Design factors for effective science simulations: Representation of information

Jan L. Plass, Bruce D. Homer, Catherine Milne, Trace Jordan, Slava Kalyuga, Minchi Kim, Hyunjeong Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We propose that the effectiveness of simulations for science education depends on design features such as the type of representation chosen to depict key concepts. We hypothesize that the addition of iconic representations to simulations can help novice learners interpret the visual simulation interface and improve cognitive learning outcomes as well as learners' self-efficacy. This hypothesis was tested in two experiments with high school chemistry students. The studies examined the effects of representation type (symbolic versus iconic), prior knowledge, and spatial ability on comprehension, transfer, and self-efficacy under low cognitive load (Study 1, N=80) and high cognitive load conditions (Study 2, N=91). Results supported our hypotheses that design features such as the addition of iconic representations can help scaffold students' comprehension of science simulations, and that this effect was strongest for learners with low prior knowledge. Adding icons also improved learners' general self-efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-35
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Cognitive load
  • Icons
  • Interface design
  • Learning
  • Prior knowledge
  • Representation
  • Science
  • Self-efficacy
  • Simulation
  • Spatial ability
  • Symbols


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