This summary highlights an article in which Kornell and Bjork, educational psychologists, review findings mostly from their own research. Their work explores “self-regulated study,” which involves “decisions students make while they study on their own away from a teacher’s guiding hand” (p. 219). It’s a topic of concern to most teachers as many students do not study all that successfully. Much of what teachers know about how their students study they learn from talking with students and seeing the results of study efforts. The work reported in this article provides a useful empirical benchmark.
Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2007). The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 219–224. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03194055
Students do make a wide range of studying decisions on their own—for example, which course to study for, which content in a course to study, what sections of the text to review, what problems to solve, and what skills to practice. A cross-disciplinary survey of 472 undergraduates, conducted by the authors, asked whether students studied the way they did because they’d been taught that was the way to study. Eighty percent of the students said no. “Four out of five students in our sample, therefore, had improvised their method of studying, presumably on the basis of intuition rather than research” (p. 222).
The article summarizes findings from various studies. The cohorts used were predominately undergraduates from a range of disciplines.
Here as well, different methodological approaches were involved in the research. Virtually all of it was laboratory based. The subjects completed tasks such as learning words in a different language, sometimes with flashcards, and identifying an artist’s paintings after seeing samples of their work. These laboratory settings allowed for tighter control of variables than is possible in actual classroom settings. Although the tasks were not part of actual courses, they were not unlike those students regularly complete.
Once a student selects an item for study, they make two key decisions: how long to persist on one item before moving to the next and when to stop studying an item completely. The perseverance question has been studied more than the completion one. Both appear to be governed by a “judgment of rate of learning which is a judgment not of the learning itself but of the rate of learning” (p. 219).
Spaced study and self-testing are described as “desirable difficulties” because they “introduce difficulties during study, but enhance long-term learning” (p. 221). As a result, they decrease a student’s perceived rate of learning, and that causes many students avoid using them.
The findings are based on laboratory research—very good lab research, but that leaves open the question of whether the behaviors demonstrated in a laboratory are the same behaviors used when students study on their own. Chances are good that the behaviors are similar, if not the same, so results should be taken seriously but not unquestioningly.
“Good study decisions rest on accurate monitoring of ongoing learning, a realistic mental model of how learning happens, and appropriate use of study strategies” (p.219). As this research work shows, that’s not how students are making their study decisions. The researchers acknowledge that becoming a metacognitively sophisticated learner is not easy. It requires going against certain intuitions and widespread practices. The implication for teachers? Only 20 percent of students responding to the survey reported having received instruction on study strategies, and some related research documents that even the small amount of study instruction being provided isn’t always evidence-based.
The article includes the multiple-choice questions used in the survey. Teachers could use them to gather good firsthand information. Results from the students being taught make it easier to target instruction.
Finally, the researchers offer this observation: “If [students’] pressure-driven priorities and activities are not conducive to long-term learning, the fault lies mostly with how we, as educators, structure curricula, requirements, and incentives” (p. 222). Inflexible deadlines and tests in multiple courses at the same time can be barriers to learning, and teachers can do something about both.
Morehead, K., Rhodes, M. G., & DeLozier, S. (2016). Instructor and student knowledge of study strategies. Memory, 24(2), 257–271. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2014.1001992