The link between microdevelopment and long-term learning trajectories in science learning

Henderien Steenbeek, Steffie van der Steen, Ruud den Hartigh, Paul van Geert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Long-term learning trajectories evolve through microdevelopmental sequences (i.e., short-term processes of change during learning tasks) and depend on variability during and across learning tasks. The aim of this study is to examine the coupling between short-term teacher-student dynamics and students’ long-term learning trajectories, thereby providing empirical support for the link between the short- and long-term time scale in cognitive development. For 31 students (ages 3–5 years) from regular and special education, five teacher-student interactions during science tasks were filmed and coded in real time with regard to the student’s level of understanding and the teacher’s support throughout the task. A hierarchical cluster analysis resulted in four different learning trajectories over the course of 1.5 years, labeled as a high-scoring, mid-scoring, fluctuating, and low-scoring group of students. When connecting these trajectories to microdevelopmental data, the interactions of the high-scoring students were characterized by more moment-to-moment variations in the teacher’s support and student’s level of understanding, while the low-scoring group had the least variability compared to the other groups. Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities were represented across all learning trajectories, despite frequent accounts in the literature on their significant academic delays.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-32
JournalHuman Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2019


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