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How good are these learning techniques?

Dunlosky et al (2013) published a brilliant paper that looked at a number of techniques that are used to learn the material in an academic setting. They tested the various techniques and produced a pretty good assessment of just how good the techniques were. The techniques ranged from the testing effect (very good technique) to highlighting what you want to remember (poor technique for learning). I have reproduced their table below for you to have a look at.

I think they might be mistaken in their rankings. This feeling is based on anecdotal experience and how often each of these techniques is used in the learning process. I think re-reading and highlighting are by far the most useful for learning – based on how often they are used as the principal method of learning.

The entire concept of the Science of Learning is based on just how wrong we are about learning. This work stands out as unusual in the education literature because it actually gathers evidence, and then tests the evidence to see just how well it stands up to scrutiny.

In many cases, the evidence is already there. The problem is that educators simply ignore it. Teaching may be an art, but learning isn’t. The sooner educators learn this, the better off society will be.

High Utility

Practice testing

Self-testing or taking practice tests on material to be learned

Distributed (‘spaced’) practice

Implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time

Moderate Utility

Elaborative interrogation

Generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true


Explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem-solving

Interleaved practice

Implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or a schedule of study that mixes different kinds of material, within a single study session

Low Utility


Writing summaries (of various lengths) of to-be-learned texts


Marking potentially important portions of to-be-learned materials while reading

Keyword mnemonic

Using keywords and mental imagery to associate verbal materials

Imagery used for text learning

Attempting to form mental images of text materials while reading or listening


Restudying text material again after an initial reading

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