-*Were you always told to underline key points in textbooks to reinforce recall for future examinations?
If so, you may have adopted a low-value practice.
Kent State University’s John Dunlosky and Katherine Rawson collaborated with Duke’s Elizabeth J. Marsh to investigate the validity of frequently recommended learning and recall strategies.
They were joined in the evaluation by University of Wisconsin’s Mitchell Nathan and Daniel Willingham of University of Virginia.
The team evaluated ten learning techniques:
- Practice testing
- Distributed practice
- Elaborative interrogation
- Interleaved practice
- Highlighting or underlining text
- Keyword mnemonic
- Imagery for text learning
Dunlosky’s team assessed the effectiveness of each approach according to their impact across four domains:
- Learning conditions, such as solo or group efforts
- Learner characteristics, including age, ability, and level of prior knowledge
- Learning materials, ranging from simple to complex
- Criterion tasks for outcome measures of memory, problem solving, and comprehension and related skills.
The team debunked the value of many frequently-recommended practice, but validated several of the more challenging and least enjoyable approaches:
- Practice testing. All testing, whether practice testing or high-stakes performance testing, can increase performance and recall, sometimes up to 100% improvement in free recall.
The most effective practice tests go beyond multiple-choice recognition question to require more detailed, process-oriented inquiries created by the learner.
Besides its effectiveness, practice testing is also the less time-consuming than other approaches, even the less effective techniques.
Open Source, no-cost Anki software provides flash-card reviews and Walter Pauk of Cornell’s note-taking system enable users to list questions in the column next to notes to speed development of practice tests.
Distributed practice. Decades of research documented the superiority of spacing learning and practice over time rather than compressing it into an “all night marathon” or “cramming” in massed practice sessions.
The most powerful learning approach combines both strategies in self-tests over time.
->Moderately helpful learning and retention techniques:
Elaborative interrogation involves explaining why stated facts are true instead of what the facts are.
Simon Sinek, who advocates “Start with Why,” explained the crucial importance of why-not-what in his well-received TED Talk.
- Self-explanation documents how to solve problems while providing rationales for choices during learning.
This approach is nearly twice as time consuming as its similarly-rated peer technique, elaborative interrogation explanation, so has a less effective “Return on Investment” of time and attention.
- Interleaved practice involves shifting study from one related topic to another, and appears to enhance motor learning and mastering cognitive tasks like mathematical problems up to 43% and augment longer-term skill retention.
->Lowest utility practices:
- Summarization requires succinctly describing content of every text.
Like note-taking, it was helpful in preparing for written exams but less useful for recognition tasks like multiple choice tests.
This method was more useful than the most common techniques of highlighting, underlining and rereading, but still had low efficacy for performance enhancement.
- Highlighting or underlining is the most frequently-used practice but has low value as a performance, learning, and recall practice because it requires little critical thinking beyond reading.
- Keyword mnemonic advocates linking words to meanings by word sounds and imagery.
This approach is helpful to trigger short-term recall for people’s names and occupations, scientific terms and foreign words but not English word definitions.
Keyword practice appears effective in limited instances when the material includes easily memorized keywords, but is less effective than rote learning for long-term recall.
- Imagery for text learning requires imagining visual images while reading texts.
This approach is somewhat effective for short texts and when the text is heard rather than read, but much less useful for longer text learning.
- Rereading was much less effective than other techniques.
Massed rereading immediately after reading was more effective than outlining and summarizing but spaced rereading was more beneficial than massed rereading, echoing the consistent finding that spaced practice enhances performance and retention.
Dunlosky’s team provided a critical evaluation of frequent learning practices and advocates adopting only those that have proven impact on learning, performance, and retention.
Their analysis suggests that leading practices are:
- Scheduling practice spaced over time to increase retention and to reinforce skill acquisition
- Creating practice why questions while reading
- Writing detailed explanations of the why, how, and what of the topic.
-*How do you enhance your ability to learn, retain information, and perform new skills?
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- Knowing without Knowing – Implicit Learning in Action
- How Sure are You of Your “Memories”? Suggestibility, Insertion, and Construction of Recall
- Symbolic Practice Improves Memorization, Performance
- Practice Outweighs Talent in Developing Expert Performance
- Self Compassion, not Self-Esteem, Enhances Performance
- Action Trumps Visualization to Improve Performance: “Do Something!”
- Performance Excellence linked to Recognizing, Preventing, Correcting Failures — and Coaching
Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
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