The most downloaded paper EVER in the history of the Association for Psychological Science journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest was published in 2013. Titled “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, ” it’s a free download and worth the read.
The authors, researchers in the field of psychology, review ten “top learning techniques” for better success in the classroom and the integration of new knowledge into working memory. They evaluated the effectiveness of a wide range of learning techniques that students typically use in the pursuit of better academic performance:
- Elaborative interrogation – explaining why an explicit statement is true
- Self-explanation – explaining relationships between pieces of information; explaining steps taken for problem solving
- Keyword mnemonics
- Imagery for text
- Practice testing/quizzing
- Distributed practice – spreading practice/quizzing/studying out over time
- Interleaved practice – implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or mixes different kinds of material within a single study session
They found that some of the most commonly used techniques, such as underlining, re-reading, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be less useful than learning techniques such as taking practice tests and spreading study sessions out over time. The latter (termed “distributed practice”) were found to benefit students of many different ages and ability levels and to enhance performance in many different areas.
At the BTC Institute, we work with learners of all ages, so keeping these strategies in mind makes good sense for improving learning outcomes in our programs. In my experience with our summer graduate level courses, students agreed that sessions that incorporated quizzing were better. In part, they liked the interactive aspect, but they also indicated that these sessions were more thought provoking and allowed greater integration of material.
Toward that end, we are figuring out how to use technologies to integrate practice testing and quizzing in our teaching without taking away from time spent on presenting content. Students are routinely asked questions “check-in” style, but formalizing the process seems to be necessary in order to improve learning.
We have found the following approaches to be well-received in our classroom:
- Embedding questions with “clicker” response technologies – e.g., TurningTechnologies offers TurningPoint, a software tool that allows users to migrate their existing PowerPoint presentation into it, subsequently enabling student responses to quiz questions or polls in real-time.
- Pay-per-use polling or quizzing sites – e.g., AnswerQwik supports live audience engagement without the use of clickers. This browser-based system integrates responses to questions in real-time and displays them for immediate feedback. Respondents use electronic devices to log into the poll you’ve created and responses appear on the presenter’s screen as they are recorded.
- Hand raising – that’s right. Just indicate your vote by a nod, a hand, a wave, whatever…still works pretty well!
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