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Microgenetic methods are used to analyze moment-to-moment processes of learning, reasoning, and problem-solving. Microgenetic methods are useful when studying learning that does not occur in a straight line from lesser to greater understanding, but rather occurs through a learning trajectory that includes iterative and unpredictable paths and sometimes even setbacks or failure. Microgenetic methods are also useful in studying learning that is mediated by tools and artifacts in the learning environment, and what role those artifacts play in the developing learning trajectory. These methods are time-consuming and it’s not practical to conduct studies with large sample sizes or that occur over very long periods of time; rather, the focus is on developing a deep and thorough understanding of a specific learning environment and then to generalize those findings to a broader range of contexts. Microgenetic methods are particularly well-suited to five types of research questions: questions about the variability or stability of strategies; events that precipitate or initiate change; co-occurring events and processes; trajectories or paths of change; and the rate of change.
This chapter reviews the literature on comprehension of media-based presentations to develop mental models of physical systems. It examines the representations and cognitive processes involved in understanding media-based presentations, the abilities and skills on which this understanding depends, and the effectiveness of different media for communicating different types of content. In reviewing how people construct mental models from media, it considers how people learn about the structure and functioning of physical systems from visual-spatial representations alone, including static and animated diagrams, and later reviews how they learn from combinations of visual-spatial and verbal representations. Iconic static diagrams can be effective for communicating the static structure of a system and can also be the basis for mental animation. Traditional print media, that is, static diagrams accompanied by text, can provide highly effective external representations to aid the development of mental models of dynamic systems.