EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles

Context: Students need to have a deep understanding of key concepts, and particularly Threshold Concepts that are both troublesome and transform student understanding (Meyer and Land, 2003; Meyer and Land, 2005), so that a lack of understanding can prevent student progress.


Problem & Forces: In most subjects, there are core Threshold Concepts that students may find difficult but must understand deeply in order to move forward. You feel pressure to “cover” more content in courses, so you try to “teach” more material using lectures, notes, and slides, as assigned readings, or assignments outside of class. However, students find it more difficult to identify, focus on, and truly understand all of the content. Students must also develop important process skills (also called professional skills or soft skills) such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork. However, many faculty feel they do not have the time or expertise to teach such skills.


Solution & Consequences: Therefore, use activities with EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles where students answer questions that guide them to explore a model, invent their own understanding of a key concept, and then apply that understanding in another context (Abraham, 2005; see Figure 1). Choose or develop learning activities that help students develop Threshold Concepts efficiently, since an EIA activity takes more class time than a lecture to “cover” the same content. Actively monitor team progress to ensure that all students participate and reach the correct understanding. Students with a better understanding of Threshold Concepts will be more able to relate and apply them in other contexts and learn other content more quickly. EIA activities also help students develop process skills. You could attend professional development workshops to help you adjust your teaching style. Spend part of a class explaining why evidence-based approaches are more effective, and show students relevant data on learning outcomes, since some students may object to the effort required or complain that you “aren’t really teaching”.

Discussion: EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles are based on the biology of how people learn, are similar to the scientific method, and are a form of Collaborative Knowledge Construction that Prefers Writing and prompts students to express concepts in their Own Words. Thus, EIA is related to Active Student, Try It Yourself, Challenge Understanding, Misconception Assessment, and Reflection. Carefully consider Learning Outcomes and use Constructive Alignment to choose effective learning cycles. Use Carefully Crafted Questions to guide students. Exploration questions often have Simple Answers, and application may include Open Ended Questions. Inventing a concept from observations requires inductive thinking; applying the concept in another context requires deductive thinking. Students simultaneously develop process skills, so EIA is also related to Multi-Pronged Attack.

Examples: A sample activity uses a Hi-Lo number guessing game to introduce concepts in algorithm analysis. It contains two EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles. The first uses a children’s game as the model and guides students to invent a set of strategies and tradeoffs between them. The second uses the strategies as the model and guides students to invent and apply key concepts in O()-style algorithm analysis.

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2016. Patterns in classroom activities for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Prog. 23 (October 2016).

Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 12:14:54 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 6)