|In retrieval practice, students freely recall |
as much information as they can
(image from www.filterjoe.com)
Most teachers would assume that retrieval practice is a poor way to study. And in fact, the students themselves assumed so when asked how well they thought they would remember what they'd learned. However, when tested one week later, the opposite was true. Students who studied using retrieval actually performed better than all other groups. The free-recall students outperformed the concept-mapping students even when the test involved CREATING a concept map -- an important finding because it demonstrates that the students were actually building conceptual knowledge structures rather than simply regurgitating facts.
|Example of a concept map (from ccnmtl.columbia.edu)|
The study also doesn't account for students' familiarity with the techniques. Undergraduates at Purdue have most likely already figured out a study method that works best for them. Personally, I didn't even know what a concept map was until I read this paper. And in fact, before the study, the authors had to teach students how to make concept maps. Thus the relative weakness of concept mapping might be in part due to inexperience with this way of learning. It's possible that comparing the students' own preferred study technique to retrieval practice would produce a different result. But of courses that wouldn't make for a well-controlled scientific study.
Nevertheless, Karpicke & Blunt's results highlight the importance of retrieval practice as an overlooked, valuable learning tool. An optimal strategy for learning most likely incorporates a variety of techniques, including retrieval and elaborative methods. In any case, it behooves us to challenge our assumptions about how we learn and the most effective ways to study and teach.
Original article: Karpicke JD & Blunt JR (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science 331: 772-775.