How to Get the Most Out of Studying: Part 3 of 5, “Cognitive Principles for Optimizing Learning”
Hi, I’m Dr. Stephen Chew. I’m a professor
of psychology here at Samford University. This is the third in a series of five videos
on how to study effectively in college. Effective studying is more than just a matter
of having a desire to learn and devoting sufficient time and effort. Students have to utilize
effective learning strategies. If they use ineffective strategies, they can study long
and hard and still fail. In this video, I’ll explain the basic principles of how people
learn best, and how you can apply these principles to improve your study effectiveness.
As we saw in the earlier videos, you can be highly motivated to learn, but if you use
a shallow learning strategy, you simply won’t learn.
Shallow learning strategies focus on superficial aspects like memorization. But if you use
a deep learning strategy which focuses on meaning and comprehension and visual imagery,
then you will learn whether you intend to or not.
So if deep processing is the key to effective study, how do we accomplish this while we’re
studying? Here are some basic principles for achieving deep processing, and a question
which will allow you to satisfy each principle. First, elaboration means making meaningful
associations between the concept you are studying and related concepts. The associations can
be among concepts you are studying or with your prior knowledge. The more meaningful
associations you can make, the better you will learn. Next, distinctiveness means that
you make clear contrasts between the concept you are studying and other concepts. You need
to understand the key differences among related concepts. Say you’re in a general psychology class
and you are learning about short-term and long-term memory. You elaborate the two by
relating them together. They both hold information for later use. You also emphasize the distinctiveness
between the two by focusing on the key differences. One has a limited capacity and the other has
an unlimited capacity. One has very rapid forgetting. The other has much slower forgetting. Finally, you relate it to your own personal
experience. I meet people at parties. I forget their names a few seconds later because of
short-term memory. I still remember that time I got lost in the mall as a child because
of long-term memory. The last aspect of deep processing is practicing
appropriate retrieval and application of the material. By appropriate, I mean that you
practice recalling the information and using the information in the way that your teacher
expects you to be able to do. If the teacher expects you to solve real-world problems,
then you need to practice recalling and using information in that way. If your teacher expects
you to analyze hypothetical situations, you need to practice doing that. Instead of reading
the material over and over, close your book and notes, and recall as much of the information
as you can. Write it down. Explain it to a friend. Take advantage of questions the textbooks
often have at the end of a chapter that ask you to review the information. Or, take advantage
of textbook websites that often have review tests. Now one thing I have told you not to
do is to memorize isolated facts. Here is the exception to that rule. If, for some reason,
your teacher tests you over exact wording of isolated facts, then memorize isolated
facts. So these are the basic principles of deep
processing. Effective study strategies take advantage of some or all of these principles.
Good students have multiple ways of studying depending on the teacher and the subject,
but all their study strategies are based on these principles. You will have to figure
out the best study strategies for yourself, and in the next video, we will discuss some
possibilities. But no matter what you do, they should be rooted in these principles.
Here are two other important concepts you need to understand for effective learning:
automaticity and overlearning. An automatic process is one that is so highly practiced
that you can do it without any conscious thought or effort. Like driving a familiar route,
where you arrive at your destination without even thinking about it. Any task that is practiced
enough can become automatic, including study skills. When you get to college, you bring high school
skills that are automatic. Developing effective college skills involves not just developing
more effective skills, but overcoming those high school skills that are automatic and
overlearned. Overcoming those high school skills is a big reason why developing effective
college-level study skills is so effortful and takes so long. For most students, it takes
conscious effort over weeks or even months. I have had students who have seen immediate
improvement using the principles of deep processing. And if that happens to you, be pleasantly
surprised. But for most, it is a process of ongoing improvement. You need to develop these
skills and practice them over a long period of time. The good news is though, once they
become automatic they will be helpful to you in any learning situation.
A concept related to automaticity is overlearning. Overlearning means that you don’t just study
material until you can just recall it. You keep studying it over and over again until
you can recall it quickly and easily. Overlearning information helps prevent forgetting and it
makes recall fast and easy. If you are studying critical information that you will need to
know in the future as part of more complex learning, it is a good idea to overlearn it.
In this video, we have operationalized deep processing into a a set of principles you
can use to achieve deep learning. I also talked about the pitfalls of bad study habits that
are automatic and the advantages of good study skills that are automatic. Finally, I talked
about the importance of overlearning critical information.
In the next video, we will use these principles for deep processing and apply them to common
learning situations. We’ll be looking at how to take notes using deep processing and
also how to use deep processing while reading a textbook.