Executive functions in the context of complex learning: Malleable moderators?

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Matthias Schwaighofer
Markus Bühner
Frank Fischer


Executive functions are crucial for complex learning in addition to prior knowledge. In this article, we argue that executive functions can moderate the effectiveness of instructional approaches that vary with respect to the demand on these functions. In addition, we suggest that engagement in complex activity contexts rather than specific cognitive training paradigms may enhance executive functions and yield practically relevant transfer effects to other cognitive abilities. We develop several hypotheses and principles for how to improve executive functions in these contexts. For future research, we suggest to systematically investigate the moderating role of executive functions in learning environments with varying degrees of instructional support and varying context characteristics. We identify potential factors influencing the improvement of executive functions to be considered in a systematic research program.

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Schwaighofer, M., Bühner, M., & Fischer, F. (2017). Executive functions in the context of complex learning: Malleable moderators?. Frontline Learning Research, 5(1), 58–75. https://doi.org/10.14786/flr.v5i1.268


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