Certain learning strategies—such as active retrieval of information, interleaved practice, and spaced practice—improve student learning when compared to strategies such as highlighting and rereading of study materials. Nevertheless, not all learners possess metacognitive awareness about the benefits of effective learning strategies. This is because, despite the evidence on the positive impact of effective learning strategies, learners often are not educated about the benefits or given opportunities to practice such strategies. As a result, generally, high achievers engage in more effective learning strategies when compared to low achievers.
Especially during online teaching during the pandemic era, struggling learners may need additional nudges, scaffolding, or feedback to engage in effective learning strategies. Let’s look at how the built-in features available on technology-enhanced platforms such as adaptive learning software can encourage effective learning and teaching activities.
- Active Retrieval via Testing
Frequent testing is an important study strategy that improves students’ learning via the active retrieval of information. Testing helps learners repeatedly practice concepts ahead of exams, have an accurate assessment of their understanding and gaps in knowledge, and not be overconfident in their judgments of learning.
Formative assessments implemented on adaptive learning platforms allow learners to actively recall information from memory and to test themselves on small amounts of concepts module by module, reassuring them that they are doing well up to a checkpoint. The opportunity to practice content in advance helps students to get acclimatized to questions similar to what would appear on exams.
- Interleaved and Spaced Practice
The benefits of testing are greater during spaced practice, wherein practice sessions are spaced or distributed over time rather than massed together. Interleaved practice is a learning strategy similar to spaced practice where different types of problems/topics are mixed instead of focusing on one concept or problem type at a time. Despite the benefits of spaced practice, frequent quizzing where previous topics are revisited is not implemented in most classrooms.
Assessments implemented on adaptive learning platforms allow learners to engage in spaced and interleaved practice, where learners can revisit and practice previous topics throughout the semester.
- Mastery Learning
One-to-one tutoring of learners has shown superior results when compared to conventional classroom teaching in which 25 to 30 students are taught by a single instructor. In classrooms, educators are in search of group instruction methods that can substitute one-to-one tutoring. Mastery learning, where learners achieve the prerequisite level before they move on to new content, has proved to be a strategy as effective as one-to-one tutoring.
Adaptive learning platforms provide extensive sets of worked examples and problems that could be otherwise impossible for a single instructor to create. Low-stakes assignments contributing to only a small proportion of the final grades, with multiple possible attempts where the highest grade among “n” possible attempts is recorded, allow students to test themselves multiple times and achieve mastery of the topic before proceeding to a new topic. Repeated practice with no penalty reduces students’ fear of their final grades being affected.
Scaffolding is the guided support provided to learners, which is removed as they exhibit improvement. For effective scaffolding to take place, instructors should be able to provide differentiated guidance to learners who exhibit different levels of understanding. Novice students benefit when problems are broken down into smaller steps, allowing them to master low-level skills before they attempt the next-level skills. This is because learners retain and recall new information better when new information is linked to their prior knowledge. Instructors must possess an understanding of what learners know to help them establish connections and build on prior knowledge.
Pre-class assignments prepared and implemented via adaptive learning platforms allow instructors to assess and activate learners’ prior knowledge. This enables instructors to plan daily lessons tailored to learners’ levels of understanding. Adaptive learning platforms redirect students to fundamental concepts if the platform recognizes that students do not understand prerequisites well enough. These platforms break problems into small parts and provide the learners with hints to work on their own.
Feedback is effective when it focuses on the processes of students’ learning, such as effort and strategic behavior, in addition to the learning outcomes. Effective feedback is elaborate, meaningful, and provides students with corrective advice to monitor and optimize their learning activities and behaviors. Learners value the timeliness of feedback provided, as well. This implies that to be effective, feedback must be provided when the learning activity is ongoing rather than after completion of the task. To provide meaningful feedback at the appropriate time, instructors need to understand learners’ actual behaviors when the learning process is ongoing.
Adaptive learning platforms have dynamic study modules that can provide learners immediate feedback with an explanation of why they are right and wrong. Actual student interaction data can be tracked in real time on these platforms. This aids in providing meaningful and timely feedback to learners. Instructors can use such information to identify struggling students and encourage social learning. For example, they can create peer groups by pairing students who possess advanced levels of understanding with struggling learners. Alternatively, information related to students’ engagement with assessments is valuable to instructors in altering subsequent instruction if required.
Priya Harindranathan has a Ph.D. in Education, Equity, and Transformation from the School of Education, Colorado State University (CSU). She is the associate director of Assessment and Evaluation at the Paul Foster School of Medicine, Texas Tech University of Health Sciences, in El Paso, TX. Dr. Harindranathan’s research interest includes multicultural education and technology-enhanced learning methods. She has seven years of research experience in multiple cultural settings, including India, Germany, South Africa, and the U.S., and currently conducts research in the border city of El Paso, TX.