Students transfer bad study habits from paper to screen

September, 2010

New research confirms most students have poor study skills, and points to the effectiveness of association strategies.

No big surprise, surely: a new study has found that computers do not magically improve students’ study skills — they tend to study online material using the same techniques they would use with traditional texts. Which means, it appears, poor strategies.

More interestingly, the study found that undergraduates who used a method called SOAR (Selecting key lesson ideas, Organizing information with comparative charts and illustrations, Associating ideas to create meaningful connections, and Regulating learning through practice) 29 to 63% more on tests of the material compared to those who mindlessly over-copied long passages verbatim, took incomplete or linear notes, built lengthy outlines that make it difficult to connect related information, and relied on memory drills like re-reading text or recopying notes.

The study involved students first reporting on their strategies for dealing with computer-based texts, then creating study materials from an online text. Different groups were asked to (a) create notes in their own preferred format; (b) create linear notes (the S part of SOAR); (c) create graphically organized matrix notes (SO); (d) create a matrix and associations (SOA); or (e) create a matrix, associations, and practice questions (SOAR). Those using the full SOAR method did best (84% correct on testing), but the dramatic difference was between SO (37%) and SOA (72%) — pointing to the importance of connecting new material to information you already know. The S group scored an average 30%, and the controls 21%.

It’s also well worth noting that, in contradiction of self-reports made by the students at the beginning, there were no signs that students left to their own devices used any association strategies.


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