Post written by guest authors Alexandra Webb, Lillian Smyth and Kat Esteves, ANU Medical School.
In this final day of the course, we are going to explore 3 evidence-based strategies for students to use to learn effectively and consider how we can support and encourage students to adopt these strategies:
- Retrieval practice
- Spaced learning
- Minimise distractions
Have you ever wondered how students study for your course? And are the strategies commonly used by students effective?
What strategies do students most frequently use to study?
These results from a study by Blasiman et al. (2017) of students from a range of courses found that the most frequently reported study strategy was reading notes, followed by rereading the textbook, both of which have been criticised for their relative ineffectiveness for learning (Dunlosky et al., 2013).
So what should we tell our students? What strategies are effective for student learning?
Retrieval practice or practice tests utilise active recall which has been shown to produce stronger long-term memory and enhanced learning compared to passive review practices. Active recall is the act of retrieving or re-accessing previously learned information without explicitly re-encountering it (e.g. quiz that tests recall of previously learnt information) whilst passive review is the act of simply recognising previously learned information when the information is re-encountered (e.g. re-reading text, re-watching lecture recording). Therefore, incorporating quizzes with feedback (Butler et al., 2008) as formative or low-stakes assessment (Roediger et al., 2011) can be used to stimulate students to use active recall of previously learnt material to produce an answer that they can then check if it’s correct and receive feedback. These can be provided to students inside the classroom (e.g. audience response systems, 1-minute paper, think-pair-share-task, scratch cards) or outside the classroom (e.g. quizzes in the LMS) or incorporated into a student’s self-regulated learning (e.g. create flash-cards). Additional benefits include they contribute to the creation of an active learning environment (Day 1) and enhance student attention and focus on the task at hand (Szpunar et al., 2013) (Day 4).
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For more information on the additional benefits of retrieval practice see Roediger et al., 2011 Ten Benefits of Testing and Their Applications to Educational Practice.
In what ways have you incorporated quizzes into your education environment? What technological solutions have you used to aid your delivery of quizzes?
And have you ever wondered how students distribute their study time during your course?
These results, also from the Blaisman et al. (2017) research, suggested that most of the students were massing their studying, beginning approximately 2 days prior to the exam. The results were comparable with previous studies that found about 50% of students were studying in a single session right before an exam (Hartwig and Dunlosky, 2012; Morehead et al., 2015). However, learning is more durable if repeated exposure to the material occurs over time (Dunlosky et al., 2013) – this is known as spaced learning.
Spaced learning/spaced retrieval/distributed practice is the implementation of a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities of the same content over time. Learning and memory are enhanced if study is broken up into short and frequent sessions over a longer period of time as opposed to cramming all study into one single long practice session (Dunlosky et al., 2013). Interleaving different content, by mixing up closely related topics, in between the spacing intervals (e.g. alternating learning about the upper limb and the lower limb) appears to further strengthen the spacing effect by requiring learners to compare and contrast what they are learning (Dunlosky et al., 2013). Teachers can encourage learners to distribute their study over time and avoid cramming by employing spacing and interleaving in curriculum design and providing students with activities throughout a course that revisit or reapply a topic. Doing this using effective learning techniques enhances the learning benefits of distributed practice e.g. quizzes/practice tests, problem solving activities.
Researchers at California State University (Rosen et al., 2013) observed students whilst studying during a 15-minute period and recorded what they were doing as they studied. After approximately 2-minutes students’ ‘on-task behaviour’ started to drift as they began responding to texts, checking their social media feeds etc. At the conclusion of the 15-minute period, students had spent only about 65% of the observation period studying.
Prof Rosen: “We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices. It was kind of scary, actually.”
What non-task related activities have you observed students doing during classes? Are there any differences or similarities during face-to-face compared to online classes?
Whilst many of us think we can effectively listen to a teacher’s instructions and finish the assignment due for submission in 2 hours whilst instant messaging our housemate to remember to buy milk and looking at those cute puppies just posted on Instagram……. research suggests that multitasking reduces our attention, impairs learning and memory and decreases productivity (Ophir et al., 2009; Uncapher et al., 2015; Melina et al., 2018). This is especially evident when students are attending to multiple streams of information and entertainment (‘media multitasking’) while studying or attending class.
Let’s Test This Out for Ourselves
First up, let’s do a baseline attention task:
Watch this video (1:21) from start to end – Your task is to watch the video carefully and count the number of times the white team passes the ball.
This task is a neat demonstration of what’s called inattentional blindness. Our brains are not computers and we do not have infinite resources. When we are focused on a task (e.g. counting the number of white-team passes), the perceptual input we process and attend to is the input relevant to that task. The gorilla is relatively obvious, once you know he’s there, but he’s also irrelevant to your task and, often, you are blind to him on the first watch. So multi-tasking is not something that happens naturally – when we are focused on one task, we automatically tune out other things. But what if we were deliberately focused on more than one thing? Does putting effort into multi-tasking make it an effective strategy?
Let’s have a look at another attentional task:
Read this blog (3:32) and complete the activities.
This simple task is a good demonstration of the fact that “multi-tasking” is really just frequent task-switching with the associated time and effectiveness costs.
“The easiest and most obvious way we can help to focus our attention is by reducing the amount of distractions in our environment.” Professor Jason Mattingley, Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, The University of Queensland
It is possible that our students (and ourselves!) have a wildly inflated idea of how many things we can attend to at once. But given the detrimental impact multitasking has on our attention and learning, it is something we should all reflect on and take positive action to rectify.
Avoiding multitasking is challenging in our technology-saturated world. What strategies do you apply to encourage students to focus on one task at a time and diminish multitasking activities that are distracting?
Dunlosky J, Rawson K.A, Marsh E.J, Nathan M.J, Willingham D.T. (2013). “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Psychol Sci Public Interest, Vol 14, issue 1, 4-58. Available: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1529100612453266
Butler, A. C., Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. III. (2008). “Correcting a metacognitive error: Feedback increases retention of low-confidence correct responses.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Volume 34, issue 4, 918-928. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-73188.8.131.528
Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). “Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: Long-term improvements from quizzing.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Volume 17, issue 4, 382-395. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0026252
Szpunar KK, Moulton ST and Schacter DL (2013) “Mind wandering and education: from the classroom to online learning”. Front. Psychol, Volume 1, issue 4, 495. Available: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00495
Ophir E, Nass C & Wagner A.D. (2009). “Cognitive control in media multitaskers”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Sep 2009, 106 (37) 15583-15587. Available: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0903620106
Uncapher M.R & Wagner A.D. (2018). “Minds and brains of media multitaskers: Current findings and future directions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2018, 115 (40) 9889-9896. Available: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1611612115
Uncapher, M.R, Thieu, M.K & Wagner A.D. (2016). “Media multitasking and memory: Differences in working memory and long-term memory”, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 23, 483–490. Available: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-015-0907-3