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The REAP Project Root Node


The REAP project investigates the effects of implicit and explicit instruction on the learning of word meanings. The REAP tutor ( is used as a enabling technology for LearnLab studies in the English Language Institute at the Univ. of Pittsburgh.


Implicit Learning: The learning of meaning for a word from the context in which that word occurs. Explicit Learning: The learning of meaning for a word from explicit instruction, either in the form of a dictionary definition or a practice exercise. Intentional Learning: The learning of meanings for words that are focused on in instructional materials. Targeted words might be highlighted in a reading, or practiced in vocabulary exercises. Incidental Learning: The learning of meanings for words that appear in instructional materials but are not explicitly taught. For example, a student may learn an unknown word that occurs in a practice reading but is not the focus of the reading.

Research question

What are the characteristics of instruction that lead to robust knowledge of vocabulary? Do students learn better from explicit instruction (e.g., dictionary definitions), or can they learn implicitly (e.g., from context)? To what extent does incidental learning of vocabulary occur (e.g., learning of words not targeted by a practice reading)?

Dependent variables

Measures of basic learning (an immediate, near-transfer post-test) and measures of robust learning (retention, far-transfer and preparation for future learning)

Independent variables

Independent variables in PSLC are primarily instructional activities, methods, or treatments. Studies might also include independent variables that measure individual differences, like a language students' first language.


Learning will be robust if the instructional activities are designed to include appropriate paths, and the students tend to follow those paths during instruction.


Instructional activities influence the depth and generality of the students’ acquired knowledge components, the knowledge components’ strength and feature validity, and the student’s motivation. These in turn influence the students’ performance on measures of robust learning. That is, we take a cognitive stance, rather than a radically distributed or situated stance.

At the macro-level, instruction produces robust learning if it increases the frequency of:

  • sense-making processes: rederivation, adaptation and self-supervised learning
  • and foundational skill-building processes: strengthening, deep feature perception and cognitive headroom.

At the micro-level, instruction produces robust learning if:

  • The instruction is designed so that the learning event space has some target paths that would cause an ideal student to acquire knowledge that is deep, general, strong and retrieval-feature-valid.
  • Most students follow a target path most of the time. There are many factors outside the easy control of the experimenter or instructor, such as motivation and recall, that affect whether students actually follow the target paths designed into the instruction.


Annotated bibliography