Making learning stick

The results of a trial reported in Impact suggest that using a software platform that incorporates a blended approach of spacing, interleaving, retrieval and the use of visual cues to learn material is more effective than other approaches in aiding pupil performance in assessments, regardless of background.

Lukas Feddern and colleagues at Seneca Learning, who designed and developed the software system, tested its efficacy in a randomised control trial of 1,120 Year 9 pupils in the UK (ages 13 to 14) from independent, grammar and comprehensive schools, including single-sex and co-educational schools. The pupils were randomly assigned to one of the following three groups: software group, spacing group (a spaced learning approach using a PDF of the same material) and massed practice group (a massed practice approach using a printed version of the material).

The results showed that while pupils in selective schools performed better in the assessment than those in non-selective schools, regardless of the experimental group, the software group improved their scores in both school settings.

Source: Retrieval, interleaving, spacing and visual cues as ways to improve independent learning outcomes at scale (February 2018) Impact, Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, Issue 2: Science of Learning

Neuroscience approaches with promise

A new review commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation summarises existing evidence about education approaches and interventions that are based (or claim to be based) on neuroscience. The review looked at 18 different topics and considered the strength of evidence to support them and how close they are to a practical application in education.

Five topics were found to be the most developed in terms of educational application and have the most promising evidence about their impact on educational outcomes. These were:

  • Mathematics. Maths anxiety interferes with neurocognitive processes that are crucial to learning, but the effects can be mediated by an individual’s recruitment of cognitive control networks.
  • Reading. Mapping letter symbols to sound and comprehending meaning.
  • Exercise. Participating in physical activity to increase the efficiency of neural networks.
  • Spaced learning. Learning content multiple times with breaks in between.
  • Testing. Being tested on studied material aids memory.

The author notes that there is a growing interest in neuroscience-informed education, but that this enthusiasm means that the topic needs to be approached with care. He concludes that all of the parties involved – neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, educational researchers, and teachers – should work together to ensure that the neuroscience is properly interpreted and applied through educational interventions that are meaningful, feasible, and rigorously tested.

Source: Neuroscience and Education: A Review of Educational Interventions and Approaches Informed by Neuroscience (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.