Learning Scientist — Applied Memory

As a college student, I decided to take a look at my current study habits, to reflect on what I did in the past, and see what areas I could improve on. In reflecting on my past study habits, I found that I never did a whole lot that was extremely beneficial for me. I crammed for a lot of my tests and exams. I didn’t use techniques that ensured I would remember the information. I wasn’t taking the information I was learning and relating it to real life, which made it more difficult for me to grasp certain concepts. However, the one technique that helped me the most was using flashcards. Flashcards are beneficial because they allow for me to recall information like definitions and basic facts. When I got to college and chose my major, it became increasingly difficult to use these study techniques as I got further into my major and the courses became more complex. I would even say that today, I still struggle with finding the best way to study. This is solely due to the fact that my courses changed from memorization to applied learning. Therefore, I looked at six different study techniques and forms of effective learning that were presented by the learning scientists. The six forms were spaced practice, retrieval practice, elaboration, interleaving, concrete examples, and dual coding (Weinstein, Y., Smith, M., Caviglioli, O., 2010). I read about each form of effective learning and weeded out the ones I thought would work best for the types of material I was learning in my classes. In other words, which learning techniques could best be applied.

The first study technique that I used was retrieval practice. Retrieval practice and rereading information can be helpful if it’s done in the right way. Spacing out rereading of information over long periods of time is more beneficial than going over material in a shorter time span. Doing this is a shorter time span is defined as cramming, which can be beneficial if a person is going to use the information immediately after cramming, but it is not beneficial when a person wants to commit something to long-term memory (Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., McDaniel, M.A., 2018). However, rereading can be beneficial long-term. For example, when a student is studying for a comprehensive exam that is based off of strong foundation of previous knowledge. This can serve as beneficial for coursework that builds off of prior courses as well. In another study, the effectiveness of three study techniques were compared to one another to see which best aided in the retention of information. Rereading is referred to as one of the most common strategies employed by students. However, when it is compared to answering comprehension questions, the strategy is not as significant to recollection of data (Weinstein, Y., McDermott, K.B., Roediger, H.L., 2010).

I used retrieval practice to reread information from texts for my classes. After class, I would review my notes and recall information from class discussion. Essentially, I focused on anything that I could remember from class about the given topic. However, I found that this form of studying and retrieval practice wasn’t as effective when I was trying to apply information. I would know what the topic was, but I could I apply it to a real-world setting? I found that retrieval practice was helpful when I had to understand the basics of a topic, like its definition. In this case of basic understanding, I used items like flashcards or Quizlet to help as retrieval practice. In making both a set of flashcards or a Quizlet set, I found that I was able to recall definitions the more I went over them, and familiarized myself with the wording.

The second study technique I implemented into my routine was using concrete examples. Concrete examples stem from a collection of examples used by a professor, where the student takes their knowledge about those examples and tries to find more. This way, the student makes a link between the idea of a subject and an example. I look at this as an application process that shows a student is grasping the material, once they can associate with their own example. I focused on concrete examples by using the learning technique of highlighting. Highlighting can be done in two different ways learner-generated marking and experimenter-provided marking. Learner-generated marking is when the participant highlights the ideas that he/she deemed to be the most important. This form of marking has been shown to be effective for a variety of assessments, such as multiple-choice tests, free-recall tests, short-answer tests, fill-in-the-blank tests, and essay questions (Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., McDaniel, M.A., 2018). One of the greatest benefits of highlighting is that highlighting important sections makes it easier to identify them later. In a study conducted with university students, researchers found that students who were taught both a cognitive learning strategy, in this case text-highlighting, and how to apply it, were more successful in reaching their goals, than other students who were not taught the same strategies (Leutner, D., Leopold, C., Elzen-Rump, V., 2007).

Based on previous research, I decide that I would highlight in two significant aspects of a course, both in-class and when I would do homework. In class I would focus on the main points made by my professor and my peers. I would take notes on my computer and bold the important information, as well as make a bulleted list under each bolded statement. This form of highlighting is provided highlighting. My professor was telling me the key points. When I would do my homework, I would highlight as I read material. I have used the highlighting technique in the past but I never found in beneficial because I didn’t know what I was highlighting. Instead when I used highlighting techniques this time, I would highlight after I read small sections opposed to highlighting as I read. This form is referred to as learner-generated marking because I was picking out the main points. I would read small sections and then I would highlight. This allowed for me to focus on the main points of the text rather than going back and questioning why I highlighted specific points.

The last study technique I used is the one that I found most beneficial, elaboration. I looked at a study that further examined the learning strategy of elaboration. The researchers hypothesized that activities aimed at making the learner actively integrate new information with existing knowledge affect the encoding, storage, and eventual use of new material on performance tests. The study stated that the two most common types of elaboration used are comparative and integrative elaboration. Comparative elaboration occurs when a learner actively explains the relation between two concepts in the text; integrative elaboration occurs when the learner explains the relation between a concept in the text and some concepts already in the learner’s memory (Mayer, R.E., 1980). This form of elaboration allows for testing of learning and memory. The results of this study found that those with more advanced elaboration skills excelled on longer problems that required putting all of the information together, but they didn’t differ from the control group when the problems were shorter. The results supported the hypothesis that states that how the learners encodes the material influences what is learned. In the study, elaboration techniques consistently produced a pattern of superior performance in applying learned knowledge to recall problems but not factual recall (Mayer, R.E., 1980).

Elaboration allows me as a student to reflect on the things that I learned and ask questions like how and why? When I ask myself these questions, I expand my knowledge by making connections to other material, as well as connections to my own ideas, memories, and experiences. Because most of my classes are application based, I used elaboration in reflection of my class. I used this specifically for one of my classes that is twice a week. On the first day of class we learn the skills that would be used when a social worker is talking one on one with a client. On the second day of class in the week, we put those skills into practice. Practice is either one-on-one or watching a few students in the ‘hot seat’ where they role playing a scenario in front of the class. After I leave this class, I reflect on the practice that took place within that class. I am able to recall and explain in my own words how the skills were used. This was most beneficial for me because I could associate the skill with a personal example, and this allows me to expand my knowledge about a concept.

In conclusion, I found that my study habits differ based on the material that I am learning. When I need to memorize basic examples and definitions, I found that it works best if I use retrieval practice. Retrieval allows me to recall as much information that I know while using a test-retest method. In application based courses, it is best for me to learn the material by using concrete examples and elaboration. I found that highlighting was one of the best ways for me to remember concrete examples. This was beneficial when I did it in class, as well as when I would do the readings before class. If I could pick out main points that were talked about, I could elaborate on their meaning. When I am able to associate something that I am learning with a specific example from my own life, I find it pretty hard to forget. It also becomes easier to learn when I reflect on what I know and I have an example to back it up. Having a specific example helps me elaborate more on the topic because in explaining the example, I can expand on its application.

Works Cited

Leutner, D., Leopold, C., & Elzen-Rump, V. (2007). Self-regulated learning with a text-highlighting strategy: A training experiment. Journal of Psychology, 215(3), 174–182. doi: 10.1027/0044–3409.215.3.174

Mayer, R. E. (1980). Elaboration techniques that increase the meaningfulness of technical text: An experimental test of the learning strategy hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72(6), 770–784. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.loras.edu/10.1037/0022-0663.72.6.770

Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., & McDaniel, M.A. (2018). Five Popular Study Strategies: Their Pitfalls and Optimal Implementations. Perspective on Psychological Science, 13(3), 390–407. doi:10.1177/1745691617710510

Weinstein, Y., McDermott, K. B., & Roediger,Henry L., I.,II. (2010). A comparison of study strategies for passages: Rereading, answering questions, and generating questions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16(3), 308–316. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.loras.edu/10.1037/a0020992