Skip to comments.Science learning easier when students put down textbooks and actively recall information
Posted on 01/21/2011 5:43:25 PM PST by decimon
Actively recalling information from memory beats elaborate study methods
Put down those science text books and work at recalling information from memory. That's the shorthand take away message of new research from Purdue University that says practicing memory retrieval boosts science learning far better than elaborate study methods.
"Our view is that learning is not about studying or getting knowledge 'in memory,'" said Purdue psychology professor Jeffrey Karpicke, the lead investigator for the study that appears today in the journal Science. "Learning is about retrieving. So it is important to make retrieval practice an integral part of the learning process."
Educators traditionally rely on learning activities that encourage elaborate study routines and techniques focused on improving the encoding of information into memory. But, when students practice retrieval, they set aside the material they are trying to learn and instead practice calling it to mind.
The study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying With Concept Mapping," tested both learning strategies alongside each other. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education.
"In prior research, we established that practicing retrieval is a powerful way to improve learning," said Karpicke. "Here we put retrieval practice to the test by comparing its effectiveness to an elaborative study method, specifically elaborative studying by creating concept maps."
Concept mapping requires students to construct a diagram--typically using nodes or bubbles--that shows relationships among ideas, characteristics or materials. These concepts are then written down as a way of encoding them in a person's memory.
The researchers say the practice is used extensively for learning about concepts in sciences such as biology, chemistry or physics.
In two studies, reported by Karpicke and his colleague, Purdue University psychology student Janell Blunt, a total of 200 students studied texts on topics from different science disciplines. One group engaged in elaborative study using concept maps while a second group practiced retrieval; they read the texts, then put them away and practiced freely recalling concepts from the text.
After an initial study period, both groups recalled about the same amount of information. But when the students returned to the lab a week later to assess their long-term learning, the group that studied by practicing retrieval showed a 50 percent improvement in long-term retention above the group that studied by creating concept maps.
This, despite the students own predictions about how much they would actually remember. "Students do not always know what methods will produce the best learning," said Karpicke in discussing whether students are good at judging the success of their study habits.
He found that when students have the material right in front of them, they think they know it better than they actually do. "It may be surprising to realize that there is such a disconnect between what students think will afford good learning and what is actually best. We, as educators, need to keep this in mind as we create learning tools and evaluate educational practices," he said.
The researchers showed retrieval practice was superior to elaborative studying in all comparisons.
"The final retention test was one of the most important features of our study, because we asked questions that tapped into meaningful learning," said Karpicke.
The students answered questions about the specific concepts they learned as well as inference questions asking them to draw connections between things that weren't explicitly stated in the material. On both measures of meaningful learning, practicing retrieval continued to produce better learning than elaborative studying.
Karpicke says there's nothing wrong with elaborative learning, but argues that a larger place needs to be found for retrieval practice. "Our challenge now is to find the most effective and feasible ways to use retrieval as a learning activity--but we know that it is indeed a powerful way to enhance conceptual learning about science."
Active recall ping.
Retrieval practice= memorization and recitation?
I found this to be a wonderful method for cramming for a test (I put dozens of slips of paper with questions and answers in a hat and kept it up till I could answer every question in the hat), but for long term knowledge there’s something to be said for reading stuff in context as well. Both methods reinforce one another.
This seems to be talking about diagramming. This could help some people; it forces them to resolve ambiguities. Memorizing a big chart wouldn’t be my forte, though.
I don’t know. Seems to me that repetition and memorization won’t do much for the outside the box thinking often required in many of the sciences.
"Conceptual mapping" without an internalized critical mass of factual information is like trying to learn a foreign language without knowing vocabulary.
All they’re teaching in school is repetition and they’re creating zombies. I always preferred teachers who challenged me.
One of my favorite teachers taught us bar tricks and the physics behind them. Sometimes he would give us a few random objects and tell us to bring them back tomorrow and demonstrate any scientific property we wished with them but we had to explain how we arrived at our conclusions.
Repetition is fine for memorizing the periodic tables or physical properties.
Memorization and activity reinforcement.
“... a powerful way to enhance conceptual learning ABOUT science.”
This all reminds me of the mania for “process” in software development in recent years. It always seemed to me, as a participant, that it diverted my concentration and effort from the task at hand.
Um... don’t you need to read the book to get it in there in the first place?
However, this is true, I use to have a lot of trouble memorizing lines for plays, reading the script over and over, but when I actively recalled, I did tremendously better.
Memorization is tricky. I learned something about that doing crossword puzzles of a certain unmentionable newspaper. They’re very easy on Monday, and get harder through the week until Saturday’s is quite difficult. ( Of course many weekly puzzle series follow this pattern. )
Since Monday’s were so easy, I started to do them “in my head”, that is, without writing in the answers. I found that it was very easy to recall any answer, given the clue, and this lasted some hours.
Then I stepped up to what I call my “Monday protcol”. I solve the puzzle mentally, then attempt to write in the answers without reference to the clues. This is much harder! Even when I’m memorizing, I find that the words of an answer will just vanish from my mind in an instant when I look at a different one. It seems ridiculous. I try various ploys to “imprint” them, and it is true that the best way is to practice recall of e.g. an ACROSS answer from one or two letters of intersecting DOWN answers. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but the question arises how much of this mental practice is allowed before it amounts to cheating.
My best teachers always asked questions.
I don't know if teachers stopped asking questions and asking students to raise their hands if they knew the answer, or if they still give unannouced "pop quizzes," but I always appreciated good graphics & relevant captions.
As we consider cutting government spending how many of these obscure and unnecessary departments exist throughout our government?
I find this description of this study, "Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying With Concept Mapping,", to be intellectual and bureaucratic double speak. Retrieval is remembering. What are they remembering? They are remembering what they learned, of course.
What is concept mapping? Some call it mind mapping, and it is quite the vogue in some circles. It is simple forming associations between basic concepts. What is so new and revolutionary about that? When they were first starting to develop Artificial Intelligence the professors at MIT decided that if they were going to have computers mimic the human mind they had better learn more about how the human mind works. To oversimplify, they basically determined we learned by association.
At about the same time they were coming up with structured methods for developing software dependent systems. This included Structured Analysis and then Object Oriented Design and Object Oriented languages. The main purpose was better communication between developers and between developers and end users. It also facilitated documentation and modular design. Modular design makes upgrading much easier and documentation shows those coming later what their proceeders were doing.
Back to this study, did it tell us anything new? Perhaps it debunked the idea that concept mapping was a superior learning technique but it also suggest that it be replaced by "Retrieval" methods. Weren't we already doing that whether we knew it or not? Some people learn better with top-down, start with the big picture and get into more and more detail as you go, and some learn better just jumping into the middle of things and figuring it out as they go.
The article did mention study materials on the desk so perhaps they are saying students do better if they remember how to do quadratic equations than they do if they have to look it up in the text book at test time. If so, it is no wonder we have fallen behind the rest of the world in science and math.
Unintended consequences? I think not.
To learn science, be a scientist.
I'm ready. Who's hiring?