Learning strategies are mental activities we use to acquire and use new knowledge and skills. Some strategies are effective and some are not. How do you know whether a specific study strategy or habit will support your learning? Fortunately, research in the learning sciences has built a knowledge base about which learning strategies are effective, why they work, and under what conditions they work best. The strategies below have been well tested, and when used appropriately can improve the way you learn. Below is a select list of learning strategies along with recommendations about how to use them effectively.
Self-testing is any activity in which you try to recall information from memory, e.g., you pause periodically to recall what have been reading or you answer practice questions each time you study for a test. When you test yourself you create new associations and connections with the topic, which strengthens your memory and makes the information easier to remember in the future. Self-testing is a versatile strategy that can be used with many different subject areas to learn new knowledge and skills. To use self-testing effectively see the Self-Testing Tip Sheet and Flashcard Guidelines.
Self-explanation involves trying to explain and elaborate on new information. Whenever you try to explain a concept, you make new connections among ideas and further develop your understanding. Self-explanation is especially useful when you are trying to make sense of new concepts and expand your understanding of new ideas. To use self-explanation effectively see the Self-Explanation Tip Sheet.
Spaced practice is a study schedule in which you spread out your study sessions over time and study the material multiple times, e.g., You study for an exam five times–every other day for one hour each day. Spaced practice is the most effective way to support long-term learning. If you need to know the material well beyond the exam, spaced practice is the best way to learn it. To use spaced practice effectively, see the Spaced Practice Tip Sheet and the Spaced Practice Study Plan.
Successive relearning combines self-testing with spaced practice. This means you test yourself multiple times with lag time between study sessions. For example, you self-test on core concepts at four study sessions which are every other day. Successive relearning combines two effective strategies into one highly effective approach. To learn more, see Successive Relearning: Combining Retrieval Practice and Spaced Practice
Learn by Teaching
Teaching involves organizing and explaining new information, which can be an excellent way to make sense of and develop a better grasp of concepts. If you study with a partner or study group, take turns teaching the material to one another.Alternatively you can simply ask a friend to listen to you explain new material. For more information see Learn by Teaching Tip Sheet
Learn by Drawing
As a learning technique, drawing involves translating verbal information into a drawing. An effective drawing captures the meaning of the material in pictorial form. Drawing can be especially useful in subjects where you need to learn about physical structures and processes such as the sciences. See Learn by Drawing
Learn by Visualizing
Visualizations are external representations of information such as diagrams, charts, concept maps, matrices, and flow charts. A visualization organizes information into a coherent structure that is easier to learn and remember. Concept maps and matrices can be especially helpful in learning new material. For examples see Learn by Visualizing
Reading and Taking Notes More Effectively
Reading and taking notes are essential learning skills. Research has established ways to read and take notes that support better learning.
Reading More Effectively
If you have difficulty making sense of or remembering new material when you read, see How to Learn More from Reading
Taking Effective Notes
If you have difficulty taking notes or recognize that you need better note taking strategies, see How to Learn More Effectively from Notetaking.
Learn More Effectively from Lectures, Discussions, Study Groups and NOT Multitasking
Learn More from Lectures
Students can learn more from lectures by preparing for them, interacting more deeply with the material during lectures, and by consolidating one’s learning after lecture. For recommendations see How to Learn More from Lectures
Learn More from Discussions
Discussions are a common class activity. If you have difficulty learning in unstructured, open-ended discussions, see How to Learn More from Discussions
Learn More in Study Groups
Study groups can be effective productive learning experiences when group members have clear goals and use effective learning strategies. How to Learn More Effectively from Studying with Partners and Study Groups
Learn More in Less Time by NOT Multitasking
Multitasking has serious negative effects on learning. See Learn More in Less Time by NOT Multitasking
Making Ineffective Learning Strategies a Little Better
Many students use strategies that simply are not effective. The table below describes both less effective and more effective ways to use these strategies.
|Ineffective when you
|More effective when you
For more information about how to use weak strategies more effectively, see Enhancing Ineffective Learning Strategies
Learning Strategies Table