August 2019 research round-up

Research highlights in learning and education from around the world

Sep 04, 2019

Does the flipped classroom work?

In a flipped classroom, students view video lecture content prior to a classroom lesson that prioritises interactive, collaborative group activities. This learning model has become increasingly popular in the past decade, yet there are conflicting results as to its effectiveness.

In this meta-analysis of 55 publications, the authors sought to determine whether the flipped classroom helps learning outcomes, and which factors contribute to any benefit. They found only a “trivial-to-small” effect size in favor of the flipped classroom, which depended on the subject area.

Given the small overall effect size, the authors suggest educators should decide for themselves whether the effort involved in creating quality video lectures, distributing on a learning management system, and re-designing in-class lessons is worthwhile.

Cheng et al. (2019) Effects of the flipped classroom instructional strategy on students’ learning outcomes: a meta-analysis. Educational Technology Research and Development 67(4): 793-824 DOI:

Neural mechanisms of the spacing effect

The spacing effect is one of the most robust phenomena in the study of memory. It refers to the benefits of spreading out study sessions across time, as opposed to engaging in a single, massed study session of equal duration. In this investigation, researchers looked for neural mechanisms that might help explain the effectiveness of spaced study.

Behaviorally, the researchers found a clear memory benefit for spaced versus massed learning. By using EEG to measure brain activations across multiple sessions of a memory task, they also found that spaced study resulted in more similar brain activity patterns. This suggests that spacing may enhance memory by making neural representations more similar across sessions.

Feng et al. (2019) Spaced learning enhances episodic memory by increasing neural pattern similarity across repetitions. Journal of Neuroscience 39(27): 5351-5360. DOI:

Fully worked examples provide effective feedback for novice learners

Providing students with feedback is one of the most effective ways to improve learning. One form of feedback is the worked example, which provides learners with a reference solution against which their own work can be compared. Worked examples are particularly effective in the early stages of learning, but are less effective as domain expertise improves.

In this study of 8th grade mathematics learners, researchers found that fully worked examples, in which every step of the solution was provided, produced significantly more improvement than partial worked examples (e.g. including only the step in which an error was made). No benefit of directly flagging errors was found, suggesting that a worked example alone is sufficient for students to detect their errors.

Mason and Ayres (2019) Investigating how errors should be flagged and worked examples structured when providing feedback to novice learners of mathematics. Educational Psychology DOI:

Neural ensembles and persistent memories in the hippocampus

How the brain stores memory in the activity of neurons is a key question in neuroscience. Studies have shown that individual neurons respond unreliably to the same stimulus, with only a small fraction repeatedly active. How, then, can the robustness of memories be explained?

Using long-term imaging of neurons in the CA1 region of hippocampus, researchers have confirmed there is substantial day-to-day variability in the individual neurons active when a mouse explores an environment. However upon repeated exposure, the mouse becomes familiar with the environment (i.e. it learns), and this coincides more stable activity at the level of neural ensembles. Moreover, the level of synchronous activity in pairs of neurons increased with learning, suggesting that learning may stabilize neural representations via increases in neural synchrony.

Gonzalez et al. (2019) Persistence of neuronal representations through time and damage in the hippocampus. Science 365(6455): 821-825 DOI:

Alan Woodruff

Community Editor, Queensland Brain Institute

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