Increasing Retention without Increasing Study Time
Humans are prone to forget. Pupils at schools and students at college and universities learn a lot of information. Unfortunately, the majority of them cannot remember it in a year or more. The researches Dough Rodher and Harold Pashler try to identify what factors influence humans’ retention and how to make it better and longer. Scientists identified that the common for contemporary educational system overlearning and rare repetition of the material are the main reasons of such dramatic statistics of forgetting. Shuffled formula of teaching and spacing of the learned material should be implemented in education practice to improve long-term retention, as they are much more effective than the currently used overlearning and mass learning methods, which demonstrate results only for the short-term knowledge.
Rohrer and Pashlers Discoveries
Dough Rodher and Harold Pashler (2007) are concerned by how quickly students forget the materials perfectly memorized for the exam. The researchers studied the correlation between the common for modern learners overlearning practice and long-term retention. They listed pros and cons of mass and space learning to help solve the problem. In conclusion of their study the scientists emphasize that contemporary educational practice is based on tradition and fads when it should consider empirical evidence more (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 186). The reason for such statement is proved by their research, which indicates that the common educational practice is useless for long-term retention, which is vital for true professionals. The researchers present an alternative to the existing teaching method, which involves shuffled and spaced format of the lectures.
Correlation between Retention and Overlearning
While learning a lot of students forget many things almost at once. Studies show dramatic results – 4 weeks after getting high test scores the retention decreases almost by half (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 185). In the end, 50 % of educated adults cannot remember where Sudan is located and cannot correctly multiply 5 by 7 (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 183). The reason for such tendency lies in overlearning. It is a process of continuation of study even when a student has achieved an error-free performance. Adequate students learn the material to the first error-free performance, when overleaners prefer to repeat the already learned information without breaks repeatedly. Especially often contemporary students use the overlearning method during last-minute cramming for an exam (Winerman, 2011). Errors can lower their grade, so, to be on the safe side, they repeat the material again and again. Such method is probably OK for doing well on an exam, but it is horrible for long-term retention (Winerman, 2011). Unfortunately, the knowledge gained in such a way is short-lived and demonstrates great retention decline even after a week.
Studying process is not about memory training. It is about gathering the information and gaining the skills to use it in the future. Art Markman (2012) underlines that people invest several years and thousands of dollars in a college education. Thus, retention, not high test scores, which give no further knowledge of the material, should be the goal. While overlearning is effective for tomorrows test or exam, it is useless for long-term retention. Lea Winerman (2011) writes that the more time students have before the next study session, the more efficiency they demonstrate. If repetition does not occur, the information becomes forgotten. Thus, constant repetition of the learned material is the key to long-term tension success, while overlearning benefits only for a short while.
Mass and Spaces Learning and Retention
Besides overlearning, mass learning considerably decreases long-term retention. Mass learning is a process of studying which is not separated with appropriate breaks or intersession intervals. Rohrer and Pashler (2007, p. 184) assert that performance is usually much better if the study time is spaced rather than massed. Winerman (2011) also supports this opinion and writes that spacing the studying session by students considerably improves long-term knowledge. Markman (2012) also adds that students should study over a period of days, not during the last day, to gain knowledge, which will help them to solve complex problems in their future profession. Consequently, spaced learning with repetitions positively influences the long-term retention.
Farley, Risko and Kingstone (2013) researched the correlation between attention, memory and fidgeting. The scientists established that with time attention to the lecture material declines, while fidgeting increases (Farley, Risko, & Kingstone, 2013). Fidgeting here is the same as faltering attention, which is caused by mind wandering. This state is common and sometimes useful for humans, but it plays a destructive role during lectures. Lea Winerman (2011) offers to interweave the subject with the lack of attention and fidgeting. This method is useful as it involves not only the learning, forgetting and relearning process, but also a deeper understanding of the information through finding similarities and differences (Winerman, 2011). Thus, it is much more effective to change the ways new information is presented and its topic as soon as fidgeting becomes obvious to raise attention and retention level.
New Teaching Approach
Considering the influence of overlearning and mass learning on long-term retention, Rohrer and Pashler (2007) proposed alternative strategies. They offer to implement a constant review of the previously learned materials in further lectures and see no usage of a continued study of the same material for several lectures. Researchers established that the bigger the space between repetitions is, the higher long-term retention would be, while briefer spacing results in poorer performance of the previously gained knowledge (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 185). Winerman (2011) calls the education method of overlearning and polishing one topic a blocking by topic technique and emphasizes that most contemporary courses are built on it so when a teacher starts interleaving he/she seems disorganized (Winerman, 2011). The author calls the newest methods of teaching which involve spacing, interweaving, and constant testing of the learners knowledge desirable difficulties and considers them hard to implement in practice (Winerman, 2011). Rohrer and Pashlers (2007) views are more optimistic. They offer to build lectures according to the following principle. As soon as new material is explained and the attention decreases, it should be followed by comparing it with previously learned and gained models. Consequently, this way, students learn changes, as now they have to compare, contrast, analyze, and choose the right problem solving as compared to passive information perception. Such method considerably increases attention and long-term retention.
The format of teaching, which involves presentation of new topic on the background of the previously learned knowledge, is called shuffled format. Its benefits are huge, as it provides spaced temporal distribution and confronts the learner with variety of problem types within each set (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 186). Markman (2012) supports such opinion and writes that to solve complex problems one should know a lot. Winerman (2011) also agrees that recalling of the previously learned information considerably strengthens the long-term learning. Thus, cognitive tasks such as decision making, problem solving and constant recalling of the learned information are vital and should be involved in the learning process to reach the expert level of students professionalism.
While researching the rules of long-term retention in learning process, Rodher and Pashler focused their attention on the current way mathematics is taught at schools and colleges. The reason for such analysis was the necessity to check how the rules of spacing and shuffle format can be applied not only for concrete but also for abstract knowledge gathering. Their research showed that the percentage of the information students could reproduce after thorough study in a week was 74% and declined to 49% in 4 weeks (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 185). This fact has once again proved the ineffectiveness of overlearning and mass learning for long-term retention. Unfortunately, these two strategies are the key in contemporary textbooks teaching math.
Overlearning is a commonly used methodology in math teaching nowadays. Students solve the same problems several times and pass their tests. Later they start working with other parabolas and constantly polish them until they get positive test grades. The problem is that even in several weeks it is hard for them to remember the first problems solution. It is difficult to research the results in a year or so, but it is predictable that the retention levels would be much lower.
The scientists advise spacing method implementation with shuffled format to improve students long-term retention as an alternative to contemporary math teaching method. According to them, a lesson should consist of a usual number of problems a part of which should relate to the current topic, when another part should be for the repetition of the already learned ones. Moreover, the latter section should include not only the recently learned topics, but also those from the previous semesters and years (Rohrer & Pashler, 2007, p. 1