Level of interactivity and executive functions as predictors of learning in computer-based chemistry simulations

Bruce D. Homer, Jan L. Plass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


High school students' learning outcomes was examined comparing exploratory vs. worked simulations. The effects of added icons and students' executive functions were also examined. In Study 1, urban high school students (N = 84) were randomly assigned to one of four versions of a web-based simulation of kinetic molecular theory that varied in instructional format (exploratory vs. worked simulation) and representation (added icons vs. no added icons). Learning was assessed at two levels: comprehension and transfer. For transfer, a main effect was found for instructional format: the exploratory condition yielded greater levels of transfer than the worked simulation. Study 2 used the same conditions and a more complex simulation, the ideal gas law, with a similar sample of students (N = 67). For transfer, an interaction between instructional format and executive functions was found: Whereas students with higher levels of executive functions had better transfer with the exploratory condition, students with lower levels of executive functions had better transfer with the guided simulations. Results are discussed in relation to current theories of instructional design and learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-375
Number of pages11
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
StatePublished - Jul 2014



  • Chemistry
  • Cognitive load
  • Executive functions
  • Learning
  • Multimedia
  • Simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)

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