Field dependence–Independence as Visuospatial and Executive Functioning in Working Memory: Implications for Instructional Systems Design and Research

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Educational Technology Research and Development




Field dependence–independence (FDI) has long been conceptualized and discussed as a cognitive style relevant to numerous educational approaches and outcomes. However, the FDI construct is most often measured as a cognitive ability, as opposed to a style, using instruments such as the Group-Embedded Figures test (GEFT) or the Hidden Figures Test (HFT). Specifically, FDI is typically measured as visuospatial ability and executive functioning in working memory. While measurement and use of FDI within psychological and educational research has often resulted in misleading or inconsistent discussion about cognitive styles, this review examines how the long history of FDI research continues to be relevant to contemporary instructional contexts. A broader recognition of FDI as ability is suggested in order to (a) better distinguish ability measurements from those of styles, (b) encourage a reinterpretation and awareness of theoretical connections among past studies that use instruments such as GEFT or HFT, and (c) highlight suggestions for future research and application, particularly with contemporary interactive multimedia learning tools.