Two Fields Come to Similar Conclusions About Effective Learning Strategies

New "Perspective" paper that was just published in npj Science of Learning

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Jan 22, 2018
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Faculty in my psychology department study a large variety of different psychological phenomena, from a large variety of different lenses. We have community psychology, cognitive psychologists, developmental psychology, quantitative psychologists, and many more. One area that is somewhat adjacent to cognitive psychology is "applied behavioral analysis". This approach focuses more on the interaction between the behavior and the environment than what's going on in the mind that drives behavior.

One day, my colleague Becky Markovits and I were chatting about how we teach, and what our respective fields recommend as effective teaching instructions. We started to notice similarities - quite remarkable ones - in the techniques that we used. For example, applied behavioral analysts are trained to use "response cards", whereby students in a class are asked a question, and instead of calling on one student, the teachers allows allstudents to answer by holding up a card. To me, this sounded very similar to the advice given by cognitive psychologists: try to make sure all students are given retrieval practice opportunities. We started to dig a little deeper, and found that while the recommendations were very similar in our two fields, the evidence bases used to make them lived in two separate worlds and never talked to each other.

With a new "Perspective" paper that was just published in Nature Partner Journal: Science of Learning, we briefly explore these two evidence bases and call for better communication between the two fields. The article is only 2,000 words long, completely free to access, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. You can find it here: 
Can cognitive processes help explain the success of instructional techniques recommended by behavior analysts?

Go to the profile of Yana Weinstein

Yana Weinstein

Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts - Lowell

Yana Weinstein is an Assistant Professor at University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She received her PhD in Psychology from University College London and had 4 years of postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. The broad goal of her research is to help students make the most of their academic experience. Yana's research interests lie in improving the accuracy of memory performance and the judgments students make about their cognitive functions. Yana tries to pose questions that have direct applied relevance, such as: How can we help students choose optimal study strategies? Why are test scores sometimes so surprising to students? And how does retrieval practice help students learn?

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