Cognition and Student Learning Education Research

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Kent State University Project Abstract
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Principal Investigators: John Dunlosky & Katherine Rawson
Title: Supporting Efficient and Durable Student Learning

Purpose: A primary goal of education is to acquire knowledge that lasts beyond the immediate or short-term need to successfully complete a particular test or assignment. Accordingly, a major problem facing teachers is to support students’ learning of key concepts in a manner that supports long-term retention. The problem becomes even more overwhelming when one considers the amount of information students are expected to learn across many subjects. Thus, students must not only learn important concepts in such a way as to promote long-term retention, but they must also do so as efficiently as possible to ensure they have enough time to learn all of the required content. Given the requirement that students must meet state academic content standards in order to progress through the grades and graduate from high school, helping teachers and students overcome this problem has become a national priority.

To help meet these challenges, this research team is developing and evaluating the effectiveness of a new method of learning and study called retrieval-feedback-monitoring (RFM). This new method is inspired by two cognitive principles. First, research has demonstrated that the durability of learning can be improved by requiring learners to study concepts systematically spaced over time instead of trying to master many concepts in a single study session (i.e., “cramming”). Second, study time can be used most efficiently when there is accurate monitoring of what has been learned and what still needs to be learned. The researchers hypothesize that computer-assisted studying based on these principles will improve learning. The new method will be used with undergraduate psychology students and middle school science students. At the conclusion of this project, the research team will have a new, validated method to support long-term learning of academic content that can be used in many content areas and for many grade levels.

Setting: Students participating in this research project reside in northeastern Ohio.

Population: Approximately 300 undergraduate students at Kent State University, and approximately eight classes of middle school students are participating in this project.

Intervention: The retrieval-feedback-monitoring (RFM) procedure is a computer-assisted study process based on two important principles from cognitive psychology. First, spacing out recall or retrieval of information yields superior learning as compared to other study schedules. Second, improving students' ability to accurately monitor how well new information has been learned will increase learning. In the RFM process, students will participate in one study session each week on the computer. During the study session, the key concepts from one chapter of the textbook students are using will be introduced. After studying the concepts, the computer will generate questions for the students to answer about these concepts. Students will see their answers along with the correct answer. Then students will be asked to judge their learning of the concept. Finally, the computer program will schedule subsequent practice tailored for each student and each concept. This process will continue over the weeks that students participate, and students will receive practice of concepts spaced over time. The RFM method includes initial study of concepts, practice retrieving the concepts, feedback about what is remembered, and student monitoring of the quality of what they retrieved.

Research Design and Methods: In Phase 1, the research team is conducting laboratory research with university undergraduates in order to establish optimal schedules of item presentation and optimal intervals for spacing study sessions. In Phase 2, the researchers are implementing the RFM method in an Introductory Psychology classroom to support students’ learning of key concepts from the course materials. During the classroom trials, the researchers are measuring the effect of the new study method against standard controls, and are using outcomes from initial experiments to improve the computer-assisted learning method. In Phase 3, the researchers are modifying the RFM technology for fifth- to seventh-grade students in science classes from the local community.

Control Condition: The control conditions vary across each of the six experiments and are appropriate to the questions addressed in each experiment.

Key Measures: Measures are being developed to test students’ mastery of the key concepts tested within the content area covered during instruction.

Data Analytic Strategy: Repeated measures analysis of variance is being carried out to examine student performance in conditions explored in each experiment.

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Last Modified: 11/08/2005