Six strategies for more impactful (online) teaching and learning – Part 2/3

What kind of teaching practices can help our students study better? Are we using scientifically proven strategies to enhance learning? This series of three blog posts will introduce you to six evidence-based strategies that support deep learning. Each strategy is complemented by concrete examples that will help you to figure out how to implement these in your teaching!

This series is inspired by and based on a thought-provoking three-hour workshop held by Marcus Lithander, PhD, a cognitive psychologist from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, on the topic in December 2021.

During the workshop, Lithander presented six evidence-based strategies that support deep learning and in this post we will present to you the next two: Interleaving and Elaboration.

See also our first post on Retrieval practice and Spaced practice and stay tuned for the final part of this series where we discuss about Concrete examples and Dual coding.

What works in learning

3. Interleaving
Trying to remember the thing learned a few days earlier is much easier if we can just rely on recognizing the right answer when we see it. Unfortunately, the real world does not work in this way. In working life, for example, in the context where certain knowledge or skill is applied, tasks emerge randomly and do not resemble the logical order of a textbook.

This is why interleaving as a teaching and learning strategy works. Instead of going through massive blocks of content on one theme area, switch between topics and practice different skills. This builds connections between topics that are being taught and places them in a wider context. (See e.g. Rohrer, 2012)

In practice, interleaving can be done, for example, like this:

  • Establish a question bank from which quiz questions are drawn randomly or semi-randomly, instead of letting students guess answers based on the order of questions. This also promotes the habit of spacing of learning, as the quiz might include topics that were discussed sometime earlier.
  • Have students explain concepts in their own words. This makes them think about connections between the topics and concepts.
  • Instead going through three topics, one full topic a week, use three weeks to go through all the topics but different parts in different order. You can add layers of knowledge to what you discussed previous week. This is usually harder for the students to follow, but the struggle is actually what enables learning since the student must process things!

4. Elaboration
Having students explain key concepts and explore the topics of the day is a beneficial strategy to activate students and enhance their learning. By asking students to elaborate on their answers by asking them why and how questions, we help them create more detailed and meaningful explanations or models of the newly acquired information that is being encoded in their memory. Effortful elaboration can be an effective approach for creating deeper understanding since this process makes students retrieve, organize and restructure prior and new knowledge in their memory. Furthermore, this strategy (also known as elaborative interrogation) has a metacognitive aspect to it: self-explanations help students recognize what they know and what they don’t know. (see e.g. Dunlosky et al., 2013)

Here are few examples of using elaboration in your classes:

  • Use exploratory questions in different learning activities and classroom discussions.
  • Ask students why and how questions. E.g.: “Why is this true? Why does this work like that? How do we know this is false? How does idea X differ from idea Y?”
  • Have students create their own how and why questions for a quiz activity and ask them to also provide answers to their questions.

We are happy to remind you that Marcus Lithander will hold another workshop in Spring 2022! Read more about Unite! pedagogical training for teaching staff here.

Co-authored by Akseli Huhtanen, Sara Rönkkönen & Suvi Toivonen

References and suggested further readings:

This series of three blog posts is based on and inspired by the workshop “The Science of Learning”, led by PhD Marcus Lithander, Department of Learning and Digital Learning at KTH on 8.12.2021, via UNITE! Network. Also, the following references were utilized when making the posts.    

Benjamin, A., Tullis, J. (2010) What makes distributed practice effective?, Cognitive Psychology, Volume 61, Issue 3, 2010,Pages 228247.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. 

Gurung, R. A. & Burns, K. (2019). Putting evidence‐based claims to the test: A multi‐site classroom study of retrieval practice and spaced practice. Applied cognitive psychology, 33(5), 732743 

Kang, S. H. K. (2016). Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(1), 12–19.  

Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1992). “The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 4, 444452. 

Rohrer, D. (2012). “Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts.” Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355367. 

Tulving, E. (1972). “Episodic and semantic memory,” in Organization of Memory, eds E. Tulving and W. Donaldson (New York, NY: Academic Press Inc.), 381–403. 

Understanding How We Learn. A Visual Guide. Yana Weinstein & Megan Sumeracki. Published by David Fulton/Routledge, August 2018.