How Can Cognitive-Science Research Help Improve Education? The Case of Comparing Multiple Strategies to Improve Mathematics Learning and Teaching

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The current article focuses on efforts to understand how a basic learning process—comparison—can be harnessed to improve learning, especially mathematics learning in schools. To harness the power of comparison in instruction, we must investigate three core decisions: what, when, and how to compare. Comparing different strategies for solving the same problem or easily confusable problem types is particularly effective for supporting mathematics learning. Comparing examples early in the learning process can be challenging, but delaying comparison can reduce procedural flexibility. Indeed, comparison is resource demanding, so it is more impactful when carefully supported (e.g., side-by-side visual presentation, explanation prompts). To bridge from research to practice, we communicated research findings to teachers and policymakers and developed curricular materials, instructional routines, and professional-development materials to help math teachers leverage these learning processes. We conclude this review with key open questions.