Improved learning without extra effort? The problem with... by Sarah Horrigan

Improved learning without extra effort?

The popularity of online lectures increases daily but is it as effective as we think? Students easily lose track when there is no interaction. Frequent testing of students has shown to improve retention of information.

- ­Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -

This famous quote from Benjamin Franklin hits the nail right on the head: involvement is key in learning. The majority of teachers interpret this in a way that is rather time-consuming and definitely not the most efficient. What teachers do, is tell you that you should prepare the lectures, read all the material beforehand and, ideally, also afterwards. We cannot deny that it is effective to do this, but as mentioned above, it is quite an investment of time. Luckily, researchers have found a way to improve learning, with hardly any extra effort for the students!

Online lectures seem to be an upcoming phenomenon. It is easy because everybody can stay home, cheaper because there is no place to be rented and available for everyone that wants to join. But before we all start pouring ourselves into the online world of lectures we should ask ourselves what the pros and cons are to learning from a computer screen:
Do our brains process the information the same was as during a real-life lecture?
Should the students make any adjustments, in any way?
And what about the lecturer, can he give the same lecture online as he would in a classroom?

Research of almost ten years ago already pointed out that memory tests help students to remember important information. It works even better than repeatedly studying the material!
With the current technology, it should not be too hard to incorporate memory tests in lectures. Even though some teachers already make use of the method, it is not as widely spread as it should be. It has been shown that people’s minds have the tendency to wander, which inevitably leads to a less effective intake of information presented in the lecture. It asks for a lot of motivation to listen to someone talk for two hours and stay focused the entire time, especially when there is no way of interaction. But can you make a lecture interactive when so many people from all over the world are joining in on the same virtual classroom, or are we asking too much of the lecturer?

With the increasing amount of online lectures it seems important to investigate what will stimulate focusing on and actual learning of the content discussed in such lectures. You probably already guessed this, but it has been proven that incorporating memory tests in online lectures can not only reduce mind wandering, but it also facilitates learning and improves taking of notes and other actions that improve learning. In our opinion, this is only logical. According to Benjamin Franklin, you learn when you get involved. Incorporating memory tests makes the lectures more interactive and students get more involved. This, as also supported by other findings, inevitably leads to better learning.

Tests that take place during the lecture will give an indication on what the important aspects are and what to focus on during additional studying. We think many students can relate to the uncertain feeling towards the final exam. Have I studied enough? What do they expect me to have studied and know?
Indeed, Roediger and Karpicke have proven that when memory tests are incorporated when you first see the information, they significantly improve retention of the information and therefore result in higher grades on later exams. Actually, in contrary to what you would think, it works even better than studying really hard. This indirectly wipes out the assumption that studying afterwards is just as effective as paying attention during lectures. However, studying hard gives you more confidence during the exam, so the perfect outcome would be a combination of both interpolated memory tests ánd active behavior of the student regarding the study material. In addition, Karl Szpunar and colleagues state that incorporating memory tests in online lectures will also help for anxiety and estimation of cognitive demands. Their findings show that it will also help students to show less anxiety towards tests and subjective estimates of cognitive demand. The reason for this is that they have experience the testing multiple times before they will start the final exam; they’re used to the questioning and know (at least in broader sense) what to expect.

In today’s society, loads of people are stressed and overworked, including students. If there are ways to facilitate learning and thereby decrease the current working load, why not use these manners? Daydreaming can cause a relaxed feeling that I think a lot of people enjoy, but the inability to control this mechanism may make it more like a restrictive feeling, especially during a lecture. Through interpolated memory tests the wandering will be reduced, students will be able to focus better and keep this focus during the entire lecture. It might be some extra effort for professors to incorporate memory tests in their lectures, but it will eventually spare them time reading inaccurate answers to their exam questions. All in all, if something as simple as memory tests could make studying a bit less hard, why not try it? By doing so, we would all help each other - with little to no extra effort.



Nice article girls! Hits it right on the nail;) Even professors in the offline world have issues in engaging their students, how in hell would they succeed in this via online lectures?

Boaz Pauw

Awesome! I'll use this information in my classroom :)