Bringing Study Smart to the (research) world!

by Felicitas Biwer

Summertime means ice cream, sunscreen, going on vacation and chilling in the park. But in research, summertime means also conference time! During the summer, researchers like to come together and present their work of the past year and discuss new ideas. This summer, we brought our study smart training to the research world. In June, we went to the Onderwijs Research Dagen, a national conference about educational sciences in Heerlen, the Netherlands. In August, we went to EARLI (European Association for Learning and Instruction), an international conference, taking place in Aachen, Germany. At both conferences, we presented the results of the pilot-study investigating the effects of the Study Smart training on students’ knowledge and use of more effective learning strategies.

What did we do and what did we find out?

Our aim was to investigate whether the Study Smart training is effective in teaching students about effective and ineffective learning strategies and stimulating them to use more effective strategies during their self-study. Our pilot-study looked like this: 47 first-year students completed an online questionnaire and answered questions about what they think are effective or ineffective learning strategies and what strategies they usually use during their self-study. Afterwards, one group attended the three sessions of the Study Smart training: awareness, reflection and practice. During the weeks of the training, all students (including the students not receiving the training) completed short learning surveys every week. In these surveys, the students indicated what strategies they used during the past week. After 6 weeks all students completed a posttest. Also, the control group was invited to attend the training. Furthermore, we invited all students to participate in focus group discussions to share their experiences and opinion about the training.

Our data showed that the students who received the training gained more accurate knowledge about which strategies are beneficial for long-term learning and which are not. They rate practice testing as highly effective, and rereading, highlighting and summarizing as less effective. Furthermore, students participating in the training learned about the underlying principles of these strategies: actively retrieving information from memory and spreading out study sessions over time promotes long-term learning. The group who attended the training showed a different pattern of strategy use than the control group: They reported to use more practice testing and quizzing, and less rereading and highlighting. However, students still struggled a lot to apply effective strategies in their everyday learning.

What makes it so difficult to actually apply effective learning strategies?

The focus group discussions with the students gave us a lot of insights. First of all, students mentioned that the training motivated them to use more effective learning strategies. One reason was that students saw a discrepancy between strategies that they use and strategies that are empirically proven to be effective. However, actually using these strategies was difficult, because:

  • students did not have any practice questions available
  • students were uncertain about how much time and effort these strategies would cost
  • students reported they fell back into old habits

We concluded that we should support students more in this transition phase. We need to make more practice questions available to facilitate the use of this strategy and we also need to support students in developing an effective study habit.