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Active Learning


Are you familiar with the concept of Active Learning? When we study, we often approach the learning task passively by simply reading the textbook information with no intentional goal beyond comprehension. While retention or comprehension may be the desired effect of studying, it is not always an effective learning strategy. Previous research suggests that we retain only about 15-20% of what we read passively.

Recent research by Augustin (2014) suggests that we don’t fully retain information unless it is followed by an intentional process that supports retention. One method of retaining information is through self testing.

The Testing Effect.
The testing effect is enhanced when we receive feedback about what we have read in the form of active recall.  Active recall is a term applied to the repetition of information. As a retention strategy it is significantly more effective than passive reading or studying. Testing is a form of active recall that can be applied in different ways.  Giving yourself a short quiz after reading a chapter or section of text has the ability to enhance your retention by 10%. Testing as a form of delayed feedback given at the end of a study session has the greatest impact on enhancing learning.  Self testing can be used as a metacognitive strategy for enhancing retention through working memory.

Some active recall strategies you might consider after a study session…….

1.  Create a test to give yourself at the end of the chapter.

2.  Write down the five main adverse effects of beta blockers.

3.  Draw a picture that illustrates the Kreb’s cycle.

Each example demonstrates how factual knowledge can be actively retained after the study session through active recall. Active Learning methods enhance retention through intentional feedback.
Cognitive neuroscience continues to inform our understanding of how to be more efficient learners. We can use testing and feedback as active recall methods during our study sessions to make the retention of complex information more efficient.

If you are needing assistance with strategies for efficient learning, please feel free to contact the Academic Support Office at Touro University, California for a consultation or support.

Donald D. Matthews PsyD

Augustin, M. (2014). How to learn effectively in medical school: test yourself, learn actively, and repeat in intervals. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 8-7 (2014) pp. 207-212.

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