“Before you begin, we wanted to tell you about a strategy that is extremely effective for learning: repeatedly self-testing. Research shows that people learn more from repeated testing than from repeated studying. This is illustrated in the Figure to the right which shows differences in final memory performance for Purdue students who repeatedly studied information vs. repeatedly retrieved information with practice tests.
“The best strategy to ensure that you remember all the translations on the final test in 45 minutes is to successfully retrieve each translation at least 3 times across multiple practice tests. You should not stop studying a translation until you have remembered it at least 3 times.”
The Learning Phase:
Then, all students in the experiment learned 20 Lithuanian-English translations. Students went through a virtual flashcard deck on the computer. First, they went through the deck dragging each card into one of three piles: study, retrieval, or done. Then, they went through the deck at their own pace the way they had chosen. For translations they chose to study, both the Lithuanian and English words were shown on the card. For translations they chose to retrieve, the Lithuanian word was present and the students typed the English word into the computer. The students could then choose to see the correct answer if they wanted. Translations that were put in the done pile were not practiced. They repeated this procedure, making choices about how to practice the translations and then actually practicing them, until the students put all of the translations into the “done” pile. The students then did an unrelated task for 15 minutes, and then took a final test over all of the translations. On the test, they were required to provide the English translation for each Lithuanian word.
The brief intervention instructions increased the use of retrieval practice during the learning phase. Those who received the instructions recalled 90% of the translations at least once, while those in the control group recalled 70% of the translations at least once. Importantly, those who received the instructions made the choice to practice retrieval of almost all of them translations (99%) at least once. Those in the control group only did so for 88% of the translations. This led to greater performance on the final test; those who received the intervention instructions correctly remembered 87% of the translations while those in the control group correctly remembered only 64% of the translations.
Replication and Transfer:
In Experiment 2, Ariel and Karpicke repeated the same procedure from Experiment 1 with one important addition. The students in the experiment returned to the laboratory 1 week later to learn Swahili-English translations. This time, no instructions were given. The purpose of this second learning session was to see whether students would continue to use retrieval practice on a new set of materials without any reminders about its effectiveness. The results from the first experiment were replicated, and students who were given the intervention instructions did continue to use retrieval practice during the new learning session 1 week later.
The results from this set of experiments are promising, but more research is needed on interventions instructing students on evidence-based learning strategies. The experimenters showed that students transferred the use of retrieval practice when given the intervention compared to the control, and that this led to greater learning and retention. However, the new learning session was only 1 week later in the same laboratory, and the students were still learning foreign language pairs. It is unclear whether students would continue to successfully use retrieval practice on their own in different contexts and with different materials. We know that transfer can be difficult to achieve, especially when the contexts differ greatly (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series). Still, the intervention used was simple and would be relatively easy for educators to implement. If similar results are found in research that continues to get closer to authentic educational settings, then it would be good news for teachers who love evidence-based learning strategies!