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DISCOVER
Beyond rote learning

By Massie Santos Ballon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:18:00 01/22/2011

Filed Under: Education, Youth

FOR MANY people, the word ?learning? is synonymous with the word ?memorization.? To them, the true test of how much knowledge they?ve gained from a class is dependent on being able to recall and parrot back as many facts and figures as possible.

A recent study by American psychologists suggests, however, that when it comes to retaining information, a picture is worth a thousand words.

?Just as we assume that the act of measuring a physical object would not change the size, shape, or weight of the object, so too people often assume that the act of measuring memory does not change memory,? wrote psychologists Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt from Indiana?s Purdue University in their article published in the Jan. 21 issue of the journal Science. Their data indicate that teaching students to develop methods of recalling information instead of relying on lists could help them learn complex ideas, such as, they noted, those presented in science classes.

?Most educational research and practice has focused on enhancing the processing that occurs when students encode knowledge?that is, getting knowledge ?in memory,?? they said. ?Far less attention has been paid to the potential importance of retrieval to the process of learning.?

In one set of experiments, Karpicke and Blunt had several groups of college students read short science articles and then use one of two methods to see how much information they?d retained.

One group of students was asked to type everything they remembered about the article into a computer after reading the article. They were allowed to reread the article and then go back to the computer and once again write down what they?d remembered. After the second trial, the researchers found that the group had recalled two-thirds of the information presented in the articles.

A second group was allowed to keep the article on hand while mapping out the ideas presented in a diagram ?where the concepts in a set of material are represented as nodes and relationships among the concepts are represented as lines linking the nodes together.?

The process of charting out associations between concepts and details using lines and arrows between points allowed students to see how they understood the information in the article. Afterward, Karpicke and Blunt found that the group was able to recall and map out about three-quarters of the information from the article.

Concept maps

A week later, the students were called back in to take a test involving both short answers and essay questions about the article they?d read. The results indicated that the students who?d made concept maps did ?significantly better? on the test than did students who merely jotted down everything they?d remembered.

?Retrieval is not merely a read out of the knowledge stored in one?s mind?the act of reconstructing knowledge itself enhances learning,? Karpicke and Blunt concluded in their article.

In explaining why diagrams seemed to help students retain more information and use it in the test, the researchers said that process of charting associations seemed to allow people to come up with cues they could use later on to go from one fact to another. Making a list of points about different kinds of muscle tissue didn?t give people to mentally look back to the main ideas, which they could picture more easily when recalling groups of words linked by a series of arrows and lines.

E-mail the author at massie@massie.com.



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