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    Science Of Learning: Which Study Strategies Really Make The Grade?
    By News Staff | January 10th 2013 01:06 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Students everywhere, put down those highlighters and pick up some flashcards! Some of the most popular study strategies, like highlighting and even re-reading, don't show much promise for improving student learning, according to a new paper.

    In the article, psychologist John Dunlosky of Kent State University and colleagues review ten learning techniques commonly used by students.

    Based on the available evidence, they provide recommendations about the applicability and usefulness of each technique.

    While the ten learning techniques vary widely in effectiveness, two strategies , practice testing and distributed practice, made the grade, receiving the highest overall utility rating. Most students are familiar with practice testing, having used flash cards or answered the questions at the end of a textbook chapter or took practice tests before their SATs. Students who prefer last-minute cram sessions may not be as familiar with the idea of distributed practice.

    They say spreading out studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students' performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.


    Nobel laureate Professor Carl Wieman also did a series of articles here on how education in 2020 should look.

    "Schools and parents spend a great deal of money on technology and programs to improve student achievement, even though evidence often isn't available to firmly establish that they work," says Dunlosky. "We wanted to take a comprehensive look at promising strategies now, in order to direct teachers, students and parents to the strategies that are effective, yet underused."

    In contrast, five of the techniques received a low utility rating from the researchers. Notably, these techniques are some of the most common learning strategies used by students, including summarization, highlighting and underlining, and rereading.

    "I was shocked that some strategies that students use a lot — such as rereading and highlighting — seem to provide minimal benefits to their learning and performance. By just replacing rereading with delayed retrieval practice, students would benefit," says Dunlosky.

    So why don't they? Why aren't students and teachers using the learning strategies that have been shown to be effective and inexpensive?

    They found that the answer may have to do with how future teachers are taught.

    "These strategies are largely overlooked in the educational psychology textbooks that beginning teachers read, so they don't get a good introduction to them or how to use them while teaching," Dunlosky explains. As a result, teachers are less likely to fully exploit some of these easy-to-use and effective techniques.

    To help address this gap, the researchers organized their report in distinct modules, so that teachers can quickly decide whether each technique will potentially benefit his or her students and researchers can easily set an agenda on what we still need to know about the efficacy of these strategies.

    "The learning techniques described in this monograph will not be a panacea for improving achievement for all students, and perhaps obviously, they will benefit only students who are motivated and capable of using them," Dunlosky and colleagues note. "Nevertheless, when used properly, we suspect that they will produce meaningful gains in performance in the classroom, on achievement tests, and on many tasks encountered across the life span."


    Published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

    Comments

    We've actually built a learning system around these kinds of ideas at testbankprep.com. Please take a look if you're interested . . . sorry about the ad-like nature of this post. There really is growing evidence that testing or at least the engagement of recall mechanisms is a better way to learn compared to things like concept maps or highlighting text.

    Gerhard Adam
    It also appears that one of the missing elements is the failure of teachers to define the nature of what is being learned.  For example, it is useful if a teacher instructs a student as to which parts of a topic should simply be memorized, versus those that require an understanding of processes, versus those that are just general knowledge, etc.

    Often students are faced with exposure to all manner of information without any means of assessing what the requirements are beyond hoping to pass an arbitrary test.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    It also appears that one of the missing elements is the failure of teachers to define the nature of what is being learned.  For example, it is useful if a teacher instructs a student as to which parts of a topic should simply be memorized, versus those that require an understanding of processes, versus those that are just general knowledge, etc.


    At one point ( in the early 1980's) at least in my province that approach was prevalent. There would be specific learning objectives listed for students, and under each objective there would be examples.


    But it fell out of favor with the ministry because it was deemed too tailored to taking tests. Students would supposedly forget everything afterwards.


    I have nothing against objectives. What I try to do, especially with better students, is blend that approach with one that encourages them to go a little more deeply into the subject and relate the material to other things they encounter. If the latter fails for certain students, at least they have the concrete backbone of the "objectives" to fall back on.
    Gerhard Adam
    Students would supposedly forget everything afterwards.
    That already occurs.  In fact, it's obvious that it would occur in the absence of any specific reason to learn the materials.   I once had to take a comparative religion class to satisfy a humanities credit.  Does anyone really believe that I would study anything except the elements necessary to pass a test?

    It is presumptuous in the extreme for each teacher in a specific topic to presume that the student is dedicated to learning everything associated with a particular subject.  While there may be some for which that applies, it strikes me as a fundamental failure in the system, since it is never actually clear what objective is supposed to be attained after years of education.  After all, what does it mean to be "well educated"?

    Note that we are NOT talking about subjects that are intended to involve an advanced education where this becomes part of the student's background to acquire expertise.
    Mundus vult decipi
    UvaE
    It is presumptuous in the extreme for each teacher in a specific topic to presume that the student is dedicated to learning everything associated with a particular subject. 
    Especially when there are far too many required courses at any level. It just sets students up to spread themselves too thinly.

    UvaE
    "Schools and parents spend a great deal of money on technology and programs to improve student achievement, even though evidence often isn't available to firmly establish that they work," says Dunlosky.
    That is indeed one of the frustrating things about being in education. There are aspects that are as scientific as homeopathy.