The efficacy of improving fundamental learning and its subsequent effects on recall, application and retention




Wong, William

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In post-secondary introductory courses there is a knowledge base that must be learned before proceeding to advance study. One method to learn such fundamental material has been the mastery paradigm (Bloom, 1956). Using this approach, students learn a particular knowledge unit until they achieve a predetermined accuracy criterion, for example, 90% correct, on a post-learning test. Lindsley (1972) broadened the definition of mastery learning to include response rate (i.e., responses per minute) and called it ‘fluency’. The response rate has not generally been considered in the traditional demonstration of mastery within the academic setting. Empirical research to date has focused solely on the effects of either approach without any direct comparisons. There was only one published report comparing the effects between the two approaches (Kelly, 1996). In the present study, two single-subject experiments were conducted using a computer program called Think Fast to deliver factual information covering introductory behavioral psychology concepts. In Experiment 1, a within-subject design was used to control the number of learning trials, instructional set, and the experimental presentation sequence (n = 9). This design consisted of multiple learning units and instructions. Group, subgroup and individual descriptive analyses revealed that posttest achievement was higher for items learned to both Accuracy and Speed than Accuracy. In analyzing the change in retention from immediate recall to scores obtained after a 30-day absence, learning was more resistant to extinction for concepts that had previously been learned to Accuracy and Speed rather than Reading or Accuracy. Furthermore, retention decreases were examined statistically and there was one significant result in Session 1 and two in Session 2. In Session 1, under the Accuracy condition, subjects recalled 25.5% fewer items after a 30-day absence, t(8) = 5.33, p < .01. A decrease of 12.2% for posttest items learned under the Accuracy and Speed condition was not significant, t(8) = 2.05, p > .05. In Session 2, significantly fewer (Recall 2) posttest items were remembered after a 30-day absence for both experimental conditions, t(8) = 5.08, p < .01 (Accuracy) and t(8) = 3.82, p < .01 (Accuracy and Speed). All other group retention comparisons were not statistically significant. In Experiment 2, a between-subject design was used to replicate the effects of Experiment 1, but this time each subject received only one set of instructions (n = 6). The effects of this simplified research design resulted in no significant differences between learning to both Accuracy and Speed in comparison to Accuracy. Other factors that affected learning included subjects' baseline ability and the extent of their interest in the study. These factors determined whether or not subjects followed the learning instructions and, to varying degrees, affected their subsequent posttest performance. The study concluded with educational implications and suggestions for further research.



Learning, Teaching