Many thanks for completing my survey on memory and learning! 

You may be interested in feedback on your responses:


Set one

The first set of questions were selected from the work of Simons & Chabris (2012) and Magnusson et al (2006), and concerned general (not teaching-specific) knowledge. This was done as a baseline comparison for the remaining answers. I won't focus on these, but it may be of interest to note that the general public harbour many misconceptions about memory. For example, in their large-scale survey of members of the public, Simons & Chabris found that over 80% of participants believed that amnesia sufferers forget their own name/identity - something which is actually not the case (their memory loss tends to affect recent events).


Set two

- To improve the effectiveness of learning you have to increase the time spent studying.

This may seem obvious, but is not actually true. Experiments into memory nearly always keep study time constant, but can still demonstrate impressive improvements in memory for information depending on the way that the learning is done. The idea that attainment directly results from time and effort is therefore over-simplistic. Imagine walking up the down escalator - it would require a lot of effort, but wouldn't get you very far. Study advice given to students should therefore be more sophisticated than just "work hard".

- Most learners have a good idea of how practice/study will impact on their memory.

Surprisingly, this is not always the case, according to a variety of research on metacognition. Learners tend to underestimate the benefits of repeated practice (e.g. Koriat et al, 2002) but also mistake short-term gains for permanent learning (Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015). As Kornell & Bjork (2007) put it, "the task of becoming a metacognitively sophisticated learner is far from simple; it requires going against certain intuitions and standard practices, having a reasonably accurate mental model of how learning works, and not being misled by short-term performance" (p.223).

- When reviewing a topic, it’s best to give learners open questions rather than multiple-choice questions or verbal summaries.

This is largely true; the 'testing effect' is the reliable finding that a test is superior to simply being exposed to the material again, and the majority of studies (e.g. McDaniel et al., 2007) have found short-answer quizzes to be superior to multi-choice, because they require active retrieval.

- The best way to learn something is to go over it repeatedly within the same hour.

Although this may be a useful thing to do in some circumstances, it is not the most efficient way to learn something because performance over the short term is a poor indicator of long-term learning (Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015), and in addition, this type of activity fails to take advantage of the reliable benefits of spacing out learning over multiple study sessions - a single study session would be followed by a lot of forgetting (see above), which spaced out review tests could minimise. 


- Learners benefit from mixing up lots of different types of problems, rather than doing one type of task at a time. 

This is true, at least for most situations. Interleaving of tasks has been shown to be helpful for maths learning (Rohrer et al, 2015) as well as for inductive learning. 


- The majority of information taught during a class will still be retained by learners 2-3 weeks later.

Forgetting of lesson material is actually very rapid, if nothing is done to prevent it. The classic forgetting curve suggests forgetting of approx 80% within this timeframe. It should be considered that the level of forgetting varies widely depending on the type of material, the learner, and various other factors, but nevertheless, teachers would do well to assume that much of what is taught will be forgotten if nothing is done to prevent this from happening.


Set three

- Learners are in the best position to judge what and how they should study.

Similar to Set 2/Q2 - no, learners make many mistakes when regulating their own learning. Learners tend to select easier to-be-learned items, and stop studying when they perceive that they are no longer learning; this approach may be ineffective as it relies on learners' own perceptions and leads to their avoiding studying harder items (Metcalfe & Kornell, 2005). When it comes to specific study techniques, Hartwig & Dunlosky (2012) found that most learners use techniques that are out of step with the strategies which are supported by research, but that those who do use such strategies gain better grades. The work of Yan et al (2016) has shown that even when learners both try out a superior strategy (interleaving) and are given an explanation of why it works, they still tend not to use it. Therefore learners do not seem to be in a good position to decide what and how to study - they would benefit from expert guidance. 

- It’s always best to simplify things for learners in some way, because making something easier helps it to be processed into long-term memory.

No, this is not the case. In fact, many factors which slow down learning or make it harder are actually beneficial can improve learning - these are what Bjork (1994) refers to as desirable difficulties (see video clip).  

- As a teacher, it is wise to wait until learners have almost forgotten things before you go over them again.

Surprisingly, yes - although many teachers review very soon after teaching, a longer delay would typically be more beneficial. The risk of waiting too long is minimal compared to the disadvantage inherent in re-visiting material too soon (Cepeda et al, 2008).

- Multiple re-readings are more useful for learning than doing lots of tests.

They are not. A study by Roediger & Karpicke (2006) compared multiple-re-readings with multiple tests, and found that when performance after a one-week delay was taken into account, testing was much more effective than re-reading. It is likely that beyond the first reading, there is very little to be gained from subsequent repetitions. Testing, in contrast, promotes active retrieval of information (see Karpicke et al, 2014, for a discussion of theoretical explanations behind the testing effect).

- Good study advice for learners should include telling them to find a place where they are comfortable and to do all their revision there.

Although this is popular advice and can on occasion provide reassurance to learners, memory researchers such as Robert Bjork advocate varying our study locations in order to benefit from a form of interleaving (Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015). Doing so leads to a more diverse set of associations forming between the studied material and incidental cues in the physical surroundings, and these cues can boost recall at a later date (see also Smith & Rothkopf, 1984). Different locations may also help the revision session to stand out as a unique event in episodic long-term memory.

- A learner’s current performance on a task is not a reliable guide to their long-term learning.

This is true. Although current performance is often mistaken for learning, it tends to be a poor guide to what learners will be able to recall at a future point. According to the theory of disuse, the information may be successfully stored, but that does not mean that learners will be able to retrieve it when needed, such as in their exam (Bjork & Bjork, 1992Soderstrom & Bjork, 2015).


Set four

- One of the best ways to remember something over the long term is to focus on its meaning and how it links to other things.

True. Long-term memory is based on meaning (Baddeley, 1966) and therefore learning which leads to making many rich semantic links ('elaborative encoding') will lead to better recall than more superficial forms of processing such as how something looks (Craik & Tulving, 1975). When elaborative meaningful links are formed during learning, these can provide cues to assist later recall. Additionally, Carpenter, (2009) has suggested that elaboration might help to explain the mnemonic benefits of testing, but this is still a matter of theoretical debate.

- If a learner guesses and is not correct they may remember the wrong answer, so it’s best to avoid guessing/predictions during lessons.

Contrary to this popular idea, guessing incorrectly prior to learning has been shown to be harmless by a number of studies (e.g. Kang et al, 2011) and may even be beneficial (Richland et al, 2009). Recently, Kornell & Vaughn (2016) have found that failed retrieval followed by feedback is just as beneficial as successful retrieval. If the testing effect does not rely on successful retrieval, this gives teachers much more flexibility about how to structure tasks. In addition, doing a quiz during a lesson may help to minimise the extent to which we get old items mixed up with new (Szpunar et al, 2008, Wissman et al, 2011).

- Including extra information or examples in a written passage makes it harder for learners to remember the main points.

Surprisingly, this is supported by the research. A classic study by Reder & Anderson (1982) found that detail harmed rather than helping recall of main ideas, perhaps because it distracted attention from these ideas and/or because it allowed more time for re-reading main points and thus prompted spaced repetition. This finding has been supported by more recent work on e-learning by Clark & Mayer (2012), who argue that extraneous detail in e-learning detracts from efficacy, a view which links to cognitive load theory.

- Ultimately, learners form new memories through frequent repetition.

As noted below previous questions, spaced out practice testing and elaborative links are more important than simple repetition. The 1960s 'multi-store model of memory' (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968) claimed that repetition/rehearsal in STM was necessary and sufficient for memorisation, but by the early 1970s this was already seen as oversimplistic - a study by Craik & Watkins (1973) showed that repetition alone does not lead to memorisation. Repetition/practice is clearly going to be better than no repetition, but is inefficient unless combined with other well-evidenced strategies.

- It makes sense to do a homework task soon after the material is done in class.

On the basis of the spacing effect, it would actually make more sense to delay homework.

- Once learners have got a question wrong and then been corrected, they will be able to predict whether they will get it right in future.

Learners predictions of their own performance can be fairly accurate but are subject to flaws too. Learners draw on their memories of past tests to predict their future recall (FInn & Metcalfe, 2008), so if they got something right in the past, they tend to predict future success too. This heuristic is not always accurate, however - see the previous point about short-term performance v's long-term learning.