All things retrieval practice

Researchers have a reputation of spending their time on specific topics far beyond the point at which this focus yields useful information. This was my first reaction when I learned that Pooja Agarwal had developed a website specifically devoted to retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is the concept that making the effort to retrieve something from memory increases the probability that the targeted memory will be recalled in the future. Awarwal is one of the individuals I associate with this finding.

To me, retrieval practice is not a new idea. I have been interested in the benefits of responding to questions since the 1970s. I even have a notion of why this idea has had a resurgence albeit with a different name. I think that improving recall is associated with memorization and educators seem to move through historical phases in which memorization is considered a bad thing. For example, you might note some refer to testing recall as regurgitation. Of course, this perspective kind of misses the point. If learned information is unavailable, application is impossible.

Agarwal and others emphasize retrieval practice as a study skill and explore variations that may appeal teachers and students with different learning needs.

I do have one suggestion to add. I have been writing lately about the benefits of using technology tools that allow the layering of educator or learner prompts on online resources (web pages, video). Retrieval prompts of various types would be a way to encourage retrieval practice. So, if learners were asked to review a video or a web page as instructional content, questions could be added to this material so that when the content was opened in the future learners can practice the retrieval of the targeted information. If the effort to retrieve is unsuccessful, the page or video can be quickly reviewed.

The Agarwal site includes research citations and ideas for application.

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