Dedre Gentner


Dedre Gentner

Sage 4101

January 30, 2008 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

My topic is the power of analogy in human learning. I'll begin by noting that our extraordinary analogical ability is arguably the major difference between human cognition and that of the other great apes. I'll present evidence that (1) analogical processes operate naturally in human experiential learning to bring about important insights; (2) analogical processes work in mutual facilitation with symbol systems such as language; and (3) there is immense potential for harnessing the knowledge we've accumulated about analogical processing—both its strengths and its weaknesses—to design better ways to accelerate human learning.

Specifically, I'll suggest that analogical comparison involves a process called structure-mapping (Gentner, 1983) that fosters learning in at least four ways: it highlights common relational systems; it promote inferences; it reveals potentially important differences between situations; and it leads to re-representations that make the information more abstract and more portable. Although there is abundant evidence that analogy can serve to import knowledge from a well-understood situation to a new situation, I'll focus here on a less-studied use of our analogical ability, which we call analogical encoding, in which an analogical comparison between two novel situations results in better understanding of both. I'll present evidence that analogical encoding is the key to learning new relational abstractions, and also that it can help overcome the infamous "inert knowledge" problem in education.

She recommends the following paper:

Gentner, D., & Markman, A. B. (1997). Structure mapping in analogy and similarity. American Psychologist , 52, 45-56.

And for people who want a more in depth paper, there is this one:

Gentner, D. (2003b). Why we're so smart. In D. Gentner and S. Goldin-Meadow (Eds.), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought (pp.195-235). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Both are available on her web site:
Add to calendar