The Science of Learning: Practical Applications for the Classroom

mestreBy Jose Mestre
Professor
Physics

 

These four pedagogical strategies are based on research on how people learn.

Collaborative or Group tests (Also of interest and discussed in refs below: The Testing Effect)

  • What is it? A test is first administered individually to students and answers passed in; then students work collaboratively to solve the same exam in groups with one set of answers passed in for the group.
  • Other details: Grades are assigned based on, for example, 85% individual score and 15% group score.
  • Benefits: Some studies find significantly more long-term retention of the leaning when collaborative/group tests are used in combination with individual tests.
  • References:
    Hollis, B. & Clarkston, B. (2014). Collaborative Testing: Evidence of Learning in a Controlled In-Class Study of Undergraduate Students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(3), 83-91.
    Cortright, R. N., Collins, H. L., Rodenbaugh, D. W., & DiCarlo, S. E. (2003). Student retention of course content is improved by collaborative-group testing. Advanced Physiological Education, 27(3), 102–108.
    Leight, H., Saunders, C., Calkins, R., & Withers, M. (2012). Collaborative testing improves performance but not content retention in a large-enrollment introductory biology class. CBE—Life Science Education, 11, 392–401.
    Stearns, S. A. (1996). Collaborative exams as learning tools. College Teaching, 44(3), 111–112.
    Yuretich, R. F., Khan, S. A., Leckie, R. M., & Clement, J. J. (2001). Activelearning methods to improve student performance and scientific interest in a large introductory oceanography course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 49(2), 111–119.
    Zipp, J. F. (2007). Learning by exams: The impact of two-stage cooperative tests. Teaching Sociology, 35, 62–76.

Interleaved Versus Blocked Practice

  • What is it? In blocked practice, used exhaustively in STEM education, students are given tasks (e.g., homework and exams) covering the topics only recently covered in the course; in interleafed practice students are given tasks covering all previously covered material in the course.
  • Other details: Interleafed practice can be thought of as providing homework and exam items that cumulatively test all of the material in the course covered up to that point.
  • Benefits: Research consistently indicates that interleafed practice is much more effective for long term retention.
  • References:
    Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsch, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.
    Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research, U.S. Department of Education. Available from http://ncer.ed.gov.

Distributed Versus Massed Practice

  • What is it? In studying, distributed practice refers to distributing the material being studied over a period of time; massed practice refers to studying the material all at once at one sitting.
  • Other details: The common term for massed practice is cramming.
  • Benefits: Research consistently indicates that distributed practice is much more effective for long term retention.
  • References:
    Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsch, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.
    Pashler, H., Bain, P., Bottge, B., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing instruction and study to improve student learning (NCER 2007-2004). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research, U.S. Department of Education. Available from http://ncer.ed.gov.

Learning From Worked Examples

  • What is it? Learning problem solving can be made more efficient when solving problems on one’s own is combined with studying worked examples.
  • Other details: Studying worked examples can reduce memory load, as well as prevent students from taking/learning wrong procedures/techniques for solving problems.
  • Benefits: Research in mathematics and physics indicates that studying worked examples can be an effective means of learning problem solving.
  • References:
    Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.
    Sweller, J., & Cooper, G. A. (1985). The use of worked examples as a substitute for problem solving in learning algebra. Cognition & Instruction, 2, 59-89.
    Ward, M., & Sweller, J. (1990). Structuring effective worked examples. Cognition & Instruction, 7, 1-39.