Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Study strategies revisited

Following up on some past posts about how students study, Daniel Willingham reports on some studies about the frequency with which students use various study techniques (versus how effective those techniques actually are).

Here's a table from a study by Karpicke et al (2009) on the study strategies of students at Washington University:

I suspect that my students are like Willingham's (and those in the study) in that their favored technique is "to take notes in class, color the readings with a highlighter, and later reread the notes and the highlighted bits of the text. " This, he observes, is popular but pretty ineffective. Self-testing, on the other hand, is unpopular but effective. 

Shouldn't somebody tell students this stuff?


  1. > Shouldn't somebody tell students this stuff?

    Students are told to not 'cram'. It doesn't help. The subjective illusion that cramming works is too strong:

  2. We shouldn't only tell students - we should also think of ways to provide incentives for students to use the better tools.

    As teachers we could assemble and distribute data files for spaced repetition software for texts used on our courses.

    As teachers we could also schedule time for spaced repetition tests.

    As textbook authors we could also be bundled with such data files.

    As a philosophical community we could create a site where such files can be added and collected.

    Creating, checking, and updating data files for spaced repetition could also be made into a class assignment where all students contribute to a file that the teacher then reviews before it is distributed and used as a study tool.

    1. Sorry for the typo: As textbook authors we could also be bundle our books with such data files.

    2. > As teachers we could also schedule time for spaced repetition tests.

      One of my favorite applications of spaced repetition was - instead of trying to convince the children, he just made the homework a kind of spaced repetition exercise by mixing in old problems.

  3. Robert Bjork is the expert on this kind of research (and he is very skeptical of the 'different types of learning' claims). But there are more and more cognitive psychologists doing exactly these kinds of studies, and we really hope to make an actual difference in educational practices (not just publish more papers in arcane journals).

    I'm not a huge fan of self-promotion, but I wrote a medium-length summary of this kind of research on the Psychology in Action blog:

    But don't just take my word for it! Here are the best citations I know of for these studies:

    - Bjork, R.A. (1994). Memory and metamemory considerations in the training of human beings. In J. Metcalfe & A. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition: Knowing about knowing (pp. 185-205). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    - Dempster, F.N. (1990). The spacing effect: A case study in the failure to apply the results of psychological research. American Psychologist, 43, 627-634.
    - McDaniel, M.A., & Butler, A.C. (in press). A contextual framework for understanding when difficulties are desirable. In A.S. Benjamin (Ed.), Successful remembering and successful forgetting: a Festschrift in honor of Robert A. Bjork. London, UK: Psychology Press.
    - Roediger, H.L., III, & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-120.


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