When you’re introducing a complex topic, where’s the best place to start? With an overview? An example? A historical review?

Research suggests: an analogy.

Multiple studies have shown that analogies are a powerful way to connect new, complex concepts to familiar ideas that learners already understand. They also inspire innovative thinking by forging connections that learners hadn’t considered previously.

Let’s say you want to introduce a group of managers to social-exchange theory – the idea that interactions between people move gradually from superficial exchanges to deeper and more meaningful ones, based on mutual trust.

That’s a lot to wrap your head around. But if you compare this process to gradually peeling back the layers of an onion, it becomes easier to grasp. The familiar image helps us grasp the new concept.

Source: Chan, J., et al. (2012). Analogy as a strategy for supporting complex problem solving under uncertainty. Memory and Cognition, 40(8), 1352-1365.

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