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You are currently viewing Model Comparisons – Science Inquiry Using Physical and Virtual Experiments

Systematic Investigation of Issues and Conditions for Learning

– Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Education Core Research Program.

Both physical labs and virtual labs are often used in science teaching, and each have their advantages and disadvantages. With each providing different affordances for learning, it is often feasible to combine the two in a multitude of ways. This project will conduct a series of studies to:

  1. Uncover the differential benefits of physical versus virtual labs, for learners with a range of abilities and prior knowledge, and for content of different difficulty levels;
  2. Understand the differential effects of sequencing physical and virtual labs for different learners and content; and
  3. Examine how best to combine physical and virtual labs in mixed reality environments.

Currently, there are conflicting findings about the learning benefits from physical and virtual labs. The research team will systematically examine the factors that affect learning from physical and virtual labs in studies conducted across three grade levels in three states.


  1. Direct comparison of virtual and physical experiments
  2. Sequencing ofthe experiments: virtual then physical vs physical then virtual
  3. Effects for different learners, materials, and outcomes


  1. Compare students learning between physical, virtual, and sequences physical and virtual models
  2. Learn about conditions that promote or hinder learning from physical and virtual labs
  3. Understand how learning is affected in physical, virtual, sequenced, and integrated labs by differing contexts, topics, student prior knowledge and ability
  4. Paint a clear and detailed qualitative picture of the differences and similarities in teacher strategies and student learning dynamics in physical, virtual, sequenced, and integrated labs

Pulley on a table in a science class.Experiments:

  • Pulleys
  • Inclined Planes
  • Roller Coaster