How do I learn like a scientist

Learning for the next job or learning for life? - Scientists recommend different learning strategies

ERFURT. Parents and students have long complained that the many tests and class work that are written in a school year shaped a culture of “bulimia learning” among young people, in which knowledge is “spat out” at a certain point in time and then almost immediately afterwards Forgetting to fall victim to. Cognitive psychologists at the University of Erfurt see it differently. On the contrary, their research shows that tests are one of the most effective strategies for long-term learning, at least for text-based knowledge.

For several years, cognitive psychologists from the educational science faculty of the University of Erfurt have been researching the so-called "testing effect". It clearly shows that the retrieval of knowledge in written tests brings significantly better learning results in the long term than the repeated reading of a text.

But how does the learning effect of test-based learning compare to “taking notes”, which is likely to be the most widely used learning strategy, especially from the higher grades and onwards? In a current experiment, researchers led by psychologist Ralf Rummer got to the bottom of this question.

First, they submitted a short text to 273 students about the appearance and habits of the honey badger. Then a third were asked to read the text two more times (simple repetition). The second group should write down important information from the present text in their own words, i.e. make notes. Ask the participants in the third group to write down what they remembered on a piece of paper without being able to look it up in the text. Finally, a final learning control took place in which the students were asked to reproduce the text content as completely as possible. This learning test took place after five minutes, after a week or after two weeks.

In the test five minutes after reading the text, those students who had taken notes were still ahead. However, if the test took place after two weeks, they had completely lost their lead. Now those who had written down the content without having the text, i.e. who had created a classic test situation, had a clear learning advantage.

The scientists explain this by the fact that although less information is retained during testing than when taking notes, it is learned “more deeply”. Apart from the fact that even testing the retrieval of the information, less content would stick, but in the long term much more would remain than if a lot of the content was practiced superficially.

For the authors, this has shown that testing is more effective in the long term than taking notes. For pupils, teachers and students, the question of which learning strategy should be selected therefore also depends on how long the knowledge should remain available or when, for example, an exam takes place.

Ralf Rummer explains: “Testing proves to be more effective than other - also effective - learning strategies, at least when it comes to sustainable learning. From our point of view, this effect should be used both in university and school teaching - for example by incorporating tests in courses - as well as in learning at home. The latter could be done, for example, by answering self-posed questions or independently summarizing central learning content - without using the learning materials. So far, unfortunately, most learners only test themselves when they are learning vocabulary. And then only to get feedback on their level of knowledge, and not in the awareness of consolidating their knowledge through testing. "(Zab, pm)

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