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3 Strategies to address pandemic-related time management and study skill gaps

June 4, 2024, By Alexa Silverman, Senior Director, Student Experience and Well-Being Research

With NAEP math and reading scores hitting a 30-year low, college leaders will need to be prepared to address the coming student readiness challenge. Many have seen the early signs of that challenge already arriving on their campuses, with students struggling to complete work at college level.

One root cause of these difficulties is that remote instruction also interrupted students’ ability to learn how to learn. Today’s students struggle with basic study skills: how to use flash cards, how often to review their notes, how to manage their time and make room for studying, or how to practice in a group.

At EAB, our research team talked to over 50 academic leaders in the US, Canada, and internationally to learn how their institutions were working to close these critical skill gaps. We found three promising strategies to help students diagnose and address their study and time management needs.

Strategy #1: Use surveys to help students understand their study habits and how they change over time.

The University of Helsinki’s HowULearn project helps an already introspective and self-reflective generation of students learn about their own study styles and needs. With HowULearn, students take a survey about their study habits and receive a custom report with information about study strategies to help them shore up weaker areas. The report also shows how their study styles compare to the rest of their class. Students take the survey a total of three times throughout their time at the university so they can reflect on how their skills evolved and keep recommendations fresh.

Faculty also receive a summary report for students in their courses, which helps them better understand the challenges their students face. They also use the data to adapt pedagogy and curriculum including embedding modules on time management into their classes.

Strategy #2: Rethink the practice quiz to reward students for spacing out their study and discourage cramming.

While HowULearn helps reveal unseen gaps in students’ study skills, faculty at Colorado State University identified one gap that needed no diagnosis. Students crammed before exams. They took practice quizzes over and over until they memorized the questions, rather than focusing on deeper engagement with content.

Faculty at Colorado State developed UBehavior, an LMS module that uses algorithmically-generated questions to randomize quizzes so students can’t memorize the answers. UBehavior also rewards spaced-out practice. Students earn points for taking quizzes consistently over time and responding to reflection questions about their habits. In a pilot in one microbiology class, students who used UBehavior scored a full letter grade higher on the exam than a control group.

Strategy #3: For students who need more support, provide optional training for staff, faculty, and administrators willing to serve as dedicated academic coaches.

While HowULearn and UBehavior use technology to scale good study habits to a large population of students, some students will always need more hands-on support. Currently, a lot of this work is falling on frontline academic advisors as a side-of-desk task, making their workloads unsustainable and worsening burnout.

The University of Oklahoma provides approximately $3000 worth of training to staff, faculty, and administrators who are willing to provide intensive support to 5-10 students at a time. The resulting Academic Life Coaching team helps students with time management, motivation, and studying in a series of weekly meetings.

Most Academic Life Coaches are frontline advisors who appreciate the chance to separate this work from their day-to-day obligations—and the professional development that will help them work toward a promotion. Meanwhile, students say their coaches helped them gain the skills and momentum they needed to succeed.

Improving academic readiness starts with building good learning habits, but it doesn’t stop there. Many institutions will need to redesign introductory courses to improve learning outcomes. Read EAB’s Course Completion Playbook to learn strategies for increasing course pass rates without sacrificing depth or rigor.

Alexa Silverman

Senior Director, Student Experience and Well-Being Research

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