Sarah Hofer is an educational psychologist with a strong interest in improving instruction in classrooms and supporting learning for as many children as possible. Accordingly, her work investigates the effectiveness of diverse instructional methods and focuses on individual differences in learning and school success. Working on the interface between basic and applied research, she conducts experiments both in the lab and in the field and combines psychological theories on learning and instruction with applications and content that are relevant in the classroom. In her current work, she explores how digital media can promote learning, particularly for students with unfavorable preconditions.
My plans for the fellowship period
Despite a global call for individualized instruction, research on the potential of digital media to support individualized learning in the classroom lags behind. In a series of experiments, I will investigate which children profit from which types of digital learning support when learning fractions. I am especially interested in students with unfavorable preconditions for learning. In a screening phase, I plan to test 5th-grade students on variables that are established preconditions for learning in the school context, such as intelligence, attention span, self-regulation, or instructional language proficiency. Based on the students’ manifestations of these variables, they will be categorized into groups with more or less favorable preconditions for learning. In the second and third year of the fellowship, I will examine how students in the different precondition groups learn with and without seven promising types of digital learning support, including adaptive tasks, a dictionary link, individualized feedback, the use of congruent gestures, and attentional guidance during learning. The different types of digital learning support are embedded into tablet-based learning tools, such as fraction comparison exercises or fraction visualizations. The students will work with these tools with or without the different types of digital learning support to acquire knowledge on fractions.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
My work aims at the identification of design principles for digital learning support, which acknowledge that children are diverse. By comparing learning outcomes with and without different types of digital learning support in groups of students with more or less favorable preconditions for learning, I can identify which students profit from which types of support. Since identification is not enough, I strive to disseminate the findings of this project so that they are broadly put into practice. The design principles can inform research in the field of computer supported learning and technology industry about how to design digital learning tools that are tailored to the needs of individual students. As individualized instruction demands a great deal of teachers, it is rarely realized in the classroom. The results of this project, however, can help educators to deal with the growing heterogeneity in their classrooms and between different school types or ability-tracked courses. More immediately, my research will enable more children to acquire fundamental knowledge in mathematics.