AVOW diagrams constitute a novel representational system designed to support understanding and problem solving in the domain of electricity. They constitute one class of Law Encoding Diagrams, LEDs, which have some interesting representational and cognitive properties. The study of LEDs is providing insights into the nature of effective representations for problem solving, learning and discovery. This paper reviews these and reports on an empirical evaluation in which the effectiveness of learning the principles of electricity with AVOW diagrams is compared with the use of algebraic equations. The group using AVOW diagrams learned substantially more than the equations group. The greatest learning gain of the AVOW group was on difficult questions involving multiple constraints and complex transfer problems. Analysis of verbal protocols and work scratchings provides explanations of the benefits of the AVOW diagrams in terms of: the nature of each of the representational systems; the relative global homogeneity and local heterogeneity of the networks of concepts that participants acquired; differences in the degree of uniformity of problem solving procedures supported by the representations. The benefits of AVOW diagrams for learning electricity argue for the general value of LEDs for learning science and, in particular, demonstrates that LEDs can be effective for novice learners in domains involving complex relations and interactions. Some guidelines and criteria for the design of effect LEDs are proposed.
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