The Evaluation of Argument Mapping as a Learning Tool
Dwyer, Christopher Peter
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Argument mapping (AM) is a method of visually diagramming arguments using a 'box and arrow' format with the aim of simplifying the reading of an argument structure and facilitating the assimilation of core statements and relations. The overall aim of the current programme of research was to evaluate the use of AM as a learning tool. Over the course of three studies, this research examined the effects of AM, in comparison with other traditional, educational methods, on immediate recall, delayed recall, comprehension and critical thinking (CT). Study 1 involved four experiments. The collective findings from these four experiments suggest that AM reading and construction can facilitate better immediate recall of propositions from arguments when compared with more traditional learning strategies, such as text-reading and text-summarisation. Study 1 experiments revealed that when compared with traditional text-based study materials, AM reading significantly enhanced the immediate recall of arguments, regardless of (1) the presence or absence of colour to demarcate reasons and objections in AMs, (2) the environmental setting in which AMs were studied and (3) the study topic used in the experiment. Results also revealed that those who actively learned through AM and hierarchical outline (HO) construction performed significantly better on immediate recall testing than those who actively learned through text summarisation. Study 2 compared the effects of a six-week AM-infused CT training course with those of a HO-infused CT training course and a no-CT training control condition. Study 2 findings revealed that participants in the AM training group performed significantly better on inductive reasoning than controls, as did the HO training group. When analysed together, the CT training attendees (i.e. both AM and HO groups combined) outperformed the control group on the CT skills of analysis, evaluation and inductive reasoning. Study 3 examined the effects of an AM-infused CT e-learning course, in comparison with a no-CT course control group, on measures of CT ability. Results from Study 3 revealed that those who participated in the AM-infused CT training condition outperformed those in the control group on overall CT, argument analysis and verbal reasoning. Study 3 results also revealed that performance on overall CT and all CT sub-scales (i.e. hypothesis testing, argument analysis, verbal reasoning, assessing likelihood and uncertainty, and problem-solving) of those in the AM-infused CT group were significantly enhanced from pre-to-post-testing. Overall, the results suggest that AM is an efficacious learning method, as it was shown to facilitate both recall and CT ability. Empirical and theoretical implications of these results and future research possibilities are discussed.