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Elaboration makes new information more meaningful

Chapter 5 Effective cognitive learning strategies


Elaboration is the process of giving new material real meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know
Peter Brown Share this expert PB Peter Brown and co-authors, Make It Stick

Elaboration is a learning strategy characterized by enhancing to-be-learned information in a way that links it to related information and prior knowledge. Elaboration aims to make information more meaningful to the learner so that it can be more easily retained in memory. Elaboration is a deeper exploration of an idea that makes it more relevant by comparing it to related information and by integrating it into what the learner already knows.

There are many possible methods of elaboration, such as:

  • Paraphrasing : Putting ideas into one’s own words
  • Summarizing : Describe only the key concepts, leaving out the less important details.
  • Forming logical relationships between ideas
  • Making comparisons or analogies
  • Finding a concrete example from daily life
  • Using mnemonic device such as retrieval cues, imagery, acronyms, etc.

Another important elaborative strategy is for the learner to ask questions and generate answers about the material. Examples of such questions include: How does this work? Why does it work? Researchers refer to this strategy as elaborative interrogation . The effortful generation of answers to such questions strengthens memory and aids recall.

Explaining is a helpful elaborative strategy. It is often said that you haven’t mastered a topic unless you can explain it to someone else. The first step is usually self-explanation, in which the learner explains the concept to him or herself. The ultimate test, though, is attempting to explain the concept or idea to a child or an older relative who has no experience with the topic.

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