a database of variables
regarding homes that were recently sold in a
• Students are placed in the role of a manager
of a real estate firm. They are asked to write a
report on the typical prices of homes in
different towns represented in the database.
• Skills demonstrated: mean and median, how
to support a conclusion with data.
Reflection/articulation on processes used.
Topic Selection
• Out
– Harmonic mean, Geometric mean
– Box and whisker plot
• In
– How to create compelling and effective charts and
– Evaluating probabilities
– The Expected Value of a probability distribution.
Text Selection
• Declining quality
• Increasing Cost
• Developed my own text
Evaluating Probabilities
• “Jim walks into the casino and sits down at the
blackjack table. He wins the first seven hands
of blackjack that he plays. The manager asks
you to write a report indicating the likelihood
that Jim is cheating. (Assume that the probability
of winning a hand of blackjack is .41.)
Evaluating probabilities
• A manager of a small business wants to
sample her customers. She knows that 30% of
her customers are men. A random sample of
her customers results in just 6 men and 24
women. She is concerned that her sample
must have been biased and that she should
not rely on the results. Write a report for her
on the likelihood that that her sample is
Computer Applications
• Minitab?
• Microsoft Excel?
Class Survey
• Students collect survey data from friends and
family on satisfaction with cell phone provider.
• Students collect, summarize and analyze data.
• Students use this data throughout the
Statistical Cases
• Cases involve a scenario and a data set.
Students are required
– Select an appropriate statistical analysis technique
that will provide compelling support for the
recommendation that they will make.
– Communicate that recommendation in a
persuasive way utilizing charts, tables, and text.
• Results
– Eye opening
– Using data to support recommendations is a skill
that needs much development.
• Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship:
Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick
(Ed.) Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert
Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
• Brown, Collins; Duguid (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of
Learning Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Jan. - Feb., 1989), pp. 3242.