Why Don’t Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

Effective Learning Strategies

For a relatively long time now, researchers working with cognitive sciences have shown that some learning strategies are more effective than others. This has been done via randomised controlled studies in the lab and interventions in schools. Nevertheless, the majority of students in schools, colleges and universities are still investing their time in sub-optimal techniques, such as re-reading notes and highlighting textbook.

In this article, I’ll summarise:

  • Some of the evidence-based learning techniques
  • The main reasons why students don’t use them
  • How teachers can help them do so, using freely available resources and simple classroom activities.

Evidence-Based Learning Techniques.

The main strategy that has received wide support from the academic literature is Retrieval Practice. This technique is basically answering questions and actively bringing information back to mind instead of passively reading notes over and over again. This active retrieval creates new and stronger connections between pieces of knowledge and generates a deeper understanding of the topic. A few ways to use retrieval practice are low stake quizzes, braindumps and flashcards.

Two other effective strategies are Spacing and Interleaving. These two are the opposite of cramming. That is, studying one topic for many hours in a row and then moving on to the next one is significantly less productive than spreading out practice and switching between topics. Interleaving can also happen within one quiz or exam. Especially for STEM subjects, mixing the order of questions will force students to think harder and figure out the answer from the question itself, and not because they already knew which content would be covered. Doug Rohrer has written a lot about this.

Another learning strategy based on cognitive sciences is Dual-Coding, which conveys the idea that it is easier for our brain to understand, process and retain novel information when this is presented combining words with visual elements. Examples of dual-coding are diagrams, timelines and mind-maps.

Main Reasons Why Students Don’t Use Effective Learning Strategies

We, Seneca Learning, conducted a survey in 2017 that revealed that only one-quarter of students were using good strategies to revise. This result is in accordance with peer-reviewed papers that consistently found that less than 30% of pupils and university students use Retrieval Practice to prepare for an exam.

There are three main reasons for this low number. The first is that students simply do not know about those techniques. That is, they simply do not realise that it is possible to study without highlighting the textbook or re-reading notes.

The second reason is that the non-effective strategies give students an illusion of competence, making them believe they are progressing more than they truly are. For example, reading the book makes them feel like they understand all that content, whereas being tested reveals that they still have gaps in their knowledge.

The third reason is that effective learning techniques require planning and effort to implement. Using Retrieval Practice, Spacing, Interleaving and Dual-Coding are, admittedly, way more complicated than simply reading, highlighting and cramming.

How Can We Help Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

The first two reasons why students don’t use effective strategies is because they do not know about them and they feel like those strategies do not work. Thus, it is crucial that we inform students about learning techniques based on cognitive sciences and show them the evidence.

This can be done with assemblies, classes about the brain and memory processes, as well as the reading of scientific articles. There are also very good videos on the internet that explain the techniques and the science behind it in a student-friendly language. Teachers can also run multidisciplinary projects where students conduct their own small randomised controlled trial. Links to some of the videos are HERE and HERE.

The third reason for the low number of pupils using good strategies is that these techniques are time-consuming and effortful. Luckily, there is a number of free tools online that make them easier to implement. For example, The Student Room has a tool that helps students plan their study routine based on exam dates. There are also guides that help them to allocate their time in an effective way. Seneca Learning is an interactive website providing exam-board specific revision and homework material for KS2 to KS5 pupils for free.

Useful Classroom Activities

There are also many classroom ideas developed by teachers and that successfully apply effective learning strategies. For example, at the latest conference of the Association for Science Education, I attended a talk by Adam Boxer, from a school in north London. Adam is a Key Stage 3 Science teacher that was worried that years 7, 8 and 9 were becoming useless or a simple preparation for the upcoming GCSE years. To change that, Adam developed a series of core questions and what he classifies as perfect answers to them. His aim is that all students finish KS3 knowing all of this content. To reach his goal, he created what is now known as a Retrieval Roulette. This is a spreadsheet that randomly selects core questions for students to answer. The questions can come from the most recent lesson or from any topic previously covered. By using the roulette as low-stake quizzes, Adam is helping his students by using retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving.

Another great idea is Blake Harvard’s Colour-coded Recall. This is a very simple classroom activity that only requires pen, paper and a set of highlighters. At the beginning of a lesson, Blake asks his Psychology students to write down the answer to a question without checking any notes or textbook.  Students must try hard and try to give their best answer. They then take one highlighter (let’s say yellow) and mark what they wrote. Following this, students are allowed to check their course material and complete the answer writing down anything they may have missed. This addition to the answer is highlighted in a different colour (let’s say blue). Lastly, students can talk about the questions and write down even more highlighting that in a third colour (let’s say green). Students receive one grade for each colour and are encouraged to repeat the technique whenever they have time. This method effectively uses retrieval practice and dual coding. It also helps in terms of metacognition since students can visualize their progress very easily.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Jon Gustafson wrote an article for his blog explaining why and how he changed his lessons to become 85% review and only 15% new content. Part of the review is done with low stake quizzes that revisit past content. The aim is to have students practising and applying what they previously learned, while creating connections between the different topics and concepts. Similarly to the Retrieval Roulette, Jon applies 2 to 3 quizzes every week, in which he includes and interleaves questions from the most recent content with questions from past lessons. Jon noticed that his workload and stress have been reduced, and that students are doing more and better independent work.

These are all examples of resources, tools and classroom ideas that have effective learning strategies already embedded in their methodology. Using them from the beginning of their school years will certainly teach students the power of evidence-based methods and increase the number of students optimising their revision to achiev higher progress.

Guest Author Bio:

Dr Belham - Effective Learning Strategies

Dr Flavia Belham applies experimental findings from Neuroscience to the free revision & homework platform Seneca Learning as the Chief Scientist. During her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, she used behavioural and brain imaging techniques to investigate how people of different ages memorise emotional events. She is a certified Science Teacher and worked in schools before joining Seneca Learning.

EdTech Tools: How To Choose The Right One

EdTech tool

EdTech tools are simple to use, the real challenge is knowing where to start.

I don’t know about you, but I get completely overwhelmed by the number of EdTech tools out there. I’m bombarded constantly by emails and tweets telling me I *have* to sign up to the latest app or website. I’m no technophobe and I know it can save me time, or help me create more engaging lessons, but where do I even begin?

Where To Start With EdTech tools…

Firstly, identify what it is that you need to develop in your own teaching. Is it developing the strength of your students’ arguments? Do you need to use a wider range of activities, to liven up your repertoire? Is text-analysis something that students need extra support with? Do students just need to practise low-stakes quizzes more frequently? There are EdTech tools out there to help with all of these areas (and more too).

Once you’ve identified your area for development, you can then narrow down the range of EdTech tools significantly.

Question: Are EdTech Tools Worth Investing In?

In my experience, yes. However, not all EdTech tools are worth your time and money. It depends on what your priorities are. Ultimately though, you need to consider the following, before choosing an EdTech tool:

  • Time cost (in relation to the amount of actual free time you have left at the end of the day)
  • Financial cost (in relation to the size of your budget)
  • Amount of positive difference it makes (this might not be accurately measurable)
  • Getting staff on board (not always necessary, but often the hardest task of all)

It’s impossible to say objectively which EdTech tools are worth investing in, as it depends on your own situation. However, by spending a little time figuring out your priorities first, it becomes easier to identify a worthwhile EdTech tool when you see it.

EdTech To Consider Trying This Year

Study Rocket

EdTech Tools

An excellent platform, where students can access distilled exam-specific scripts for GCSE and A-Level subjects, written by experienced teachers (such as myself). Each script is accompanied by a low-stakes quiz, which students can use to ensure they retained the most important points. The quiz has answers built-in, so students can see what they should have answered if they answered incorrectly. It’s a quick and easy way for students to use retrieval practice, an effective metacognition-based revision method underpinned by cognitive science. Students can also request that topics are added if they aren’t already included, or require further depth. Not many platforms are as student-centred as these guys. Highly recommended.

 

Google Classroom

EdTech Tools

Google Classroom lets you organise your digital resources into sections that students can access. This is a brilliant way to encourage students to access resources beyond the classroom. One way I use it is to give students access to Flipped Learning materials before they study topics in lessons. Students can even respond to the materials they read, watch or listen to, enabling a useful dialogue to occur before the lesson. Extremely useful.

 

Insert Learning

EdTech Tools

Insert Learning is a great little Chrome Extension that allows you to take an article and add activities to it. Students are first asked to highlight specific parts of the article using different colours. Insert Learning then provides a great set of sample questions. These range from basic comprehension to deep analysis and evaluation of the text and also of related issues that the students have previously studied. If you want, you can even set your own questions. It takes only a couple of minutes to set up and learn and provides an excellent way to structure wider reading, helping students become more independent learners. Quick, simple and highly effective.

 

Final Thoughts…

We’re frequently presented with new ways to do old things, using EdTech tools. The trick is to know whether it will make a positive difference or not. In reality, this means that at some point you’ll have to have a go. I’d recommend just getting to grips with one EdTech tool this year.

Go on, give it a go!

By the way, what’s YOUR favourite EdTech tool? Leave a comment and share your knowledge!

 

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Why Podcasts Improve Learning

Why Podcasts Improve Learning

Why do podcasts improve learning?

A podcast is an audio recording which delivers content verbally, as opposed to the content being in text form. By adding podcasts to your resource bank for students, you will inevitably engage students who, perhaps, don’t engage fully with text-based resources. Podcasts improve learning by delivering content in a manner which suits some students better than textbook use.

This is certainly my experience. Recently I was invited to try out the podcasts offered by Audiopi. I was blown away by the high quality of the content delivery. But also by how much information I retained, even some days later. I’ve always struggled with retention of information when using texts to learn. I would have to put in hours and hours of intensive study, only for my performance in tests to be “inconsistent” as one kind teacher put it! I don’t want the same experience for my own students, so I’ve introduced podcasts.

When using the Audiopi podcasts to learn new content, I found that even just listening to them once, whilst making brief notes, I remained attentive and could recall the information easily days later. (I listened to the History ones, as I’m an enthusiast but not a subject specialist in this area. Listening to the excellent History podcasts enabled me to assess more accurately whether I was biased by my own subject specialism.) The ability to rewind and re-listen to the Audiopi podcasts, as many times as I liked, further allowed me to go over some ideas over and over until I understood them. This helped a lot!

Audiopi

To enhance the experience of the content delivery further, the Audiopi podcasts improve learning by using sounds and music to excellent effect. This can be a very tricky thing to achieve. Many podcasts I’ve listened to had music playing in the background, but it was irritating, distracting, or just didn’t ‘fit’ with the narrative. Audiopi succeeded in this regard. I would definitely recommend subscribing to them if increasing engagement or depth of study is a particular focus of your department.

Currently, Audiopi offers a range of podcasts aimed at GCSE and A Level students for the following topics:

  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • History
  • Biology
  • Physics

The first podcast in each Audiopi series is free and you can listen to examples of all their tutorials too. They also have some examples of podcasts on their YouTube channel here, so you can even try before you buy!

Is the success of podcasts supported by research evidence?

Yes! Researchers at George Washington University reported that podcasts improve learning. They do this by reaching students who do not necessarily engage well with textbooks.  Using podcasts also helps to supplement textbook use for students who are already engaged by those texts. For more information, you can read an article on their research here.

Do you recognise those students in your own class? If so, then you should seriously consider using podcasts, especially in the run-up to exam season.

 How could I use podcasts with my students?

I typically use podcasts as a Flipped Learning resource in preparation for a future lesson. Sometimes I use them as an independent learning resource to aid comprehension, add depth of content and to revise from. In both of these cases, students have told me that they prefer learning this way, as opposed to using textbooks. The reasons are many. But the most significant are that students enjoy listening and can do it anywhere, even on the school bus! Secondly, they have to be more cognitively active in order to make notes. This is because there aren’t textbooks to lazily copy from, which we know is an inefficient way of studying.

To help podcasts improve learning, you could also use transcripts as a text-alternative or to supplement the audio recording. You could even use the transcripts to develop comprehension-based activities. I’ve certainly found that with my own students, the depth of knowledge increased substantially after podcast use, compared with textbook-only study. My students made rapid progress and they improved their examination performance too.

To begin searching for podcasts, take a look in the iTunes store, websites such as the BBC, or even (for more advanced students) some university websites. Failing that, just Google the subject or topics you are looking for and add “podcast” to your search query.

Some free podcasts to get you started…

  • Geography: GCSE Bitesize Podcasts
  • Law: BBC Law In Action
  • Chemistry: A Level Chemistry Revision – Chris Harris
  • Economics/Business: BBC More Or Less
  • Politics: Politics Weekly – The Guardian, The Bugle
  • French: Coffee Break French
  • Religious Studies/Philosophy: Philosophy Bites, BBC In Our Time
  • Spanish: Spanish Obsessed With Rob And Liz
  • General: LSE Podcasts, TED Talks

Final thoughts…

I would love to hear about your podcasting experiences and would be happy to answer any questions you have about starting a podcast. I’ll blog about that another time. Just leave a comment at the end and I’ll get right back to you.

Follow me on Twitter @guruteaching

And don’t forget to LIKE and SHARE!

 

Disclaimer: This article is not an advertorial. For total transparency, I received access to one Audiopi podcast series, in return for a review by me for their website. This article was written entirely independently and not as any form of “payment” for the podcast. I wrote this article simply in response to my positive experience of listening to the podcast. 

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