Self explanations

Self-explanation requires learners to use their prior knowledge to explain an inferred process in presented information. The self-explanation effect occurs when learners required to generate a self-explanation results in greater learning than when self-explanation is not required.

Learners will generally hold some level of schemas in a content domain, especially as their expertise increases.  Directing learners to self-explain content requires them to recall and reflect upon their schemas and to interpret newly presented information through the lens of their current knowledge base.

Learners will need to compare and contrast the new information with that already held in their schemas and to establish coherence between the two, thus aiding learning.

As learners develop their schemas in the content domain, they become more capable of self-explaining.


When information about a dynamical situation, such as relationships between elements or a procedural task, is presented, direct students to self-explain the rational for the presented information by using their prior knowledge.

Instructional Design: 

When presenting worked examples of solutions, or partially incomplete information sets regarding schematic diagrams, relationships and processes, direct students to self-explain the reasons underlying the information.

Learners may be given access to subsequent feedback information regarding their performance through access to sample reasons and thus confirm or modify their schemas in accordance with such feedback.

Example 1: Illustration presenting the water cycle

After examining a graphic illustration demonstrating the water cycle, learners are asked to explain why the water cycle is continuous.


Example 2: Video Displaying Explosion

After viewing a 20 second video showing a rock being thrown into water and a large explosion resulting, learners are asked to explain what could have caused the explosion.


Example 3: Statistics Regarding Malerial Infection Rates

After reading a short article about a sudden rise in rates of infection from maleria in a country that the learner has never been to, she is asked to explain what may have caused the sudden rise in infections.


Example 4: Why did the Ring Jump

Learners watch a demonstration of a metal ring being briefly dipped into a liquid using safety tongs and then being placed onto a steel spike attached to a battery.  When the battery is turned on, the ring is flung high into the air.  Explain why this may have happened.


Chi, M. T., Bassok, M., Lewis, M. W., Reimann, P., & Glaser, R. (1989). Self-explanations: How students study and use examples in learning to solve problems. Cognitive Science, 13, 145–182.

Gerjets, P., Scheiter, K., & Catrambone, R. (2006). Can learning from molar and modular worked examples be enhanced by providing instructional explanations and prompting self-explanations? Learning and Instruction, 16, 104–121.