“You will have a test next week so make sure you study.” This is said in every classroom but what does “study” mean to most people and students? The preferred method is to go home and reread text, review power points or watch videos, basically review the content over and over again hoping it sticks. As good as these feel unfortunately they are not very effective.
These study strategies also have one thing in common, they are easy. Reading is easy, watching is easy, reviewing is easy. These easy and passive strategies only give the illusion of learning but it’s more like being busy and not productive. We do them because it feels good to be doing something we feel like we are making progress. However that progress is temporary.
So what should students and people who want to retain their knowledge longer do instead?
It’s not going to be well received but, put in more effort. Yes, be more active. Here are three strategies proven to help students retain more knowledge over longer periods of time than reading and reviewing content.
One tactic is prior to learning a new concept or skill students should try to solve problems or use the concept BEFORE they’ve been given information. This seems ridiculously backwards but stay with me. Trying to do something before you’ve learned it creates a need for the new information. Motivation is huge when it comes to retaining new information. The brain must deem it important otherwise the new info will get passed over as background noise. An example is having students try to calculate volumes without giving them the formulas. The students will eventually get frustrated and think “there must be an easier way.” There is! Here are the volume formulas. The students are now primed for better retention.
Tactic two is right after content delivery do low stakes assessments. These could be activities such as quizzes, reflections or flashcards. Anything that forces the learner to retrieve information. In essence the learner needs to test themselves. This can be done at the end of a lesson or at the end of content viewing. Have learners take a short quiz or write a reflection of what they just learned this will strengthen connections and raise the longevity of the learning.
Tactic three is vary students practice. A study was done utilizing the Cal Poly baseball team which tested the effects of bulk practice vs. variety practice. One set of players saw 15 pitches of each type (fastball, curve ball, change up, etc…) during batting practice, the players knew what pitch was coming and practiced repetition of one type of pitch at a time. During practice these players looked to be doing well. The other group saw a variety of pitches during practice, did not know the order and did not know what pitch they were going to see and when. These players during practice looked to be struggling. At the end of the study the players who saw the variety of pitches performed better in a game scenario than the players who got repeated bulk practice. The moral of this study is vary the practice. Instead of learners practicing the same thing over and over again mix it up. It may feel less rewarding and slower at the time but it will pay off in the future.
Did you notice the difference in the three tactics given vs. reading and reviewing? The learner must actively DO something, they must engage with the content. The big thing here is retrieval and variety. As we saw with the Cal Poly baseball players, if learners only practice the same thing over and over again it will look victorious but it will be short lived. To review, if learners try something before its taught, vary their practice and are forced to retrieve what they just read or viewed learning will be retained longer.
Happy Teaching 🙂
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