Scientific reviews of learning strategies have shown that most strategies provide at least some benefit. Applying a learning strategy usually means that the individual is putting some effort into learning, and increased effort generally leads to better results. However, some strategies prove to be much more effective than others. Using an ineffective learning strategy leads to wasted effort and inferior learning outcomes.
Re-reading, highlighting, and underlining are the most common strategies that learners report using. Unfortunately, these strategies are relatively ineffective compared to others like elaboration or self-testing . Re-reading, highlighting and underlining are relatively passive strategies that are likely to produce a sense of fluency . While re-reading a text, the material is likely to feel familiar. However, a failure to engage more deeply with the topic will probably lead to rapid forgetting. Highlighting can be useful if it is used to mark the most vital concepts for further processing using other strategies. But many learners mark too much text , reducing the usefulness of the approach.
Rote memorization is a similarly questionable strategy. Simple repetition is less effective at helping people remember facts and data than if they were to engage with the ideas in a way that promotes a deeper understanding. Memorization is better suited to the reproduction of facts and data without necessarily developing a deeper understanding of their meaning.
Learning science has uncovered that the timing of learning activities has a significant impact on their effectiveness. The common practice of cramming before an exam can successfully boost exam performance, but the period of intense learning it is usually followed by equally rapid forgetting. Researchers have found that spaced repetition of learning yields superior results. Learners often doubt the benefits of spaced repetition, because intense learning sessions can produce a sense of growing mastery, while spaced practice can subjectively feel less productive. The same counterintuitive effect can be seen when comparing blocked practice to interleaving . Blocked practice involves grouping together similar learning activities, in contrast to interleaving , which randomly mixes them together. Blocked practice is likely to give the learner a sense of better progress, but interleaving has been shown to produce better learning performance.
In general, learners should aim to avoid passive learning strategies, like re-reading or highlighting. Instead, prioritize more active strategies that engage the mind and promote deeper understanding. Although these strategies feel more difficult, they are more likely to improve learning results.
You don’t engage the mind by reading a text over and over again or by passively watching PowerPoint slides. You engage it by making the effort to explain the material yourself, in your own words— connecting the facts, making it vivid, relating it to what you already know.
— Peter Brown PB Peter Brown and co-authors, Make it Stick