Tag Archives: memory

Low-Stakes Testing Improves Learning Retention, Retrieval

Henry L. Roediger III

Henry L. Roediger III

Few people enjoy having knowledge gaps exposed by formal testing, but those who receive this corrective feedback are more likely to retain information over time, according to studies by Washington University’s Henry L. Roediger III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke.

Mary Pyc

Mary Pyc

Their work confirms considerable previous research, and the idea that testing acts as a “meditator” to retrieve stored information, suggested by Kent State University’s Mary A. Pyc and Katherine A. Rawson.

Katherine A. Rawson

Katherine A. Rawson

Participants in Roediger and Karpicke’s investigation read texts and were tested by writing as much as they recalled of selected sections, rather than completing a multiple choice test or writing a critical thinking essay on the topic.
Volunteers recalled about 70 percent of the ideas they’d read, then re-read the
remaining passages that were not tested.

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Jeffrey D. Karpicke

Delayed testing on both sets of readings occurred after two days or seven days, and volunteers were significantly more able to remember material on which they’d been tested.

Roediger and Karpicke noted that testing requires people to retrieve knowledge from memory, rather than merely acquire information as when reading or listening to a lecture.
The testing effect, also known as the retrieval practice effect, strengthens learning by embedding information in memory.

Karl Szpunar

Karl Szpunar

Most effective testing is integrated into learning with frequent, low-stakes checkpoints in contrast to less frequent, higher-stakes testing in the traditional British education system, they suggested.

Novall Y. Khan

Novall Y. Khan

Additionally, “interpolated testing” during learning activities enables people to sustain attention, reduce mind wandering, test anxiety, and perceived “cognitive load,” found Harvard’s Karl K. Szpunar, Novall Y. Khan, and Daniel L. Schacter.

Sarah L. Eddy

Sarah L. Eddy

The testing effect can benefit people who have previously under-performed relative to their peers, and are under-represented in courses, reported University of Washington’s Sarah L Eddy and Mary Pat Wenderoth with Sara E Brownell of Arizona State University.

Mary Pat Wenderoth

Mary Pat Wenderoth

They evaluated women’s academic achievement and participation in class discussions in more than 20 large university biology courses.

Sara E. Brownell

Sara E. Brownell

Unlike in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, 60% of the students were women.
However, they responded to only 40% of questions posed by the instructor during classes, much less than their representation in the course.
In addition, these women achieved lower exam scores than men with similar overall academic performance.

Daniel Schachter

Daniel Schachter

However, when the researchers introduced frequent, low-stakes testing – even without providing test results – women’s information retention and accessing significantly improved.

Frequent low-stakes testing integrated into learning activities leads to longer-term information comprehension, retention, and application – and this frequent exposure to a sometimes-feared or disliked activity can reduce avoidant reactions.

-*How effective do you find frequent tests to increase recall and retention of learning materials?

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Laptop Note-Taking leads to “Shallower Cognitive Processing” than Manual Notes

Pam Mueller

Pam Mueller

Taking notes on a laptop computer may not enhance understanding and recall as much as using the old-fashioned method of taking notes by hand:
People who hand-wrote notes to retain information performed better on factual and conceptual questions about the content than those who took notes on a laptop computer, according to Princeton’s Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA.

They distinguished between two types of note-taking:

Virpi Slotte

Virpi Slotte

More “superficial” (shallower) information processing is linked to less accurate text comprehension, found  University of Helsinki’s Virpi Slotte and Kirsti Lonka, and to lower performance on questions to assesses integrative and conceptual understanding, in findings by Clemson University’s Brent Igo, Roger Bruning of University of Nebraska, and Victoria University’s Matthew McCrudden.

Kirsti Lonka

Kirsti Lonka

To determine which note-taking techniques are associated with more robust information processing, Muller and Oppenheimer asked participants to view 15-minute TED Talks or recorded lectures while recording handwritten or laptop notes.
Next, these volunteers completed two 5-minute distractor tasks and a reading span task to test working memory.

Roger Bruning

Roger Bruning

By this time, 30 minutes had elapsed since the end of the lecture, and participants answered questions about the content focusing on:

  • Factual-recall, such as “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”
  • Conceptual-application, like “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”

Mueller-Oppenheim Question TypesVolunteers who took notes on a laptop were more likely to record nongenerative, or verbatim notes, and like previous findings, showed poorer performance on both factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions.

Even when participants were explicitly instructed to “take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying,” people taking notes on laptops still recorded more verbatim notes than manual note-takers – and their comprehension performance still did not improve.

Matthew McCrudden

Matthew McCrudden

In another variation that included a week delay between the lecture and note-taking and the comprehension test, half the participants reviewed their handwritten or laptop notes for 10 minutes before the test and the other volunteers answered test questions without reviewing material.

Daniel Oppenheimer

Daniel Oppenheimer

Previous results were replicated under these conditions, suggesting that people who paraphrase content instead of recording verbatim tend to demonstrate greater content comprehension – and this advantage is enabled by the slower approach to manual note-taking.

Taking notes on a laptop computer enables users to transcribe information at higher speeds than manual note-taking, according to C. Marlin “Lin” Brown, then of Xerox, yet drawbacks include:

  • Shallower information processing
  • Decreased conceptual understanding
  • Reduced factual recall
  • Distraction in multi-tasking on email or social media

-*How do you maintain increase comprehension and retention when taking notes using a laptop computer?

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Want to Remember Something You Read? Skip the Underlining – Exploding Learning Technique Myths

-*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.

John Dunlosky

John Dunlosky

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.

Katherine Rawson

Katherine Rawson

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
  • Self-explanation
  • Interleaved practice
  • Summarization
  • Highlighting or underlining text
  • Keyword mnemonic
  • Imagery for text learning
  • Rereading 
Elizabeth J. Marsh

Elizabeth J. Marsh

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.
Mitchell Nathan

Mitchell Nathan

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.
Daniel Willingham

Daniel Willingham

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.

The most powerful learning approach combines both strategies in self-tests over time.

->Moderately helpful learning and retention techniques:

  • 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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Symbolic Practice Improves Memorization, Performance

Edward Warburton

Edward Warburton

Expert ballet dancers are skilled performing artists with strong non-verbal communication competencies.
In addition, they are efficient learners of complex three-dimensional sequences, who master cognitively-challenging novel tasks under time constraints and with high expectations of quality performance.

Margaret Wilson

Margaret Wilson

Symbolic practice of these demanding tasks through “marking” can improve performance and reduce the mental strain of learning, mastering, and performing at an expert level, and may be applicable to enhancing other types of performance.

Molly Lynch

Molly Lynch

Former professional ballet dancer Edward Warburton of University of California, Santa Cruz collaborated with UCSC colleague Margaret Wilson  and their counterparts at University of California, Irvine, Molly Lynch and Shannon Cuykendall to investigate the impact of dancers performing an abbreviated version of  choreography during rehearsal by “marking” to conserve energy and to aid recall of complex routines.
One example is marking using a finger rotation to represent a turn.

Shannon Cuykendall

Shannon Cuykendall

Warburton and team compared the quality of performances by dancers who rehearsed by “marking” and by performing the full choreography.

Guided by the “embodied cognitive-load hypothesis,” they reasoned that if marking provided only reduced physical effort, then there should be no difference in the quality of performance between marking and full-effort rehearsals.

In contrast, they found that the performances rehearsed by “marking” were superior, suggesting that marking’s symbolic practice provides cognitive as well as physical benefits.
Marking reduced the cognitive load during rehearsal to allow more effective memory encoding.

David Kirsh

David Kirsh

David Kirsh, University of California San Diego further investigated the assertion that “dance is embodied thought” and that the body is an instrument of cognition by collecting video and interview data as University of Cambridge research fellow Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance company developed a new choreographic sequence.

Wayne McGregor

Wayne McGregor

Kirsh reported that marking was more effective than mental simulation without symbolic movement in enhancing performance.
He noted that marking is “physical thinking,” a simplified representational vehicle for thought, and a form of thinking because it is a:

  • Gestural language for encoding aspects of a target movement
  • Way to prime neural systems involved in the target movement
  • Method to increase precision in mentally projecting aspects of the target movement.

External representations like marking, diagrams, illustrations, instructions reinforce memory through other sensory channels like vision or audition, providing “scaffolding” to enhance recall.

These varied symbolic representations also enhance cognitive power because they:

  • Reduce the “costs” of making inferences and thoughts
  • Are a shared thought “object”
  • Create lasting referents
  • Facilitate repeat representation at other times and places
  • May be more intuitive than cognitive representations
  • Enable information encoding and “projection” to form complex thought structures

Warburton and team suspect that other symbolic rehearsal techniques like whispering, gesturing, and sub-vocalizing could provide similar performance improvements in other areas such as language learning, and are currently investigating these applications.

-*How effective have you found symbolic representations in reducing “cognitive load” and improving performance?

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Memorable Business Stories: Ideas and Numbers

Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Chip Heath of Stanford and Dan Heath, Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, distill principles that make messages memorable in  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Citing urban legends and advertisements as examples of tenaciously “sticky” messages, they argue that unforgettable ideas can be recalled with an acronym that means “success” in French:   Made to Stick

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness, with many details to act as “hooks” to “stick” to  memory’s many “loops” (Velcro theory of memory)
  • Credibility
  • Emotion-laden stories.
Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

The Heaths’ principle of credibility draws on the three elements of persuasive messages outlined by Robert Cialdini in his best-selling Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionInfluence

Credibility is enhanced by liking, authority, and social proof in Cialdini’s model:

  • Liking – Appealing public figures or personal friends endorses
  • Authority – Well-respected role model or respected authority provides testimonial
  • Social proof – Others like me endorse it, and others provide justification: “because…”, though the actual reason is immaterial
  • Reciprocity – “I know you’d do the same for me,” recommended by Guy Kawasaki to convey that “You owe me…”
  • Scarcity – “While supplies last…”, “Limited time offer!”, “Act now, don’t wait!”
  • Commitment, consistency – Draws on people’s desire to appear consistent, and even trustworthy by following through on commitments: “I do what I say I will do…”
  • Contrast principle – Sales people sell the most expensive item first so related items seem inexpensive by comparison: Real estate transaction fees may appear minimal in contrast to a large investment in a house.

Both memorable messages and persuasive messages take advantage of habitual reactions to typical situations.

These automated and sometimes unconscious processes are a heuristic to help people to deal rapidly and efficiently with routine activities and tasks.
However, “auto-pilot” reactions  may lead to being persuaded to act in ways that might not be helpful, such as excessive eating, drinking, spending, or engaging in risky activities.

Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger

ContagiousWharton’s Jonah Berger formulated an acronyn, STEPPS, to describe narrative elements that increase the likelihood that a story, idea, or product will spread like a contagious virus: 

  • Social Currency – Passing along the information makes the sender appear “good” – knowledgeable, helpful or other   
  • Triggers – The message evokes a familiar, frequent situation
  • Emotion – The story evokes emotion, so will strengthen the emotional between the sender and receiver   
  • Public – Similar to Social Currency, passing the message reflects favorably on the sender
  • Practical Value – The sender provides actionable value in sharing the message
  • Stories –  Memorable, surprising elements increase the likelihood that others will convey the message
Randall Bolten

Randall Bolten

Finance executive Randall Bolten draws on similar observations about human cognitive and perceptual processing to recommend ways to tell a memorable and motivating quantitative story.

His Painting with Numbers: Presenting Financials and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You, discusses “quantation” as another type of business storytelling that affects  “personal brand image.”Painting with Numbers

Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte

Even more practical than Edward Tufte’s breathtaking examples of effective “information architecture” in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, Bolten provides coaching on designing memorable, persuasive presentations and “pitches” featuring quantitative information as “proof points.”

His book demonstrates the Heaths’ principles of simplicity, concreteness, and credibility while drawing on Cialdini’s proven approaches of authority, commitment, consistency, and contrast. The Visual Display of Quantitative InformationEnvisioning Information

-*What principles do you use to tell stories that motivate others to act as you hope?

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