The study strategies that most students use may be helpful in passing high-stakes assessments, but do not generally support long-term recall of fundamental concepts. In this episode, Regan Gurung and John Dunlosky join us to discuss a new resource they have created that is designed to help students develop more efficient study strategies and improve their metacognitive and self-regulatory skills.
- Hacker, D. J., Dunlosky, J., & Graesser, A. C. (Eds.). (1998). Metacognition in educational theory and practice. Routledge.
- Gurung, Regan and J. Dunlosky (2023). Study Like a Champ: The Psychology-Based Guide to “Grade A” Study Habits. American Psychological Association.
- Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological science in the public interest, 9(3), 105-119.
John: The study strategies that most students use may be helpful in passing high-stakes assessments, but do not generally support long-term recall of fundamental concepts. In this episode, we discuss a new resource designed to help students develop more efficient study strategies and improve their metacognitive and self-regulatory skills.
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
John: Our guests today are Regan Gurung and John Dunlosky. Regan is a social psychologist and is an associate vice provost and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University, He is the author of over 120 peer-reviewed articles and has co-authored or co-edited 15 books. John is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Director of the Science of Learning and Education Center at Kent State University. He co-authored the first textbook on metacognition and has edited several volumes on education. Regan and John are the co-authors of Study Like a Champ, which was published earlier this year by the American Psychological Association. Welcome, John and welcome back, Regan!
Regan: Thank you.
John D.: It’s great to be here.
Rebecca: Today’s teas are:… Regan, are you drinking tea?
Regan: Just water because it is a scorcher here in Oregon. So water, and lots of it.
Rebecca: Hydration is important. How about you, John?
John D.: No tea for me for about five years, I used to really be addicted to oolong. And now I’ve gone full espresso. [LAUGHTER] Water for me today too. It’s a little bit late for espresso on the East Coast.
John: And I have an Irish Breakfast tea today.
Rebecca: Oh, John, you’re really pumping up the caffeine today. Also on the East Coast,
John: My day started at 5:30 this morning…
Rebecca: So did mine.
John: …and it’s going to be going really late. We’re in the midst of grading here, we’re recording this a little bit earlier than it will be released. So we’ve invited you here today to discuss Study like a Champ. What prompted you to create this book?
Regan: So both of us have been teaching for a long time, both of us do research on teaching and learning. And I think both of us really like taking stuff from the lab and testing it in the classroom. And, I think, as passionate teachers, we noticed that we knew the stuff, we knew what students should be doing, we told our students what they should be doing. We even tried to design our classes in that way. But clearly, we needed to do more of it. And the impetus behind this book was let’s put these expert tips in the hands of students everywhere. We didn’t want it to be just those students who had teachers like us who talked about studying, we want it to be in student hands. And that’s where it came from, specifically driven by the fact that even though there’s some really neat stuff out there on learning, very little of that, if any, is written to the student. And that’s something right from the get go when John and I first talked, we agreed that this would be in a voice that would speak directly to students.
John D.: Absolutely. In fact, I think that was the main impetus because of all the wonderful books and volumes out there on learning sciences. And just too many of them, I think, appropriately so written for teachers. And often they tend to be a little bit fact listing because of that. In other words, I’m going to tell teachers everything there is to know about learning, which can be overwhelming. And what Regan and I wanted to do is kind of find the most effective and best little snapshots of the learning sciences to share with students, the things that we think will move the needle the quickest, so to speak. So by no means do we tell students everything there is to know about the learning sciences, but we hope we tell them the best stories to get you back onto the learning track, so to speak.
Rebecca: So you begin your book by discussing a variety of widely believed learning myths. Can you talk about a couple of these myths?
John D.: Sure, one of the biggest and I really don’t think this holds true for college students, but K through 12, definitely, it’s just the myth of learning styles. So, we all have learning preferences. I certainly have preferences. I wish my instructors would sing to me all the time and do my learning through music. It’s just that’s not going to help me learn calculus, and so forth, where really hard work needs to be done. So it’s natural to accept a myth like that, because it makes everyone feel good. It really can also undermine learning because it makes us want to do things that are more aligned with our preferences, but sometimes misaligned with most effective practices. So that’s kind of one learning myth, which I hope, in 10 years, if we were to have this discussion again, it would not come up because it was completely dispelled. But there are a variety of others too, that I think can undermine student success too.
Regan: And I think something else, that we really tried to put ourselves in students’ shoes, and we built on what our students said to us. And another one I wanted to highlight in response to that question is so often I think our students think that learning is up to us, if they have a good teacher they learn. If they have a bad teacher, they won’t learn. And undoubtedly, teacher effectiveness is important, but it’s also up to the student. The student has to do something, the student has to take accountability. And early on in chapter one, we show that at least half of the variance half of the accountability for learning is in the student hands. Teachers are also responsible, but really, if a student isn’t doing their bit, then learning is not going to happen. And now once you are ready to do your bit, well the rest of the book tells you what to do. But you’ve got to realize that don’t just sit back and go “Come on teach. Do your magic.” We all like doing our magic. But we can do all the magic in the world if you are not joining us in this adventure, and I’m thinking adventure a lot, because Zelda Stairs of the Kingdom just got released recently, and my household seems to be quite into it. So yeah, join us on the adventure.
John D.: Absolutely. Let me just jump in with one other learning myth that really gets me, and it literally gets me, because I fall prey to the same thing. That’s if you’re struggling, you’re not learning because it’s frustrating. And I often try to pick up new skills, I’m teaching myself to play the guitar now. And I struggle, and I get frustrated, I want to throw my guitar down because things aren’t happening. And I have to remind myself that sometimes it’s the struggling when you’re doing the most learning. And if we could allow students to realize that if you’re not struggling, you actually may not be learning, and that you should embrace the challenges, the hurdles that are in front of you. And it turns out, some of those hurdles are embracing the most effective learning techniques, which produce struggles in learning, but yet also produce the best long-term outcomes. Whereas other ways to prepare for classes and so forth, the way I’d like to teach myself to play guitar, makes it seem very easy. But then there’s really no progress being made. And if there’s any method I could really want to undermine, that would be a major one, that sometimes struggling is a good thing, not all the time, and it’s up to the students and the instructors to figure out is this a good struggle or bad struggle and how to correct that.
John: Those times when we try to give students desirable difficulties, they often find those to be somewhat undesirable. And I often get comments in my course evaluations that “he’s making us learn it ourselves.” And my response is always “Well, I can’t really learn it for you, I can give you the tools, I can give you resources, I can help you learn this material, but ultimately, you have to do the learning.” Going back just a little bit to your comment, John, about learning styles, I had a discussion in an online class, which is mostly upper-level students. And about three quarters of the students in my class were very strongly convinced of that myth of learning styles. So it hasn’t gone away. We hope it ma, but it is very pervasive, certainly in K through 12, where they’re regularly testing it, but some of the students have mentioned that they’ve been tested here at the college in some of their classes. And it’s again, really frustrating to see that, but it’s pretty pervasive.
Rebecca: Yeah, I was struck too, John, when you were talking about both learning styles and the struggle, because as I was working with mostly graduate students this semester, I had those exact conversations with those students. But it may have been the first time that they’ve really come up with some barriers that they faced in learning, and really had to reassess how they were working towards their goals.
John D.: Absolutely, and nothing but utmost compassion for students and sympathy, because in many ways, the experiences they had before college allowed them to use ineffective strategies and still get by. So things didn’t seem like a struggle, the difficulty now, the first time, then you hit a struggle, when you really have to change strategies or techniques, you may not realize what to do. It might seem frustrating and overwhelming, when in fact, now’s the time when the real learning begins.
Rebecca: Yeah, and I think sometimes when the subject matters new, as well as the strategies are new, students can immediately feel a little cognitive overload. [LAUGHTER]
JOHN D. Absolutely.
John: And part of that I think may be related to how they’re often taught throughout their whole career. In general, much of the advice they get in elementary and secondary schools, and sometimes in college, encourages them to adopt strategies that may not be that effective. Often, people still use high-stakes exams. And people don’t do a lot of interleaved practice or spaced practice, which are things you talk about really nicely in your book. And the incentive structure for students is perhaps to favor things that align well with short-term recall without that longer term learning. And your book can help, if we can get students doing this, but it seems to me like we also have to do a bit more work and getting faculty to adopt some techniques that may encourage students to use techniques that are more effective. Might this be something we could build into our classes a little bit?
Regan: Actually the riff over a couple of different things you said, John, I think there are two things going on here. One is, a lot of the issues that we run into with our students are actually pretty easy to pinpoint. And that is high school. And when I say high school, I’m not saying “Oh, high school teachers,” I’m saying the whole high school environment. One of my favorite examples is the syllabus. Many of us college and university faculty complain that students don’t read the syllabus, and I had a great conversation with my 17 year old. I was talking about the syllabus and he said, “Yeah, the syllabus is useless.” I said, “Excuse me?” and he said, “Here’s what we do with the syllabus. We spend a whole day, a whole day, reading through every word on the syllabus, but the syllabus is not really designed to help us learn.” And I looked at his syllabus. And sure enough, the syllabi he had didn’t really map on to the best practices that many of us listening employ. And I could completely see why he had that whole. “Yeah, I’m not going to read the syllabus when I get to college. I said, “And of course, you will now,” but it was a great conversation where I really got to see the mindset. And I think that’s just one example, where a lot of this happened, where it’s like, let’s see, what have they just been used to? Then add on top of that, how learning changed during remote learning. That’s another whole mix to the whole issue. And then, add one more, the misinterpretation of, I think, learning styles. Before we started this call, we were joking about the fact that our book is now in an audio version. Now, because it’s an audio version, does it mean the auditory learners will be better than those….? No, it just means that sometimes when you want to listen to something that works well, other times reading something works better. So it’s not this whole “Oh, look, there’s this one modality and I’m a person of this one modality.” And I think that preference that John D. so nicely used… it’s preference, right? …and we have preferences. But let’s also not forget the take home message of that Pashler et. al 2008 study, which is the more styles that you use…. And here’s where it goes back to desirable difficulties, mixing it up, is actually better for learning, no matter what your preference may be.
Rebecca: Oh, but mixing it up is so uncomfortable. [LAUGHTER]
John D.: It makes things a lot more difficult, right? One advice I would give too, that my teaching has changed dramatically, as I’ve gotten more into learning sciences. And at least for someone who teaches, I hate to say this, a non-essential course course that I love and courses that I love for undergrads, I realized I was teaching them too much. So I put them into almost a defensive mode, where the only way to prepare, because they were overwhelmed, is to cram as much as they could and hope to pass the exam because it was a tsunami of information. So over the years, I’ve followed the model, less is more, it’s up to me as the instructor to figure out what is really essential, and how to give them just as little as possible to make their experience as large as possible. So that they then can use the techniques to learn the content well enough so that they can keep that content with them a lot longer period of time. So it’s really kind of changing styles. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I’m teaching chemistry to pre meds, and you need to know chemistry, then you need a different approach, because there’s a lot to learn, it’s difficult, and aspects of our book really focus on how to meet those challenges too. And I think students, just like instructors, need to pick and choose where they want their battles, you don’t have to ace everything as a student, but decide what you really want to do well at, and then use the most effective practices to nail it as you work forward toward a long career and lifelong learning.
John: One of the things you include early in your book is a list of what research finds to be effective and what research finds to be ineffective, side by side, which for faculty use could be really helpful except for some degree of similarity between those two lists. Could you just talk a little bit about that.
John D.: I like to think about it, as much as I’ve not talked about it like this, as more or less effective versus effective and ineffective. And I’m not gonna like reference to that table necessarily, but let me talk about one that I badmouth a lot, which is highlighting as a learning strategy. And like Sharpie has not contacted me with a lawsuit or something because it sounds like I don’t want people to have highlighters. And what we mean by less effective as a learning strategy here is, is that using a highlighter is just the beginning of a learning adventure and not the end of it. So there are great uses of a highlighter of rereading material, of these things that really don’t lead to a great deal of learning, because they kind of are the stepping off point or the catapult for learning, so to speak. So is using a highlighter ineffective for learning? Absolutely, it doesn’t help you learn the content that well. But what I recommend to students: to highlight everything they want to learn as kind of a different approach to that strategy, so that they then apply the most effective strategies in learning it. Yes. So as much as we kind of play off ineffective to effective, it’s more like every strategy in its right place. And some strategies that can be generally ineffective for very specific uses might be relatively good, and what I think Regan and I try to do, because it’s way too much to think about if you’re not a learning scientist, like one exactly show us the specialty strategy, but we try to focus on are just strategies that students could learn just more generally to do well in any particular content. So kind of low hanging fruit, so to speak, where you don’t have to be a learning scientist to make decisions about which specialty strategy to use in every place. But here’s some kind of fail-proof strategies that can help you anywhere.
Regan: I want to actually say there’s that flipside too and John, this is something you asked about earlier when you talked about teachers changing what they do, and I think John D, and I joke about the companion volume to this is Teach Like a Champion. But I think the nice thing about that table of high utility and low utility strategies is that it’s not just the student who needs to be aware of the fact that some are high and low. But I think we take it further to say why are some of those high and low, and then here’s the key companion piece, which is, we hope that instructors reading this can also take those tips, and be ready to share different options with the students. Because I know both John and I have compared notes on this, when a student comes to our office after an exam who’s not thrilled with their score, who has not scored well, we both do some pretty intensive. “Alright, so tell me exactly what you do.” Just that conversation is so important. We both ask to see their notes. And of course, every once in a while a student says I don’t take notes. Well, let’s start right there. And that’s why we have a whole chapter on note taking, and why take notes and how to take notes. But I think that’s exactly it, is so many of us. and I’ll say us, not just our students, so many of us are so used to doing things just one way that we’re not ready. And we don’t look enough about is this really working or not. And I think that’s what we really push with a lot of very real examples ripped from the headlines of our lives, as it were, where we talk about, look, this is what somebody’s tried, and here’s what they did wrong. And here’s how they can make it better.
Rebecca: I wanted to talk a little bit about that chapter on notetaking. Faculty often make the observation that students don’t take effective notes, but then don’t necessarily respond by teaching students how to take notes or giving them some strategies to improve that skill. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that finally might show students or offer students to take more effective notes?
John D.: Absolutely. So the one thing that I would recommend highly is that if we all agree that taking notes in its own right is not where the learning occurs. And in fact, research comparing people who take notes versus who don’t take notes typically showed no differences between the two. Now, the key is, when you look at these studies carefully, you’ll realize the folks who took the notes, and who didn’t take notes do equally poorly. So it’s not like they do equally well. So the notes are a artifact that in many cases students can use to really learn the content well. So the question is, how do you get all the correct and appropriate information into those notes? So one thing that teachers can do, that research shows really helps well, it’s just flag important content, literally tell students “Okay, time to take notes, this is critical, I need you to know this.” One of my favorite statements, ”The next thing I say, will be on the exam.” [LAUGHTER] And see how many people start taking notes. Now, of course, I would love to see notes that are embellished with examples, with questions, and so forth. But at least getting the rudimentary content down there as an artifact, so students have it to utilize as they’re preparing is so important, or having teams of students take notes and share those things as well is also good. So I think for teachers to be compassionate, but also to help your students sometimes identify what’s most important, by speaking louder by saying, “Hey, this is really critical.” Sometimes I have to even flag it to not only just critical, but it’s going to be an exam, you’d think those two things meant the same thing, but sometimes students need a little help. I think it’s important, and there’s nothing wrong with telegraphing what is most important in your class. In fact, let me restate that. There’s everything not right about not telegraphing. Now, try to parse that. But what I’m saying is, we should be telling the students what they need to learn, how we’re going to test them on it, what we’re going to test on, and allow them to meet those successes. And I think good note taking, and helping students take notes by telegraphing what should be in there, can be very useful, in my own experience, and at least some of the research too.
Regan: Notice what else is in there. If we do want students to take good notes, we don’t want to be talking extremely fast. We want to make sure we have pauses, we want to make sure our slides, to the extent we use them, are not so packed with information that either they want to copy it all down or they get it all as a handout so they don’t have to, but there are all these nuances. And I want to go right back to that finding about the students who take notes and the students who don’t take notes. The bigger issue is what are you doing with those notes? I think far often students just think about it as “I’m going to record what the instructor said.” Well, you’ve got to go back and revise them. You’ve got to go back and check and see if your understanding is right. You need to review them. The issue is, I think, when people take notes, they’re not doing enough with those notes. And there are ways where we can talk about how to take better notes and they’re not. When I teach 100, or intro level classes, every once in a while, I will stop, and I do this during the first week, I will stop. And I’ll say, “Alright, here’s a reality check. If you took good notes, you should have the following. How many of you have it in your notes?” And I do that a couple of different times that first week or the first two weeks to get into that habit of you should be taking notes, you should be doing something about it. I also want to say something that didn’t make it into that chapter on note taking, but it’s gone up another shot, because I’ve seen this so often, in the last year and a half or two years, students taking photographs of the slides. Reality check, people, that’s not taking notes, taking a photograph of a slide is not taking notes. But I think in some students’ minds they’ve taken notes, just more effectively. And there are studies now rolling out that show that the photograph slides versus note taking versus controlled no notes. that the photographs and no notetaking is doing the worst on quizzes. But I think that’s something else we’ve got to take up” how you take notes is important and taking a photograph is not it.
John D.: Let me spin back to something that Regan said that I think is great, too, as far as helping students develop better notes, I begin, and I know Regan does this as well, every class with a no-stakes quiz. And I use that for a variety of different reasons, some of which we talk about in our book, but one of them is first try to answer the quiz multiple choice question without the alternatives from memory. And if you got it from memory, that’s important, because that’s going to help you learn. And then if you don’t get it from memory, now see if you can answer using your notes from the last class. And if they can’t answer the question using their notes, we have issues. So they’re not taking complete notes, they don’t understand their notes, or the issue could be with me. Occasionally, I look at the notes and realize, “Oh, my goodness, I must have said something wrong last class, because everybody’s notes are incorrect.” [LAUGHTER] And if everyone’s notes are incorrect, the source of the error is probably me. So it’s a way to help students understand that the notes are the vehicle to understand the content that we really want them to learn. And there’s ways to reinforce that through no-stakes quizzes, and so forth to help them understand that what we’re doing in the classroom is providing all the scaffolding to help them succeed.
John: One of the things you emphasize early in the book, and throughout the book is the importance of students developing their metacognition as well as their self-regulation skills. Could you talk a little bit about why that’s important, because I think that’s something that’s not emphasized enough throughout their educational experience,
John D.: I’m gonna just focus on one aspect of our particular viewpoint on self regulation, and then I’ll let Regan go with the more fun stuff. I want students to really succeed in school and in college. But quite frankly, as a college educator, I want students to succeed in life after they leave here. And one of the most important skills that anyone can learn is time management, that’s about self regulation. And believe it or not, I have actually students tell me, it’s like, “Well, I know, managing my time and developing plans, that’s just not my cup of tea.” (speaking of teaching for tea). But it absolutely should be, because effective people develop goals, plan on how to get them, and manage their time to get there. So if students can take something from this book that I think is highly valuable about self regulation is to look at our examples and our encouragement and inspiration to manage your time, make goals and plans, and develop a time management strategy that works well for you. Because that’s ultimately going to lay the foundations for a successful use of other strategies we discuss in the book, but also for a highly successful life, whether it be success in your job, your hobbies, raising a family, or whatever, successful people manage their time and self regulate. That’s something that we really do push in the book, and some of it’s not necessarily metacognition, per se, but it’s about really taking ownership of your life and deciding how to get things done effectively. So time management, for me is so important aspect of this book.
Regan: I think whenever you think about self regulation, I really try to stress two elements of it on one hand, especially think about metacognition is the: “What do you know? Do you know this stuff?” And there’s that whole “Am I ready for this exam? Do I really understand this concept? Do I know how to do this?” That’s the classic metacognition, but even more broadly, when we talk about plan and monitor and assess your knowledge, that’s, I think, really important as well. And of course, the tips such as retrieval practice is great for the assessment too and to assess yourself. But I think I love the way John talks about time management because when we talk about self regulation, a big issue that I hear from students a lot is where those two things interact, not being able to regulate how they use their time, especially when it comes to social media. And students will say to me, “Yep, I start scrolling Tik Tok, and before I know it’s an hour later. Well, that’s a basic self-regulation issue. That’s a time management issue. That’s a planning issue. And I think in our planning chapter, we recognize this and we tell students “Look, it’s okay to enjoy social media. But guess what? Plan your social media timr. So it’s not like you’re saying, I’m not going to use social media. Be real. If that’s what you enjoy, sure, look at some social media, but plan it out, allocate time for your social media, just like you allocate time for your work so that everything fits into your schedule.”
Rebecca: Allocating time, it feels like have a lot of conversations with students about that on a regular basis.
John D.: Oh yeah.
John: Are there other topics you’d like to emphasize about your book that we haven’t touched on yet?
Regan: Well, I think one thing that if you’ll notice, the last chapter in our book is all about things that, for the longest time, nobody thought related to studying: sleeping, eating, physical activity. But I think that is just so important. That is so important. And gosh, I know, I don’t think I ever shared this with John. But sometimes I almost played with putting that chapter first. We did put it at the end, because I think it’s really important. But I think most students don’t realize how those life things interact. And I think for those of us who read up on higher education, there’s just so much written about burnout among students, among faculty, and all of that relates to those things we talk about in the last chapter. It’s prioritizing sleep and prioritizing good eating and prioritizing physical activity, prioritizing just getting out and getting some air. And some of my favorite comments that I get back from students… it happens a lot when I teach health psych… but even otherwise, where they will say, “you know, yeah, I caught myself scrolling, I went outside for a walk, and it was just five minutes, but I came back and I could tackle things better.” And I think, people, it’s 360 degrees of living is what we’ve got to practice.
John D.: And I love that Regan. Because obviously, we saved the best for last with that chapter. But, come on, to do all these things. It’s a time-management issue. If I’m going to work, all of this in, how can I do so so I have enough time for play and I have enough time for work, which are two important aspects of life. So, totally agree.
Rebecca: Well, they always wrap up by asking: what’s next? [LAUGHTER]
John D.: Wow, that’s a big question. And what’s next, I would say for me, the strategies that I think are most effective, that work the best, unfortunately, have also been investigated the least, because they’re difficult to investigate, they involve multiple sessions for students to engage the same material, and so forth. So as someone who was kind of born and raised in a laboratory, either my own lab or laboratory of the classroom, what I’d love to see is just much more evidence-based research focused on further understanding, not only what works best, but how students can engage in the best practice in the most efficient way. So it’s balancing both an understanding of wanting students to obtain their learning objectives, but also understanding that they want to do so effectively and efficiently. Because there’s so many aspects to life beyond just school. So I’m always going to say more research, although I could totally understand some would say more application too, but I’m gonna go what’s next is some more research and all these really effective techniques and how to use them more effectively.
Regan: And it’s that last part, John, that is what’s exciting me right now, I’ve been learning a lot more about the whole field of implementation science, which is just because something is effective, and something is efficacious, what are the factors that influence its implementation? …because whether it’s a student reading our book and trying to implement our recommendations, or a faculty member, instructor, teacher listening to us and trying to implement what we’re saying, there are still nuances, there are still contextual factors. And I think we’re just getting better at intentionally and systematically teasing apart what some of those issues with implementation are. And for me, that’s been pretty exciting. I was fortunate to read a lot of a fellow Oregon State University, new PhD, Dr. Rachel Schweitzer, who’s done a lot of this work on implementation science, and some of her ideas. I’d love to be able to test them in my class, to dovetail with continuing research on study techniques and how to make it happen more,
Rebecca: Some really important stuff that needs to happen, for sure.
John: And thank you for this book and all the other research and work that you’ve done in support of improving student learning.
John D.: Thanks for having us on.
Regan: Thanks so much.
John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.
Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.