University of Nebraska Medical Center

Wednesday Wisdom: Enhancing Learning Using Concrete Examples (part 3 in education series)

Wednesday Wisdom

This is part 3 in our 6 part education series and covers enhancing learning using concrete examples.

What is it learning using concrete examples?

As novices, students often gain a false sense of confidence in their abilities to memorize new material. Using concrete, relevant, real life examples can help students understand abstract ideas and extend information retention.

This approach, known as learning using concrete examples, stimulates complex thinking patterns like those used by health care providers, practitioners and researchers

How do I teach using it?

> Don’t rely on students, as novices, to fill in the gaps in complex thinking: Give them a road map for real life application. Pause your lecture for a focused case study or provide online resources (vetted by you–the expert) that extend learning for better long-term performance.

Think: What do I want my students to be able to DO, in 3 hours, 3 days, 3 years, or 3 decades?

> Enrich learning “information” with details creating more access points for memory retrieval. Bring learning to life by using images, test results, common patterns and other detailed examples

> Set up scenarios where learners see these performance patterns: A series of concrete examples can help learners digest, retain, and retrieve information needed to gain confidence and competence in performance—particularly common standards of practice (i.e., completing a history and physical).

How do I teach students how to use it?

> Once you have demonstrated concrete examples, instruct students to be alert to similar situations that they encounter in life or clinical experience and compare their observations with your guided example. This is the ideal time for student reflection.

> Better understanding comes from critical thinking, not memorization. Explain to students the benefit of this method. Creating this “superhighway” for storage and retrieval aids performance and speed during exams or high-stake clinical situations.

> Use concrete examples as question stems for decision-making. Encourage learners to write and share similar concrete examples to help focus and challenge utilization of “facts.”

Want to learn more?

Contact Gary Beck Dallaghan, PhD, at gbeck@unmc.edu or Linda M. Love, EdD, at lmlove@unmc.edu.

Read the rest of the Education Series:

  View tip sheet in an easy-to-print format

About the Author

Dr. Linda M. Love is the Assistant Director of Faculty Development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She has over a decade of experience working with faculty development and continues to expand her skills in mentoring, coaching, adult learning, and higher education administration.

  lmlove@unmc.edu  |    @LindaLove6666


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  2. Paivio, A., Walsh, M., & Bons, T. (1994). Concreteness effects on memory: When and why? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 1196-1204.

  3. Rawson, K. A., Thomas, R. C., & Jacoby, L. L. (2014). The power of examples: Illustrative examples enhance conceptual learning of declarative concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 27, 483-504

  4. Weinstein, Y. & Smith, M (2017). Learn to Study Using Concrete Examples. Retrieved at www.learningscientists.org.

  5. Wlodkowski, R. J. (2011). Enhancing adult motivation to learn: A comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. John Wiley & Sons.


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