Effective learning strategies

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In this section we will look at strategies for effective learning — providing concrete examples of the concepts and ideas we study; making more memorable notes that facilitate making new connections by ‘dual-coding’; and asking questions and recognising similarities and differences in order to elaborate on what we already know.

The strategies presented in this section are all based in cognitive psychology and educational research. You can find out more about these and other study strategies on the Learning Scientist blog.

Putting ideas into context using concrete examples

‘Concrete examples’ are when you take a concept and think of a very specific example of it in context or practice. Let me give you a concrete example! If I was studying ‘adverse drug reactions’ I might think of the concrete example of “diarrhoea and nausea are common adverse reactions to penicillin.”

Concrete examples have been found to positively affect how we can understand, communicate and apply concepts and knowledge. Using examples should encourage a deeper understanding to enable the transference of one abstract idea to another problem.

Gick and Holyoak (1980) conducted a study where students were presented with problems which were different on the surface but had the same solution. Only a few students transferred the abstract idea by seeing the connection. When students were given a clue that the problems were connected then nearly all of the them were able to make the transfer.

The research went on to discover that when a number of examples were provided with different surface definitions then it was easier for students to understand the abstract idea.

Using examples in this way can lead to the abstract ideas being committed to long term memory more efficiently.


Have you used this strategy before when studying or revising? If so, give an example of when you have used the concrete examples strategy in the discussion board.


Switching formats using dual coding

Another way to explore our understanding of a topic and to improve our retention of information is ‘dual coding’. The main idea of dual coding is to have information in both a visual and a verbal format. Paivio and Csapo (1973) found that pictures are more memorable than words and that humans process the these in separate channels. Being able to draw upon memories of content in both visual and verbal forms can make it more easily retrieved.

You don’t have to be great at drawing to dual code effectively! It is more important to change the format of your ideas from verbal to visual or from visual to verbal and this can be done in a number of ways.

You could try drawing diagrams, mind-maps, time-lines, storyboards, charts or anything else you can think of to present information in a visual form. When you are presented with a visual piece of information, such as a chemical structure diagram or a process chart for drug development, you might write down key aspects of the information, interesting points or how it relates to other concepts.


Staying with our example of ‘adverse drug reactions’ try drawing an image that represents your ideas or knowledge of the concept. Post a photo of your image to this Padlet and look at the different ways in which other students have visualised the concept.

PLEASE EMBED PADLET https://padlet.com/michael_stevenson/dualcoding

Asking questions for deeper understanding by elaborating

‘Elaboration’ is a very broad learning strategy and can take different forms. One part of that is ‘elaborative interrogation’ — asking questions about a concept or idea to deepen our understanding of it.

This is successful in practice and helps you to develop a deeper understanding beyond merely reading through content. You might list all of the things that you know about a topic as well as the questions you would ask to find out more. You might draw links between different ideas — how are they different and how are they similar?


Let’s deepen our understanding about ‘adverse drug reactions’ by asking questions! Please post your questions in the discussion board that would help us to learn more about the idea.




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