January 20, 2011
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.”