I was reading this week about a book called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. It contains the findings of a pair of Washington University psychologists who have been studying learning and memory for a combined 80 years.
It came as no surprise to me that these experts have found that the age old technique of re-reading notes and textbooks is not conducive to good learning. In comparison, active learning techniques can be very effective in making the learning ‘stick’.
In their study, the psychologists found that when students re-read a section of a textbook, they had no improvement in their learning compared to those who read it once. Not a little improvement, not a lot, absolutely none!
The research suggests one good study habit is to read the material once then self-assess (using questions at the end of the chapter) as the recall of the information leads to stronger memory and learning. And difficult recall is actually very good! Digging deeper to find it will seriously enhance retention as it uncovers areas that require further understanding.
Online education should be robust with
that go beyond memory recall. The questions should be based on real-life situations and give the student the opportunity of applying the knowledge and generating a genuine understanding on their own – that’s active learning. I personally have always been an advocate for asking questions – in my experience, the smartest people always do – and doing things ‘wrong’ is an excellent basis for learning.
The beauty of online is that it also lends itself to the visual form. Using graphics to display and unravel simple or even complex processes, theories or ideas has been proven to lead not only to better learner engagement, but enhanced understanding.
The research further showed that study is best when spaced out, not crammed in all at once. Cramming might be enough to get you through an assessment immediately afterwards but it will not help you retain the information for when you really need to apply it. The flexibility of online learning means students can easily pick up where they left off and move their way through a course in the self-paced way it was designed. Testing yourself on ‘old’ material when part way through a course is vital, so content that re-uses, reinvents and integrates previously learned concepts will have a much better chance of sticking like glue!
So it would seem that online education is well placed to offer the most current of learning styles, breaking the mould of common study habits and providing an engaging, self-paced and challenging way to ‘learn’ and then of course, apply that learning in the real world, after all, that is what education is all about.