Though studies suggest that studying smarter—not harder—is the key to academic success, students often fall back on ineffective study habits, like cramming before exams or re-reading passages over and over again.
So Colorado State University‘s Anne Cleary is using science and technology to teach students how to break those habits and learn effectively, reports Beth McMurtrie for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Cleary, a psychology professor who studies human memory, created a course in 2015 open to all undergraduates called “The Science of Learning.” In the course, Cleary encourages students to forget what they think they know about learning. “Those strategies that are most effective may feel least effective,” she explains.
Cleary walks students through the real science behind learning. For instance, students learn that when it comes to studying for exams, spacing out study sessions is more effective than cramming. And they learn that testing themselves on material is a more effective way to retain information than reading the same material over and over.
But while teaching the strategies is one thing, getting students to actually implement them is another, says Cleary. For instance, students might intend to space out their learning, but then end up cramming because they don’t budget their time correctly, she explains.
Cleary and her colleagues are working on technology that nudges students to incorporate the science-based learning strategies into their everyday lives. For example, they are testing a program that pings students at random times throughout the week with quiz questions. Cleary explains that the technology is built on the idea that students are more likely to adopt effective study habits when they’re incorporated into their everyday lives, rather than when they involve major behavioral changes.
“I’ve been implementing these techniques & it doesn’t feel like it is going to have any effect,” wrote one student in a comment about the course. “Then I take a quiz or a test & realize how much I’ve learned, & it’s almost like the learning just sneaks up on you. It’s like, I would call it, sneaky learning.”
Cleary says she eventually hopes to expose more students and instructors to her methods of “sneaky learning,” and her ultimate goal is to see “The Science of Learning” course offered to all first-year students (McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/6).