Fostering Effective Learning Strategies in Higher Education—A Mixed-Methods Study
Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
Cognitive psychological research from the last decades has shown that learning strategies that create desirable difficulties during learning (e.g., practice testing) are most effective for long-term learning outcomes. However, there is a paucity of research on how to effectively translate these insights into training students in higher education. Therefore, we designed an intervention program aiming to create awareness about, foster reflection on, and stimulate practice of effective learning
... ategies. In a first examination of the pilot intervention (N = 47), we tested the effects of the intervention on metacognitive knowledge and self-reported use of effective learning strategies during selfstudy, using a control-group mixed-methods design. The intervention program had positive effects on knowledge about effective learning strategies and increased the use of practice testing. Qualitative interview results suggested that to sustainably change students' learning strategies, we may consider tackling their uncertainty about effort and time, and increase availability of practice questions. General Audience Summary In order to study and obtain positive and long-term learning outcomes, students should use effective learning strategies, for example taking a practice test or spacing out study sessions over time. Psychological research has indicated that strategies that make learning more difficult and effortful effectively enhance long-term retention. Most students, however, use rather passive, ineffective strategies, such as rereading or highlighting. These strategies make the learning process appear easier, which creates a feeling of fluency. As a result, students are overconfident about their long-term learning and overestimate their remembering, which has detrimental effects on their learning outcomes. In order to translate research evidence on effective learning strategies into students' self-study practice, we developed a learning strategy intervention program called Study Smart. In this program, we aimed to create awareness about, foster reflection on, and stimulate the practice of effective learning strategies. The program consisted of three 2-h sessions and was given to first-and second-year university students. After the intervention program, students had gained more accurate knowledge about effective learning strategies and developed the intention to change their study behavior and use more effective strategies. They also reported to use more practice testing during self-study. In group discussions, we dove further into facilitators and barriers of a learning strategy change. A perceived discrepancy between own strategy use and empirically effective learning strategies encouraged students to change. Qualitative interview results suggested that to sustainably change students' learning strategies, we may consider tackling their uncertainty about effort and time, and increase availability of practice questions. Altogether, this study shows that implementation of an evidence-based intervention program is a promising way to stimulate university students to use effective learning strategies.