It was a review of 44 papers on advance organizers published around 1980. Idea: when material is totally new, advance organizers help provide the necessary context (“anchor” for so-called prior knowledge) on which to base the new material. This is supported by the assimilation theory, but not reception theory. The reception theory “is based on the idea that amount learned depends on amount presented and received by the learner” (p. 25). Also, the assumption is that “advance organizers encourage a more integrated, broader learning outcome” (p. 31). In short, the assimilation  theory  is supported by the results of the studies on advance organizers (p. 37). Honestly, reading only the conclusion would suffice (p. 37–41).

“The term “assimilation theory” will refer to the idea that learning involves relating new, potentially meaningful material to an assimilative context of existing knowledge. Thus the conditions of meaningful, assimilative learning are:

  • Reception—The new material must be received by the learner.
  • Availability—The learner must possess, prior to learning, a meaningful assimilative context for integrating the new material.
  • Activation—The learner must actively use this context during learning to integrate the new information with old.

The function of advance organizers concerns the second and third conditions—namely to make an assimilative context available and to encourage the leaner to use it during learning” (pp. 5–6).

To have an effect, the materials should be unfamiliar and potentially meaningful; “advance organizers must provide or locate the meaningful context” and encourage the learner to use it; the learner lacks “conceptual context for the material”; performance measures (p. 6-7).

The lenient version of the assimilation theory is addition theory, because “advance organizers allow quantitatively more information to be added to memory” (p. 32).

Standard A.O. studies with a control group – 27 papers. In 4 of them, there was no difference between Advance Organizer group and Control group. + 17 Modified A.O. studies talk about the placement of A.O., unlike in standard studies. Advance organizer – before instruction, post organizer – before the test. Because assumption: A.O. are used for encoding rather that retrieval (“locus of the effect is at encoding”). Seven studies showed no difference in the test results. The author mainly criticizes the methodology and procedures in those ‘negative’ studies. + A.O. in those studies may have been ineffective in providing an assimilative context. So those two groups of studies generally corroborate the use of A.O.

Specialized A.O. studies (Materials; learner characteristics; high/ low ability; multileveled posttest). Talks about Material * Treatment Interaction (MTI): A.O. are best for poorly organized materials and not good (actually, worse) for well-integrated versions of the same materials (may decrease performance; because it may interfere with the learner’s own/ already existing model). As for learner characteristics, the less background knowledge, the more useful advance organizers.  The more background knowledge, the more learners use it naturally as an assimilative context. In verbal and reading ability, A.O. are useful for low ability students rather than high ability ones. Regarding multi-leveled posstests, A.O. help perform better on far transfer or conceptual questions, whereas near transfer results were better for P.O.

P.S. The text used noted different types of organizers: advance organizers, post organizers, comparative organizers, control organizers, and expository organizers.

Kind of reference: Mayer, R. E. (1979). Twenty years of research on advance organizers: Assimilation theory is still the best predictor of results. Instructional Science, 8(2), 133-167. doi:10.1007/BF00117008


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