Quizzes are games that bring back special motivation in people to learn. Some proof of this are successful TV shows like “Do you want to be a millionaire?” or the mobile app “Asked”, which with its version Trivia Crack already has more than 300 million downloads worldwide. It is difficult to resist the challenge of discovering our level of knowledge without feeling intimidatingly evaluated by a professor or academic institution, simply because of our pride or desire to challenge our knowledge.
The explanation of the interest of the human being for the quiz could be that they repeatedly produce the situation of 50% probability of hitting or failing, described as causing the maximum levels of dopamine discharge in our body. Dopamine is the hormone that best gives us the sensation of happiness.
Let’s review the main conclusions of the studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of multiple-choice tests in the quality of learning.
Remembering previously stored information increases the subsequent retention of this information
This is a phenomenon called “test effect”, which has even been confirmed in systematic reviews that showed that recovering learned information is more beneficial than simply restudying the target material through reading. Recall previously learned knowledge creates additional recovery paths (Carpenter, 2009, Roediger & Butler, 2011), increasing the probability and agility that the memorized concept will recover successfully again in future opportunities.
Butler (1) quantified that learning with multiple-choice test results at least 65% more effective than studying in a traditional way. When the test incorporates feedback after the answers, the effectiveness of learning is 123% greater than studying without multi-response tests.The effect of knowing the correct answer immediately after selecting one of them achieved a 35% increase in the test without any correction.
It was even greater (41%) when the correction was deferred, once the series of questions was completed, it already adds the impact of a new active reflection exercise on why it was answered in that way moments before. There wasn’t any influence, however, when obtaining the correction after selecting a single answer or after discarding options until finding the correct answer.
The nature of the corrections (feedback) influences learning
It has been proven that you learn more by receiving an explanation of why the correct answer option is one and not the other, than when you simply receive the indication of the correct option (2). Other researchers (3) studied the number of response options that is most effective. The conclusion is that the more the better, but at least it is convenient that there are 4 options, since with only 2 options (ex: true / false) there is no increase in retention. Test questions must not be too easy and the correct answer shouldn’t be very evident. Since the more effort it takes to recover a memory, the more it is necessary to re-memorize the information stored (Pyc and Rawson, 2009) and this difficulty of remembering benefits long-term retention (McDaniel et al., 2007).
But tests are not only useful to diagnose and improve the degree of reminder of what has already been learned. Even when the test is prior to imparting the training, they improve the retention of new concepts that are explained later (Richland et al., 2009). Several trainers begin their training with an initial test of their audience level. It has been verified that even when they completely ignore the subject and do not guess even 5%, that initial test boost the attention to the teacher’s explanation to retain more what it was answered incorrectly in the preliminary test.
Tests should be used as powerful learning tools
The gamification of the quizzes in interactive video game type quiz can make this tool viable and give it a motivational context. This generates an activity as effective as attractive. A video game allows the incorporation of batteries of hundreds of questions without tiring the student. Pupils will respond to his rhythm in different sessions, making possible a thorough screening of the syllabus. In this way, they can identify training gaps to work more in depth individually or collectively.
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(1) Butler et al. “The Effect of Type and Timing of Feedback on Learning From Multiple-Choice Tests” Journal of Experimental Psychology 2007, Vol. 13, No. 4, 273–281
(2) Marsh et al.: “Using verification feedback to correct errors made on a multiple-choice test”, Memory. 2012;20(6):645-53
(3) Fazio et al. “Memorial Consequences of Multiple-choice Testing on Immediate and Delayed Tests.” Mem Cognit. 2010 June; 38(4): 407–418
Our intellectual heritage after each training received is one of the factors that most impact on professional and personal success, and for this it is important that the time dedicated to learning is invested by adopting effective approaches and simple techniques that optimize the amount of knowledge actually acquired. . The more deeply you know a topic, the greater the capacity for creativity to apply it when tackling new professional challenges, and it is a challenge for cognitive science to identify the strategies that lead to this successful learning.
During the interview with Raúl Hernández for the Skillopment podcast, he commented that the scientific basis of neurodidactic learning that I explained that dynamizes our videogame Trainapp, was very aligned with the book “Make it Stick, The Science of Successful Learning” published by Harvard University Press, which Raul had recently read. I took note of the appointment, and discovered that this book is an interesting and very well-documented compendium of empirical evidence that supports how to enhance real learning in the human brain, documented in more than 40 years of scientific studies by the best cognitive psychologists to clarify what really works and propose strategies that achieve better results.
- microlearning: to avoid overlearning more new concepts than those that can be retained in a single day or session, and to help the learning program to adapt to the lifestyle of each person, just using a few minutes every time.
- gamification: to generate more emotion and engagement towards the acquisition of knowledge, giving the best of itself to improve its position in the ranking of the game goals execution.
Learning has 3 steps in mind:
Codification: Translate stimulus to provide them coherence with previous knowledge and enable to store them. The more concentration, depth of analysis, attention and motivation has the person, the better it will be codified in the long-term memory and not only in the immediate one.
Consolidation o storage: Save the information in an orderly and categorized way so that it is stable in the long term. If the information already finds similar concepts memorized, or if it is reviewed, its consolidation is favored so that it is not forgotten. The transition from learning from short-term memory to long-term storage requires a period of time.
Recall: Ability to process, find and use a concept from memory in each professional opportunity to make successful decisions. It is only possible when the previous steps have been carried out correctly.
3 common mistakes we make when we learn:
It is curious that many of the learning strategies empirically demonstrated as more effective in retaining information for a longer period of time do not coincide with what we traditionally do intuitively but in reality are inefficient. The way we propose to learn things now is only a consequence of tradition and intuition. This leads us to pose erroneous learning strategies such as:
- Fluency versus Mastery: Do not experience the illusion that something is already known just for having finished a course, as it may not be so. When we try to learn a formative content simply by reading texts in bulk one or several times emphasizing it, we will get to become familiar with it in a fluid way, and we can falsely have the illusion that we already master it, but it is not like that.
- Expect to brood before the exam: What is acquired quickly goes quickly, and therefore with marathon study sessions as binge-eating knowledge, not a long-term reminder.
- Dedicate time to uniform blocks: if you only practice one type of exercise in a massive way until you master it well, you will only learn that skill. If instead you alternate different learning, you will learn more completely.
The most used strategies by university students are to reread texts, underline them or summarize them taking notes.It has been shown that these strategies only manage to familiarize them with the concepts, but they do not lead to their mastery or reminder. Rereading, for example, after a previous reading, is a slow method, and does not generate lasting memory.
False illusion of domain
As familiarity and fluency in the reading of a text grow, the false illusion that the content is mastered emerges. Knowing how to repeat the sentences of the notes taken in a class or a text, does not allow to dominate the ideas either.
To really learn, you have to go beyond the texts. Make sure you understand the meaning of the precepts described, their application or how they relate to what is known. Paying attention, they can know it at the end of the class, but can they apply it to their work? Only productive training enables and preserves the concepts in our memory. In this way, it facilitates that we can recover those skills or knowledge to solve future unexpected work challenges and take advantage of opportunities.
How could we to master anything?
The following strategies contribute to people achieving the mastery desired by the trainer. Mainly, they consist in persecuting the brain to work more in processing the concepts adding difficulties. When learning seems slow and demanding, it is when real and effective learning develops. This forces the students to process the information in a more demanding way from the cognitive point of view.
To train by achieving long-term mastery, the trainer must focus on learning and giving opportunities to practice. Due to the neuroplasticity, the practice will change the neural networks of the brain and the intellectual capacities, improving the performance.
Active retrieval practice
It consists of using questionnaires to test our real knowledge in an objective and productive way, identifying our areas of weakness in which to pay more attention or what we already have consolidated, and at the same time to make the exercise of trying to remember the concepts of the agenda. It is very good, for example, for the student to self-evaluate with a low-risk test for their final grades, responding reflexively and without stress to multiple-choice questions (“Test effect“) in which to apply the acquired knowledge.
Trying to answer correctly a question or a problem that is difficult for us, forces us to reflect exercising multiple cognitive functions. Consequently, it generates better learning, even when the answer is incorrect. The more “mental sweat” it costs us to recover some of the memory, the better it will be anchored later and the more it will also cost to forget it.
Effectiveness of the tests
As with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in physics, where measuring the property of a particle reduces the accuracy with which another property would be measured, exams do not actually measure the level of knowledge, but directly increase and deepen it during its realization The simple fact of including a test after a class or talk produces a great improvement in the final notes. Its benefits continue to increase as the frequency of the tests increases throughout the training project.
To solidify learning it is useful to make mistakes. The trial-error effort leads to a complex domain and a greater knowledge of the interrelationships between things. A deferred correction, a time after completing a series of questions, makes learning to stay better. We must be aware that we can only actively recover what is well stored in memory after being effectively learned.
In view of the fact that dynamic tests are one of the most powerful tools available to the trainer, so that they are not perceived as exams, they can be incorporated into training programs in a gamified form, involving students in question sets (such as Kahoot or Trainapp), or even better if they themselves create flash-cards or elaborate quiz questions for their peers in the context of the same game.
Spaced repetition practice
It has been proven that the same teaching hours achieve more retention if they are distributed over time, instead of concentrating in a few days or hours, saturating the daily capacity of retention of new learning. The reviews recovering the memorized knowledge are more effective allowing a time to rest between the learning sessions. Time increases the difficulty and, therefore, the cognitive effort to remember them. This additional effort attenuates the slope of the forgetting curve and enriches its storage with the nuances of the environment. Thus, we strengthen the neural network that facilitates its practical application.
The more you have forgotten a topic, the more effective the relearning in the configuration of your stored as permanent knowledge. Forgetting takes time, but it is an ally to relearn more effectively the next time you learn the concept. The periodic spaced practice thus stops the indefinite forgetting, strengthens the recovery routes and is essential to consolidate knowledge. People have different types of intelligence to influence learning. The more variants we stimulate by presenting the contents in different formats and resources, the synergies between them will get us to learn more.
Dual coding, for example, consists of our memory registering text stimuli together with visual images. The trainer can propose an integral training program considering several formats. For example, a face-to-face introduction to the topic, followed by a debate to resolve doubts and concerns. You can end up with an online consolidation with perhaps questions that contain visual images, mix topics and be reviewed periodically.
Even if it is more difficult, it has been seen that it is more productive to alternate the learning of several intertwined themes, or different aspects of the same subject, than to repeatedly insist more and more time on it. Theme changes activate our attention and enrich understanding by interconnecting concepts. In textbooks, each chapter is followed linearly by a set of problems to practice on that subject. Then, it is passed to the next chapter getting an immediate but transient fluidity. This makes it easy to know how to approach the problem even before reading your statement.
After a time without addressing a topic, the brain will have to work harder to recover it, and it is precisely this desirable effort that will generate more reminder than if we learn by dedicating time to a single topic without moving on to another until the next learning session. If you practice again and again quickly, you are leaning on the fluidity that short-term memory generates. The need for little mental effort observes an instantaneous improvement, but insufficiently solid to sustain itself.
But with mixed practice, spacing and interspersing concepts, the brain unconsciously recognizes deeper patterns and streamlines the easy retrieval process of memories in the future. It has been proven that the ability to become an expert in extracting the underlying principles or “rules” that differentiate the types of problems, to relate them to other things that we already know and to be able to make the best decisions in future unknown situations, is better acquired through interspersed and varied practice than with concentrated practice. Changing the location where the person is exposed to the same content, gets a deeper impression in the memorization. This is so because when expanding the associations, a greater neuronal anchoring is generated that enriches the recovered one.
Writing with own words the topics to learn, generates more impact than passively reviewing what has been previously heard or read. It is useful, for example, to write a summary of what you remember that you have learned at the end of a training session. Thus, you build structures by extracting the most important ideas and create a coherent mental framework from them. This summary can be done for yourself or another person to help you understand it. For this, it will be necessary to have sufficiently worked the content previously to master it, connecting the new concepts with the previous ones.
Only when you are able to explain something in a simple way does it mean that they have processed it in depth and assimilated correctly. The more you mentally process the new learning to relate it to previous knowledge, the stronger your understanding will be. In addition, it will create more neural connections, helping to remember it later.
Mapa mental del contenidos del libro MAKE IT STICK. La ciencia del aprendizaje exitoso
If you are not convinced that you can master a certain topic, you will not put enough effort into learning it well and mastering it. It is necessary to visualize a reason why it is worthwhile to master a theme to achieve the winning mentality that leads to achieve it. People whose performance unconsciously limit their potential. If you focus on validating a skill, you will choose challenges that you trust to fulfill to show you competent again and again. But if your goal is to increase your capacity, you choose bigger and bigger challenges. You must interpret failures as useful information that helps you sharpen your focus, be more creative and work hard.
The infographic of the initial image has been adapted from David Vaillancourt (@drvcourt) twit on April 2, 2016, shortly after the book “Make it Stick” was published in the United States.
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Last week Juan Daniel Sobrado interviewed me on a blog podcast Learning Legendario, which aims to teach trainers to get impactful, participatory and memorable training, and thus combat the endless PowerPoint sessions with little or no involvement from the participants. In this context, the neurodidactic focused on consolidating the learning of 21st century professionals could not be lacking.
Applying to Enzo Ferrari’s famous phrase “Everything that deserves to be done, it deserves to be done well”, we can also affirm that “ALL TRAINING THAT DESERVES TO BE GIVEN, DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED.” With Juanda Sobrado we talked about what the trainers can do so that the courses they teach are consolidated in the memory of their students and do not start a caustic process of falling into oblivion as soon as they finish the last class or exam. Getting the knowledge to remain fresh in the memory for a long time, is the only formula so that in parallel you get to speed up your mental processing and apply it to the practical challenges of everyday life.
We invite you to listen to the interview through any of these 2 links:
If you want to talk a little more about the consolidation of learning you can send us an e-mail to email@example.com, and we will be happy to agree with you a virtual meeting in our virtual room: https://appear.in/siltom
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The traditional format of continuing education through courses is so widespread and ingrained that it seems unnecessary to question it. It would be expected that, in case of not working, the simple “natural selection” for centuries would have corrected or extinguished them. I will not be the one to say that the courses do not work, but the more things are about the processes by which the human brain learns better, the more I realize that the way they have always considered involves a series of “traps”, that can significantly reduce the effectiveness with which the student learns, since they lead learning to fall into oblivion.
I will describe 7 aspects that I have identified when contrasting these popular assumptions with the conclusions of scientific studies on effectiveness of learning:
Belief #1: The courses train people so that when they finish they can successfully solve situations that can be presented at any time.
When the course ends, the concepts learned run the risk of not being consulted in the student’s memory. They may forget completely if they do not use them frequently or review them periodically. Just as in advertising a single impact of an advertisement is not enough to modify the behavior of a consumer, neither is a single training impact.
When designing a training process, the course format is interesting so that the person receives extensive information. For this, the initial phase of the training should be considered, since then the learning must be continued. It can be done through periodic reviews of the contents, until they are consolidated in the memory. The person must be able to apply them with agility from their subconscious cognitive activity.
A few months ago I did a course on accounting for entrepreneurs (8h divided into 2 mornings). On Thursday the teacher decided very aptly to start the class by asking the 25 participants to list the topics we learned on Tuesday of the same week. My great astonishment was that, however much the teacher explained it to us in a pleasant and understandable way, and that we all enrolled in the course voluntarily with a real motivation to know better the accounting concepts, at that time we were not even able to remember from that we talked about 48h before.
Fortunately, the professor broke the uncomfortable general silence by remembering what he explained, and of course, then we remember him and we recovered the memory from this hook. But at the end of the course the teacher moved away from our lives, and without having in hand the fabulous photocopies of notes that he gave us, we can not possibly expect any of us to interpret a balance of the way we did in the interesting exercises facts in class.
Belief #2: A master class of a very expert teacher is the highest quality training that can be received
That a professor more or less does not influence the speed with which we will forget the concepts he teaches us. More important than the depth of the teacher’s knowledge, that is capable of transmitting in a motivating way, that generates in his students as to generate desire to reflect and deepen the subject on their own. The great experts are very useful to teach other experts less, or to direct applied research work, but to train people, skills and mastery of training methodologies are the critical factor for the students of a course to really learn or do not. The master class format has proved ineffective in multiple studies. People are only able to keep brief minutes at full capacity to listen to a talk passively.
Both children and adults feel better when something is taught by a peer of the same level (peer-to-peer learning) than when someone who is farther away explains it. This companion will transmit it with a flatter vocabulary, with closer examples and with a confidence that allows us to improve the understanding of what we are doing before reaching the audience. More and more companies opt for learning communities and forums so that their social networks or their customer service call teams share their knowledge and contribute to the collective intelligence of the company.
Belief #3: Little can be learned if one is not able to hear the trainer standing still
Today we know that to achieve a faster, easier and more durable learning, not only must we use the head, but the gesticulation with movements of the whole body will have a remarkable synergic effect. An experiential training that allows us to move our arms or walk through the classroom, will improve comprehension and performance, and not only because it will prevent the kind of sleep, but because everything that improves our interaction with the outside world increases the ability to understand and remember that learning. The more important a message is, the more the teacher gestures when emphasizing it to transmit it, and the more it captures the attention of the classroom. The concepts will be stored in the memory of the students linked to these gestures and therefore with a greater number of neural connections that facilitate their subsequent reminder regarding if they had only expressed words.
Science is not yet able to describe in detail how moving the body stimulates mental work, but we know that exercise releases neurotransmitters in the brain that proliferate brain cells and increase connections between neurons. We have all proven that it is good for us to get up in each coffee-break to recover the ability to attend the conference presentations. It is also known that people who play sports have more capacity for concentration and even greater ability to learn new languages. There are studies that have proven that the e-learning of languages listening to audio while practicing sports increases the capacity of people to memorize and retention time and is achieved by understanding and applying better the new vocabulary. In conclusion, let’s be clear that sitting for hours without moving is not the best way to learn.
Belief #4: The training games serve to entertain courses with more serious training sessions
More and more trainers are looking for strategies to make their training more active and effective. Much greater is the number of trainers who resort to making a game. The goal is not the effectiveness, but to break for a while the dynamics of long and dense presentations. Games are widely used as motivation tools and to brighten the day. If we use them for this purpose, we will not be focusing on obtaining the highest possible performance in terms of learning. If we do not demand effectiveness from the training game, we can fall into several errors that are significantly reduced:
- as its dynamics are stressful
- that do not generate a reflection process
- that is not contextualized why some answers are correct and others are not.
Gamification uses games so that people are motivated to do things that can be tedious. Well-designed dynamics can make a game easier to apply the most effective study techniques, and provide an excellent methodological training base to technical people without pedagogical knowledge who need to train in excellence to commercial teams or customer service teams for example.
When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, most of the time we were the product managers who formed commercial networks. We did not have knowledge of the most basic concepts and we just went out and explained what we knew. We trusted that at home they would return to watch the presentation on their own, which almost nobody did. They were usually 3 intense days of “veneer”, and curiously there were very few doubts during the talks.
Did they understand everything without raising any doubt? Possibly, most of them were in the room only physically, while their brains were elsewhere. Everything so strategic that we explained to them did not apply later in their visits to the doctors. Generally, they acted on their own initiative delivering some promotional material before leaving the office.
The gamification of the training can be an ally to align the marketing departments with the sales ones. Thus, it is possible to achieve that the transmitted concepts are not only listened to but reflected by the commercial ones. In this way, greater attention is maintained during the talks and the marketing team receives feedback on what has been understood and what has not been understood. If the game is considered once the meeting is over, it will serve to consolidate well all the concepts transmitted. Users will gradually digest and incorporate their professional practice.
Belief #5: The best way to learn something is in an intensive course of several days
In practical training an intensive course can make sense to train people. To generate a reminder of data or theoretical aspects, the longer the intensive course lasts, the less effective the learning will be. It has been shown that the same teaching hours are more productive the more distanced they are from each other, as they will remember more concepts and for longer.
The microlearning format starts from the most strategic contents and exposed in microses of maximum 15 minutes. This format is triumphing in the professional fields. showing great effectiveness and also fits better to the rhythm of life. We remember better the message of a TED talk listening to it during a subway trip, than when we are given a long talk.
Belief #6: Getting an excellent grade on an exam really certifies that the subject is mastered and will be effectively applied
When an extensive meta-analysis evaluated the ability to generate a long-term reminder of the 10 main study techniques, it was evident that the most frequently used to pass a test such as re-reading notes, underlining them or summarizing them, are short-term and their effectiveness ends once they have passed. the objective of the exam. At that time when the tension can be lowered, an external evaluation takes place. A process of forgetting what has been learned begins to make room for the next thing that will be evaluated.
The exams can not be considered the goal of the training. Generally, they only guarantee that the person has read the agenda and therefore is able to overcome the final questions. If the contents are not encouraged to be revised more often in the following months, they will hardly be applied.
Belief #7: In a course who learns is the student
Edgar Dale’s experiential learning pyramid shows us that the most active learning is teaching others. This is the one that Dale considers capable of generating a 90% long-term reminder. To convey good learning, the speaker should prepare the topic in depth. You should analyze the most important thing and look for good ways to communicate it so that people understand it. For this reason, no one will have learned as much from the experience of that class as the teacher.
To take advantage of the reminder strategy, the head of training can divide the agenda into several sections. Also, it can make it to the people who learn to present their part to the rest of their classmates. It can be a good starting point to create an enriching learning community.
It has been quantified that creating each hour of a training course requires the tutor between 42 and 143 hours of dedication. Is it not worthwhile that we look for a way for that effort of the trainers to achieve the maximum possible results? For this it would be enough to incorporate into the course some elements that reinforce the reminder of the concepts taught:
- Do not consider the final exam of the course as the goal of the training. At the end of the course, encourage the periodic review of the concepts, for example, by sending short training pills. In this way, they will review what they have learned in short and relevant fragments.
- Posing quiz games as efficient self-assessment tools that can substitute the exams, especially if they have the possibility of making periodic repetitions of the concepts until they are consolidated in memory, as Trainapp does.
- Encourage students’ research on aspects of the syllabus, and then share them with classmates.
- Ensure that the course is as experiential as possible, avoiding master classes. Seeks people to participate and move from the chair on several occasions to maintain their attention.
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Trainers must train people to successfully apply new knowledge in any situation where they can be useful. Do all those who complete a course achieve this goal?
José Antonio Marina explains in depth in his books and papers, that memory is the basis of intelligence, and only starting from what is already in it we can incorporate new knowledge, so it is a limiting factor of the possibilities of each person. The real training comes to produce in few formations, and what is learned is lost with the passage of time.
Already in 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus published in his treatise on memory that the day after a master class recalls less than 40% of its content and, a month later, not even 20%. The process of continuous training (permanent learning) became a succession of peaks with much knowledge acquired, and valleys with those few really consolidated that endure over time.
The advance of neuroscience allows us to know today the phenomenon of neuroplasticity: the human brain learns by generating neuronal connections.
Everything we learn is due to neurons that come together temporarily to transmit neurotransmitters to each other. But that union requires energy and after a while without being used, the connection releases and the energy is used to connect more useful concepts.
Under the slogan “Use it or lose it“, the memory erases in a few minutes what does not show a real utility hours later. If there is activity in the new connection in the hours after it is generated, the concept is interpreted as useful. In this way, the connection is “soldered” more after each opportunity, favoring the consolidation of the concept in memory.
The traditional training was designed aiming only at passing an evaluation test at the end of the course, without guaranteeing the subsequent scope.
Recent meta-analysis of multiple neuroscientific works have shown that the most common study techniques (re-reading, underlining, summarizing, …) do not serve to ensure the long-term durability of the concepts. It is necessary to exercise memory with very different active strategies, for which trainers can rely on new technologies. Small differences in training methodologies can lead to profoundly different changes in the student’s brain.
When a trainer becomes aware of his neuromodulatory ability to modify the electrochemical structure of his audience’s brain, he faces the challenge of improving his way of transmitting learning so that it is effective and can be transferred to practical uses.
It is not enough, then, to expose the student in contact with the information to be learned, but it is necessary to ensure that this exhibition has subsequent revisions that make it possible to exercise the circuits of the new competences. The new role of the trainer is to accompany the learning process with formats as active as possible, which optimize the understanding and retention of the contents.
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How to optimize the effectiveness of learning?
One of the main issues, in optimizing the effectiveness of learning, is finding the best way to ensure the performance of the time spent learning, preventing the knowledge acquired from being forgotten over time.
A team of American cognitive and educational psychologists evaluated in detail the usefulness of the 10 most known study techniques, to quantify if they really work out to learn. For this, it was analyzed if its benefits were generalizable by means of 4 variables: the context of learning, characteristics of the students, the subjects to study and the typology of the exam to pass.
The 10 study techniques whose performance was evaluated were:
- Elaborate interrogation (explain why a fact or concept is true)
- Self-explanation (relate new information to the one already known, or with the steps to take when solving a problem)
- Highlight / underline
- Reread texts
- Keywords (mnemonics)
- Associate texts with mental images
- Practice with self-exams
- Distribute study sessions in multiple days or weeks
- Alternate several subjects
Curiously, some of the practices most used by students, such as summaries or underlining and rereading the texts, have shown minimal effectiveness.
Quite the contrary, the most efficient strategies were little extended techniques to practice what is known and what not yet doing exams, distribute the study in several days, and alternate several subjects within each short time dedicated to the study. Let’s analyze a little more each of them:
Practice with self-exams
This technique has been studied for more than a century, with more than 120 studies highlighting its effectiveness. One of the most interesting was the one published by Roediger (2008), showing that a group of English speakers learned better a long list of words in Swahili correlated with their English translation, studying through tests for a week, with 80% correct answers in the final exam, while those who studied continuously, focusing their attention on remembering the list, only scored 36%.
The more tests are done, the better the retention, but not in the same day, but as much spaced as possible. Brief and frequent tests work better than long tests at very distant intervals, both because of their usefulness as a reminder and because of student satisfaction; and it is important that there is a feedback of the answers so as not to perpetuate errors. The results are consistent in multiple profiles of individuals in the degree of basic knowledge or skill on a subject, and even in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis.
Distribute the training over time
The majority of students concentrate their study hours in the days before the exam, despite having amply demonstrated that the reminder of long-term concepts is more efficient if they are distributed at the same time in the longest possible period. Its effectiveness is robust in more than 250 studies that in total involve more than 14,000 participants of very diverse profile, and in different subjects to study how mathematics, history, music, surgery, … It would not be useful in extremely complex subjects, how to fly an airplane.
When sufficient time is available, the final performance of the study is better
When sufficient time is available, the final performance of the study is better by intentionally distancing the sessions for periods of between 10-20% of the desired retention time: separated 12-24h to remember something during a week, or every 6-12 months if we want to remember it 5 years. Dr. Kerfoot’s studies in medicine learning were able to demonstrate an excellent reminder by revisions spaced at increasing intervals of time. The popular wisdom of many parents leads them to recommend their children to study a little each day instead of leaving everything for a marathon session during the exam week; and in 1985 Dellarrosa & Borne confirmed it by demonstrating that the reminder rates do indeed improve the longer this period of review sessions for the content to be learned can be.
A study published by Budé (2011) also showed that the conceptual learning of students who attend a course of statistics taught over 6 months is significantly greater than when the same syllabus and equality of total teaching hours is taught in 8 weeks. It contradicts this aspect, therefore, the popular belief that in intensive courses is where you learn the most, given that neuroscience points out that it happens exactly the opposite: once saturated our daily capacity of retention of new knowledge, expose the person to more training is inefficient, and is what is known as overlearning.
Alternate the subjects
Much less scientific research has been done on this technique than with the previous ones, but there is more and more literature that shows a similar degree of effectiveness. Alternating the subjects of study and the practical part associated with these has been especially effective in teaching mathematics or medicine, instead of organizing the classes by monothematic blocks.
A study published by Rohrer and Taylor (2007) showed that, although during a practical class the students instructed by monothematic blocks solve mathematical problems better and faster than interspersed ones, surprisingly if after a few days they perform an exam, which they learned through interspersed practice they scored 43% more. Another study by the same authors, published in 2010, found even greater differences in favor of alternated practice of subjects (77% vs. 38% of correct answers), since they were better at discriminating between the types of problems and in applying more consistently the correct formula to each one.
In learning of the electrocardiographic diagnosis, Hatala (2003) reported 47% of correct answers in clinical practice when medical students learned by alternated practice and 30% by practicing monothematic blocks.
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(1) J. DUNLOSKY ET AL. “IMPROVING STUDENTS’ LEARNING WITH EFFECTIVE LEARNING TECHNIQUES: PROMISING DIRECTIONS FROM COGNITIVE AND EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY.” PSYCHOL SCI PUBLIC INTEREST. 2013 JAN;14(1):4-58.