Back to School: Researchers Pinpoint Techniques for Better Learning

People have incredible amounts to learn throughout their lives, whether it be preparing for a test in middle school or training for a new job late in life.  Given that time is often at a premium, being able to efficiently learn new information is important.

One way people can learn efficiently is to accurately evaluate their learning and decide how to proceed. For example, if you were studying for a final exam, you could most efficiently use your time if you were able to accurately judge between those concepts that you have learned and understood well versus those that you have not learned well.  In doing so, you can invest your time on the latter.

This ability is known as “metacomprehension,” and psychological research has repeatedly demonstrated that people are not very accurate at judging how well they have learned complex materials.  As a result, researchers have been searching for techniques to improve the accuracy of people’s judgments of their text learning, and most recently, some important discoveries have been made.

In an article published in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Kent State researchers John Dunlosky and Amanda Lipko examined techniques that can improve people’s comprehension of texts.

After reviewing several studies, they found that rereading or summarizing text can improve people’s ability to accurately evaluate how well they are learning those texts.

In addition, techniques that focus people’s attention on just the most important details of a text also help them to evaluate their learning.  For instance, if a text includes several key ideas, attempting to recall these ideas from memory and then explicitly comparing the recall with the correct answers improves people’s ability to accurately evaluate how well they are learning the ideas.

These techniques that improve a person’s ability to evaluate their progress while learning demonstrate much promise for helping people more efficiently learn complex materials, whether it involves preparing for an important briefing at the Pentagon or studying for a fifth-grade quiz.

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