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Learning strategies

Historically, teachers have empirically tested different learning strategies, striving to facilitate the process of transferring knowledge to their students. Through trial and error, some learning strategies have survived, but the level of their implementation in the real world, full of constant social, economic, and technological changes has remained minimal.

Learning strategies

Learning strategies

Historically, teachers have empirically tested different learning strategies, striving to facilitate the process of transferring knowledge to their students. Through trial and error, some learning strategies have survived, but the level of their implementation in the real world, full of constant social, economic, and technological changes has remained minimal. 

As the science of psychology developed in the 1950s and 1960s, professors started writing learning handbooks using current research, theory and practice from the realm of psychology of learning. As this science grew more serious, there was a wealth of research that produced a great number of effective strategies that are currently used in modern education at contemporary schools. 

Effective strategies aim to facilitate the students’ educational process and to enable them for higher achievements by offering them a choice of different approaches on how to learn. The strategies that have survived despite the changing times have proven their value and applicability in and out of the classroom. 

Persons who manage to make the learning process easier for themselves during their time of education will be able to use those same skills in their private life, including its family, interpersonal and professional aspects.

Definitions of learning strategies

Before we start listing definitions concerning the learning strategies, we ought to clarify what the words “learning” and “strategies” mean, exactly. The word learning is a noun derived from the verb “learn”, which stems from the Old English leornian – “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about”, whereas the word strategy stems from Old Greek strategos – “army leader”. Therefore, considering this etymology, we can conclude that we are discussing a number of operations/methods leading us towards the cultivation and acquisition of knowledge.

There are a wide range of definitions of learning strategies by different authors. According to Robert M. Gagne, educational psychologist, learning strategy is an arrangement of cognitive operations aiming to guide the students towards the understanding of problems until they find adequate answers (Gagne RM. The conditions of learning and theory of instruction. 4th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1985).

Muelas and Navarro see learning strategies as planned procedures and techniques whose objective is the contextual processing of new information in order to achieve more sensible learning for students (Muelas A, Navarro E. Learning Strategies and Academic Achievement. Procedia – Soc Behav Sci. 2015; 165: 217– 221).

Types of learning strategies and their practices

Led by the wish to inspire young people to become successful students, we have listed the general learning strategies and their practices that can be applied in and out of the classroom. As there are a number of different classifications of strategies, depending on the author, we have decided to emphasize these three general learning strategies: 

  • Cognitive strategy of learning aims to stimulate the student to understand the essence of the subject matter, using different sorts of practices/techniques/methods that stimulate cognitive abilities. 
  • Metacognitive strategy of learning aims to awaken the student’s reflective thinking and enable them to become more aware of their strengths and the learning styles that suit them. Its goal is to enable the students to have conscious control over the change in their behavior and find a more efficient learning process. 
  • Social-affective strategy constitutes a blend of social and emotional components. The goal of this strategy is to stimulate the effectiveness of learning through creating a better relationship of the student with the teachers or the peers which brings along, as an additional factor, the presence of motivation, emotion and a positive attitude towards learning.

Each of these strategies involves a lot of concrete practices that, actively implemented into teaching activities, stimulate the students to adopt the learning process itself in an easier way. Of course, works by scholars include strategies such as the following:

  • mnemonic,
  • compensatory,
  • motivational,
  • management,
  • memory,
  • separately social,
  • affective,
  • etc.

It should also be noted that some scholars list learning practices as strategies.

Learning practices that can help you improve your academic results:

The research of these practices has shown that students who distribute the learning of the facts from a teaching unit over a longer period of time retain the knowledge of the subject matter for longer, i.e., have a long-term memory of the information on the given subject.

The well-known practice of students to study one day before a test leads to partial and short-term memorization. Making a timeline with a temporal distribution of the subject matter can make it easier for the students to spend less time learning their teaching units, but with increased frequency, which leads to long-term benefits such as: a better understanding of the subject matter, long-term memory and facilitated connections with the subject matter still ahead. 

Refreshing your memory of the forgotten knowledge solidifies your remembering of the information in question. After all, the old Latin proverb claimed that “repetition is the mother of learning” for a reason; its authors just weren’t aware of the benefits of those periods in between.

Considering that we are mainly visual beings and that a picture is often “worth a thousand words”, the introduction of visual representations can replace or enrich tedious paragraphs and facilitate the learning process for the young. Dual coding, according to cognitive psychologist Megan Sumeracki, constitutes a blend of visual representations (pictures, charts, infographics) and words. 

It should be noted that visual representations do not have to be identical to the representations from literature, nor do they need to have a high esthetic value – on the contrary, they can be hand-drawn by teachers or students, or taken from comics or movies. The objective of visual coding is to use an adequate representation to make it easier for the students to understand and memorize new information from a teaching unit. This learning strategy can be combined with the mind map technique, which is great news for visual students.

With the enormously rapid development of the quality of life and the progress of society, we often forget the importance of the influence of games in the creation of the proper foundation of any society’s civilization and culture. The fact that a human being is, by nature, a homo socialis and a homo ludens (Johan Huiziga, Homo ludens, 1937) speaks of the importance of socialization and games in the everyday life of any person, regardless of age.

Through the reintroduction of game-based learning strategy, children reach the highest level of active engagement in the knowledge adoption process, in formal education and elsewhere. This learning practice is currently at a new high, thanks to digital technologies and the internet, that are conducive to better interactivity and faster sharing of information among the students themselves and between the students and the teachers.

This practice emphasizes the importance of repetition and remembering of the already learned information without the use of notes or study materials. Students often trick themselves into thinking they have learned something by having the learning materials in front of them during repetition. 

By removing all aids that can assist with remembering, the students leave the comfort zone and they simply have to remember what they have actually learned. This very “struggle”, i.e., the challenge to remember, improves our cognitive abilities and our memory when it comes to the area in question. 

This strategy can be implemented orally, as well as in written form, through writing down the key concepts on paper or on flashcards. It can also be performed individually, or in a group, where there is simultaneously a knowledge transfer that provides, thanks to the interaction, additional associations to young people who try to remember an answer on a given subject together.

This learning practice requires the students to connect the learned information within the content of a given teaching unit. Namely, the students ought to practice describing concepts and asking an unlimited number of questions on a given subject they are studying and try to think of knowledge that they already possess to which they might be able to relate the newly acquired knowledge.

Another way for the students to expand their views on a given subject is through discussion with their peers, in the classroom and elsewhere. This practice enables the students to view things outside the box and to truly appreciate the value of connecting the acquiring knowledge from different areas.

Metacognition is a process where a person who would like to learn more efficiently analyzes their own habits and behavior. The idea is that the student should understand their own strengths and weaknesses in order to create an efficient learning plan. During the realization of the planned activities, the students need to continually monitor themselves in order to make an assessment as to whether something ought to be changed. 

This way, the student tries to control their own work process in a way that is as objective as it can be. For this process to be functional, the learner needs to be aware of their shortcomings and have a strong wish to correct them and reduce them to a minimum. 

The metacognitive process takes place at the very beginning of learning, when the material that needs to be learned is being analyzed. This is when the student should recognize the potential problems, as well as their own advantages when it comes to the concrete area. Based on this awareness, the student creates a special strategy that will help them complete the task. This process has several stages:

  • Planning – the preparation of learning and the analysis of the potential strategies, and choosing the best solutions in accordance with the student’s own abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Monitoring – the implementation of the selected strategy and the monitoring thereof. If something is not working right, the approach needs to be changed.
  • Adapting – continual self-evaluation of progress in order to modify the plan in time if necessary.
  • Evaluation – implies the analysis of effectiveness, in order to solve a similar problem even more efficiently in the future. What went well? Were there any problems in the process? 

The goal of this approach to learning is that the students observe themselves critically. This way, they can modify their learning strategies in order to reach the desired goal. 

Although this practice has long been in use in natural science subjects, it still hasn’t found much real application in social sciences. However, this learning practice can play an important role in explaining abstract concepts and ideas that usually come up in humanistic social science materials. 

Often, in order to understand a concept whose name and definition are not sufficiently descriptive as such, it is best to think of some situation analogous to real life (the use of creative, hypothetical examples) or ask how the concept in question practically applies to the challenges and problems in the real society (the use of pragmatic examples). 

As an example, let us consider the problem of explaining the ethical theory of utilitarianism and how it is practiced in everyday life. To better understand this theory, we can consider the hypothetical example of a situation that might be analogous to the real life of a health professional – saving the lives of patients in a hospital. 

Example: Imagine that you have 6 patients and 6 daily doses of a certain medicine available. However, in order to survive, one of the patients requires 5 doses of said medicine, while the others need one dose each. According to this ethical theory, it would be better to let one person die and save 5 of them, than to give 5 doses to a single person and one dose to one of the others, while four persons die. 

This learning practice requires students to write notes on things that were not clear to them in class, in a teaching unit in the book or in an assignment. This might sound obvious, but one of the main reasons for getting a low grade on a test in high school is the lack of understanding of the subject matter.

With consulting the teacher about the unclear points, the student can gain better insight into the subject matter, which is sure to result in better grades, and perhaps an increase in interest in the subject in question or its particular aspect.

As a learning strategy, rereading has never been more desirable than it is today, considering the estimate that Generation Z children have an average attention span of 8 seconds. Students often get the erroneous impression that they have learned and understood the subject matter after reading the teaching unit two or three times.

The best approach is to read the given unit several times, slowly, without skipping, especially if the subject matter is complex. Afterwards, it is recommended to implement self-testing – a learning practice in itself, which simultaneously performs the functions of cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies.

This learning practice requires students to write notes on things that were not clear to them in class, in a teaching unit in the book or in an assignment. This might sound obvious, but one of the main reasons for getting a low grade on a test in high school is the lack of understanding of the subject matter.

With consulting the teacher about the unclear points, the student can gain better insight into the subject matter, which is sure to result in better grades, and perhaps an increase in interest in the subject in question or its particular aspect

Students usually start using the highlighting technique as they start high school, trying to separate the essential from the less important as the lessons start to accumulate. However, highlighting is the learning practice with the highest rate of wrong implementation into the learning process. Namely, the idea of this practice is marking only the key words and crucial information, not highlighting entire paragraphs.

The devil’s advocate approach is a group approach to learning where the objective is a better understanding of a teaching unit through forming two groups with opposing arguments. This learning approach is usually used for the topics from the realm of social sciences. As regards the process of implementation of this strategy, the first prerequisite is to recognize a topic where this approach to learning can be applied.

The groups should then receive their key arguments based on which the students can expand their knowledge. And in the end, there are presentations, where both groups strive to “convince” the other group that their arguments are better. Besides allowing the students to perceive a wider perspective of the teaching unit, it also develops other skills, including: the encouragement of critical thinking, developing research skills, as well as raising the awareness of the importance of group work for a task or a project.

What is the right learning strategy for you?

In order to be successful in realizing your goals at school, you will need to pick only some of these strategies and their practices. Therefore, before making your choice, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the selected strategy in any way related to the current strategy I am practicing?
  • Would it improve my chances of doing better in assignments and tests?
  • Will I spend more or less time with the textbook if I choose this strategy?
  • Will the ratio of the time spent studying and the quality of studying improve compared to the old strategy?

Finally, to make the most of these learning strategies, it would be best to combine strategies. Notably, the strategies and their practices listed above often do not work quite efficiently when they are used independently. For instance, you can start with the metacognition practice, continue by combining highlighting with dual coding, and finally, use the retrieval technique to solidify your knowledge.

children and teacher in classroom

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