Use of Analogies


Seeing similarity between two processes or events and drawing inferences from that is an example of using analogies for learning. Instructors use analogies throughout their lectures. When an instructor uses phrases such as "similarly," "likewise," "in the same way as," "in comparison to," and "just like," they are generally using analogies to help students grasp a concept. Glynn et al. (1995) suggests "mapping" shared attributes between the analogue and target. The goal is to transfer ideas from a familiar concept (the analogue) to an unfamiliar one (the target) by mapping their relationship.

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Learning Goals

The goal with the use of analogies is to make the learning process more transparent to the student. Learning often happens as the result of the student or instructor making analogies to other processes or situations (regardless whether these other processes and situations are, in fact, relevant). The goal is for the student to be able to articulate what analogies they are using and learn to challenge how and when those analogies are appropriate and how and when they are inappropriate.

Context for Use

It is useful to force the question "how do YOU learn?" early in the semester. Students often learn through use of analogies (Glynn and Takahashi, 1998) and it behooves the instructor to address this process openly and how this process requires the use of critical assessment.

Description and Teaching Materials

Using the "wrapper" approach you as instructor can present a concept or situation and ask students to identify at least one analogy to what they already "know." These can be collected and a sample of answers presented (this is where the use on technology can be helpful). For those displayed the instructor can talk through how the submitted analogies are applicable and, as appropriate, under what conditions they would not be appropriate.

Alternatively, after students have submitted their analogies you may ask them to discuss their analogies in small groups and challenge them to think about the limitations of each analogy presented. This can be followed with an editing of their original idea.