Efficiency and effectivness
D. A. Santor | The Learning and Wellbeing Team.

Getting good grades at university requires a lot of work.  Each course in a semester will typically have a paper or project, at least one midterm exam and a final exam. It is a lot to keep on top of, and it can easily become overwhelming. Still, in every class that I have taught at the university, there are a few students who manage to get good grades while doing far less work than other students. These students are smart and they do work hard but more than anything else they are efficient — using skills and strategies that allow them to learn the material in far less time and retain it far longer.  

Research on the effectiveness of study skills has shown that a good number of students rely on study skills, such as re-reading their notes or textbook, which are extremely ineffective or don’t practice what they know long enough to get from understanding concepts to really knowing them, which is what is needed on an exam.  As a result, students put in long hours and don’t get the results they are looking for. It is disheartening for students and frustrating for instructors.  

On of the goals of the Learning and Wellbeing Project is to teach students those skills, whether in the form of demonstration videos, worksheets or courses, which are not only effective but also efficient. 

Study as investment

The most effective strategies, such as flash cards, take effort.  You have to write terms and what those terms mean, on cards (or type them into an app) which is boring. And then you have to go over and over and over them which is tedious and time consuming. Let’s face it, making flashcards is a pain. It takes time that you could spend doing other things. And if you are the only one in the class making flashcards, it is going to feel weird, like you are back in elementary school.

Still, flashcards is one of the single most effective strategies that we know of for learning anything. And, as it turns out, it is also the most efficient. Flashcards work so well because they capitalize on two principles, active learning and spaced practice. Anytime you force yourself to actively learn something you will learn it better and beat the forgetting curve. Anytime you force your self to recall something over successive days, you learn it faster and retain more of it longer. Spaced practice is one of the most basic learning principles that can be found in all species, including honey bees. 

Efficient and effective:

We don’t want students to spend hours and hours of time studying. In contrast, we would like students to spend as little time as possible but to spend it in the most efficient and effective way we know of.

Spending an hour re-reading your notes is easy. Grab a coffee, read a couple of paragraphs, grab a snack, read a little bit more.  But it is in effective, largely because it is so passive. If you are going to spend an hour studying, you are far better off to spend it making flashcards or doing practice problems. 

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