In this monograph (link), Dunlovsky, et al discuss 10 learning techniques in detail and offer recommendations about their
relative utility. The techniques include elaborative interrogation,
self-explanation, summarization, highlighting (or underlining), and the keyword
mnemonic, imagery use for text learning, rereading, practice testing,
distributed practice, and interleaved practice. The study evaluated
whether their benefits generalize across four categories of variables: learning
conditions, student characteristics, materials, and criterion tasks.
are five common study strategies that, according to the evidence, really don’t
work very well:
Evidently, the value of this scheme in
retaining new material is tied up with how you do it. Unless you apply critical
thinking, highlighting does not help understanding or retention. In my own experience, underlining and writing marginalia seem to enhance my understanding of the material at the time I'm reading it, but may or may not really boost retention of transfer.
Essentially, they found that unless
the second read is more critical than the first, merely revisiting text has
little lasting value for retention or transfer.
The keyword mnemonic
A keyword is one that arbitrarily tags a
single mental image with an assigned abstract meaning. This is an instance of tying
the new to the familiar. The study shows poor long-term results, particularly
in foreign language learning, where it seems to be quite common.
This consists of students being directed to
create their own images of the principle or abstraction under study. The study
did find that some domains (math and science) were more amenable to imagery
Two somewhat more
Merely prompting students to answer “Why?” questions about any
new material can facilitate learning it. The particular form of the
explanatory prompt is “Why would this fact be true of this [X] and not some
other [X]?Students posing
questions to themselves about similarities, differences and causal links around
theunfamiliarevidently activates application of the familiar, weaving
the new learning into the old. The more precise and elaborate that weaving is,
the more effectively we can retrieve the new content later.
goes a bit beyond merely asking why about new facts, abstractions or procedures
to prompting students to self-generate logical rules to apply to the new
material. Part of the value seems to come from speaking the “rules” aloud as
one applies them. This strategy might be more helpful in rule-driven domains
like math and physical science.
highly effective strategies
This can include any form of low-stakes
test from a formal Q & A to flash card practice. The Dunlosky team found substantial
support from learning theory (going back to Thorndike) and experimental results
to show it works across all ages and learning settings.
Particularly when compared with
“cramming”, practicing new material in short bursts, over time is by ar the
better method for retention.
This is an approach covenes with distributed practice (above) when closely-related
materials (say, computing volumes of several different solids) are practiced in
conjuncture with one another, as opposed to devoting single-topic blocks of
time to solutions to a specific type of problem. Interleaving works, they
surmise, by reinforcing attention, not to just the subject matter (a given
formula) but the distinctions between related issues. In another domain,
identifying different artist’s styles of paining, interleaving seems to
strengthen discriminatory skill as well as the ability to simply recognize an
individual artist’s work. Interleaving even seems to improve performance in
motor skills as well.
is more to learning and transfer than mere repetition. One wonders, thinking
about what we typically see in K-12 and Adult Education, just how often we
utterly fail to offer students any effective personal study strategies beyond