August 20, 2013

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>> Students everywhere, put down those highlighters and pick up some flash cards! Some of the most popular study strategies – such as highlighting and even rereading – don’t show much promise for improving student learning, according to a new report by authored in part by two Kent State University researchers.

Kent State’s John Dunlosky, professor of psychology, and Katherine Rawson, associate professor of psychology, and a team of distinguished psychological scientists review the scientific evidence for 10 learning techniques commonly used by students. Their findings are published in “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Schools and parents spend a great deal of money on technology and programs to improve student achievement, even though evidence often isn’t available to firmly establish that they work,” Dunlosky says. “We wanted to take a comprehensive look at promising strategies now, in order to direct teachers, students and parents to the strategies that are effective yet underused.”

Based on the available evidence, the researchers provide recommendations about the applicability and usefulness of each technique. While the 10 learning techniques vary widely in effectiveness, two strategies – practice testing and distributed practice – made the grade, receiving the highest overall utility rating.

Most students are probably familiar with practice testing, having used flash cards or answered the questions at the end of a textbook chapter. Students who prefer last-minute cram sessions, however, may not be as familiar with the idea of distributed practice.

Dunlosky and colleagues report that spreading out your studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students’ performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.

In contrast, five of the techniques received a low utility rating from the researchers. Notably, these techniques are some of the most common learning strategies used by students, including summarization, highlighting and underlining and rereading.

“I was shocked that some strategies that students use a lot – such as rereading and highlighting – seem to provide minimal benefits to their learning and performance,” Dunlosky says. “By just replacing rereading with delayed retrieval practice, students would benefit.”

So why don’t they? Why aren’t students and teachers using the learning strategies that have been shown to be effective and inexpensive? Dunlosky and colleagues found that the answer may have to do with how future teachers are taught.

August 20, 2013