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IES Grant

Title: Retrieval-Oriented Learning Strategies
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Karpicke, Jeffrey Awardee: Purdue University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,600,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A110903

Purpose: Many students study using passive techniques, such as rereading their notes and textbooks, and choose not to use study techniques that require active retrieval of information, such as answering study questions at the end of chapter. However, retrieval practice is a powerful learning strategy and has been found to increase test performance with undergraduate learners. The objective of this research project is to identify the best practices for implementing retrieval-oriented learning strategies with elementary school students in science courses. The first aim is to identify the best ways to use concept mapping as a retrieval practice activity. The second aim is to identify the best ways to have students generate and then use their own retrieval cues to aid them while they practice retrieval.

Project Activities: This research is focused on two learning activities, concept mapping and self-generation of retrieval cues, which will serve as vehicles to implement retrieval practice. In all studies in this project, researchers will examine how retrieval practice effects might vary across a range of individual students. Each study involves a within-subject comparison of two or three learning conditions and will be conducted in elementary school science classes. Because of the within-subjects design, the researchers will be able to examine the effectiveness of retrieval-oriented learning strategies for each individual learner in each experiment. The initial pilot studies will be conducted in a laboratory setting with elementary-age students before transitioning to elementary schools. The research team will have access to the elementary students' grades in science classes and to their scores on state-mandated standardized tests, thereby allowing them to use these measures as preliminary indicators of high- and low-performing students.

Products: Products will include evidence of best practices using retrieval-oriented learning strategies, including concept mapping and cue generation activities, to promote learning with elementary school students in science classrooms. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Preliminary pilot testing will be conducted in a laboratory setting at an Indiana University. School-based research will take place in elementary school science classrooms in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

Population: Participants include school-age children in grades 3–5. The elementary students come from districts that are approximately 20 percent Caucasian and that are comprised of a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Intervention: The current studies will focus on two strategies that are associated with improved recall and are, therefore, likely to improve retention and subsequent student performance. The first of these strategies is concept mapping. Concept mapping involves having students construct a diagram of concepts where the concepts are represented in nodes and the links connecting the nodes represent relations among the concepts. This strategy is assumed to produce deep, meaningful learning. The current studies will explore concept mapping and its usefulness as a retrieval-oriented learning strategy. The second strategy that will be explored is generating retrieval cues to support free recall of learned material. When using free recall, learners have to: (1) establish a retrieval structure to guide free recall, and then (2) reconstruct the individual concepts within that structure. In this set of studies, the researchers will explore how performance is affected by student-generated retrieval cues made while reading and practiced during free recall. Generating one's own retrieval cues will give students more retrieval support than standard free recall, but the activity should also require students to engage in the effective processing encouraged by free recall. The additional organizational retrieval structures that students generate and then reconstruct may promote deep learning.

Research Design and Methods: This research involves controlled within-subjects experiments conducted in a university laboratory setting and in public elementary school science classes. A total of 10 experiments will be carried out over 4 years and between 30 and 40 students will participate in each experiment. The experiments will use factorial designs with fully counterbalanced conditions and students will learn by reading texts on science topics. The critical variable manipulated in the experiments will be the learning activities engaged in by students. The goal of these studies is to identify the critical components of retrieval practice that support learning. Retrieval practice activities will require students to actively reconstruct their knowledge. Researchers will explore the effectiveness of reconstructing knowledge in concept map format (Aim 1) or with the aid of self-generated retrieval cues (Aim 2). Researchers will assess long-term retention 1 week after students engage in these learning activities. The assessments are designed to measure meaningful learning by assessing different dimensions of students' conceptual knowledge. This is accomplished with questions that: (1) assess knowledge of concepts stated verbatim in the material, (2) require students to draw connections and make inferences, and (3) require students to apply knowledge and solve problems.

Control Condition: Students will serve as their own internal controls due to the within-subjects experimental design.

Key Measures: The key measures in this research will be performance on assessments created from short-answer test questions created previously by the researchers. These questions are intended to assess different dimensions of students' knowledge and are based largely on criteria set forth in the revised Bloom's Taxonomy. The questions include verbatim questions, inference questions, and application or problem-solving questions. In addition, the researchers will use students' grades in science classes and their scores on state-mandated standardized tests.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use standard analysis of variance techniques to analyze data in factorial designs. The researchers will also run follow-up pairwise comparisons using t-tests, while adjusting the alpha level to reduce Type 1 error rates and examining estimates of the effect size.

Project website:

Products and Publications

Book chapter

Karpicke, J. D. (in press). Concept mapping. In B. Frey (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation.

Karpicke, J.D., Lehman, M., and Aue, W.R. (2014). Retrieval-Based Learning: An Episodic Context Account. In B.H. Ross (Ed.), Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume 61 (pp. 237–284). Cambridge, MA: Elsevier, Inc.

Nunes, L. D., and Karpicke, J. D. (2015). Retrieval-Based Learning: Research at the Interface between Cognitive Science and Education. Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (pp. 1–16). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Blunt, J.R., and Karpicke, J.D. (2014). Learning With Retrieval-Based Concept Mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(3): 849–858.

Grimaldi, P. J., Poston, L., and Karpicke, J. D. (2015). How Does Creating a Concept Map Affect Item-Specific Encoding?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41(4): 1049–1061.

Grimaldi, P.J., and Karpicke, J.D. (2012). When and why do Retrieval Attempts Enhance Subsequent Encoding?. Memory and Cognition, 40: 505–513.

Grimaldi, P.J., and Karpicke, J.D. (2014). Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1): 58–68.

Karpicke, J. D., and Aue, W. R. (2015). The Testing Effect Is Alive and Well with Complex Materials. Educational Psychology Review, 27(2): 317–326.

Karpicke, J. D., Blunt, J. R., and Smith, M. A. (2016). Retrieval-Based Learning: Positive Effects of Retrieval Practice in Elementary School Children. Frontiers in Psychology.

Karpicke, J.D. (2012). Retrieval-Based Learning: Active Retrieval Promotes Meaningful Learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21: 157–163.

Karpicke, J.D., and Bauernschmidt, A. (2011). Spaced Retrieval: Absolute Spacing Enhances Learning Regardless of Relative Spacing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(5): 1250–1257.

Karpicke, J.D., and Blunt, J.R. (2011). Response to Comment on Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying With Concept Mapping. Science, 334(6055): 453.

Karpicke, J.D., and Grimaldi, P.J. (2012). Retrieval-Based Learning: A Perspective for Enhancing Meaningful Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3): 401–418.

Karpicke, J.D., and Smith, M.A. (2012). Separate Mnemonic Effects of Retrieval Practice and Elaborative Encoding. Journal of Memory and Language, 67(1): 17–29.

Lehman, M., and Karpicke, J. D. (2016). Elaborative Retrieval: Do Semantic Mediators Improve Memory?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42(10): 1573–1591.

Lehman, M., Smith, M.A., and Karpicke, J.D. (2014). Toward an Episodic Context Account of Retrieval-Based Learning: Dissociating Retrieval Practice and Elaboration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(6): 1787–1794.

Smith, M. A., Blunt, J. R., Whiffen, J. W., and Karpicke, J. D. (2016). Does Providing Prompts During Retrieval Practice Improve Learning?. Applied Cognitive Psychology., 30(4): 544–553.

Smith, M.A., and Karpicke, J.D. (2014). Retrieval Practice With Short-Answer, Multiple Choice, and Hybrid Test Formats. Memory, 22(7): 784–802.

Smith, M.A., Roediger, H.L., and Karpicke, J.D. (2013). Covert Retrieval Practice Benefits Retention as Much as Overt Retrieval Practice. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39(6): 1712–1725.

Weinstein, Y., Nunes, L. D., and Karpicke, J. D. (2016). On the Placement of Practice Questions During Study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22(1): 72–84.

Whiffen, J.W. and Karpicke, J.D. (2017). The role of episodic context in retrieval practice effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43, 1036–1046.