Cognitive skills are essential for learning and are often interdependent in the complex process. Sometimes there is a hierarchy to the learning process. Beginning with information input, attention is tasked with “attending” to the content. Processing speed is then tasked with handling the information efficiently and effectively, typically calling on working memory to hold and/or manipulate the information as needed, which prepares it for storage into long-term memory.
Effective memory and learning techniques can be taught while the skills and process relied upon in the learning are malleable. Improving a student’s learning does require a responsive and customized approach that delivers repeated exposure to drill and practice, while teaching techniques and building metacognition, to develop a more effective, self-aware and self-directed learner.
Learning is best improved by enhancing the cognitive skills relied upon for memory and executive function to function properly. Foundational skills are strengthened through activities and targeted exercises while the proven techniques found in scientific principles of learning are taught. For memory, this includes: linking, visualization, and making associations to name a few. In addition to proper encoding techniques, retrieval strategies are introduced and drilled for their important role in deepening connections and embedding knowledge. 1 Because we learn through conscious trial and error, we encourage reflection and fine-tuning, which ensures techniques are mastered and embedded to generalize.
Proper retrieval practice (e.g., incorporating the techniques of spacing, interleaving, and elaboration) is proven to lead to more effective learning and improves a student’s ability to retrieve and apply what they know. 2-3 When engaged properly, retrieval is a crucial technique that interrupts forgetting and strengths learning, yet most students struggle to engage in this technique properly on their own. 4-5
1: Karpicke, J. D., & J.R. Blunt. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772-775.
2: Karpicke, J. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science, 319, 966-968.
3: Son, L. K. & Metcalfe, J. (2000). Metacognitive and control strategies in study-time allocation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 204-221.
4: Roediger, H. L., McDermott, K. B., & McDaniel, M. A. (2011). Using testing to improve learning and memory. In M. A. Gernsbacher, R. Pew, L. Hough & J. R. Pomerantz (Eds.), Psychology and the real world: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society (pp. 65-74). New York: Worth Publishing Co.
5: Kornell, N., & Son, L. K. (2009). Learners’ choices and beliefs about self-testing. Memory, 17, 493-501.