Back to Basics: Discussion of Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning from IES

Back to Basics – Overview

College students working together in class. Thanks for reading this post at Faculty eCommons. On Fridays we usually like to spotlight faculty doing innovative work in online learning, but for the
next few Fridays, we will review a Practice Guide from the
Institute of Education Sciences (IES). This guide is called Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. It was released in
September 2007 and includes some of the most important principles to emerge from research on learning and memory in mind. The authors of the guide crafted
their messages for K-12 but we still feel it is worthwhile to consider the evidence behind the recommendations and apply them to higher education. AP application notes are in bold at the end of this article. Join us here the next few Fridays as we discuss some of the basic principles
all instruction needs to consider.

First off, what is a practice guide?
A practice guide sits somewhere between a consensus report and meta-analysis. Guides are used regularly in healthcare to communicate evidence-based advice
about specific conditions. The IES Guide uses three levels to characterize the evidence supporting their recommendations: strong, moderate and low. This
guide went through a rigorous external peer review and had 7 distinguished authors: Harold Pashler, PHD (Chair), Patrice M. Bain, EDS, Brian A. Bottge,
EDD, Arthur Graesser, PHD, Kenneth Koedinger, PHD, Mark McDaniel, PHD and Janet Metcalfe, PHD.

The Guide’s Recommendations:
The authors of the guide have consensus on seven recommendations and state the level of support from the research on each. These are some of the most
important concrete and applicable principles to emerge from research on learning and memory:

· The first recommendation about the spacing of key course content is an overarching principle that instructors should attend to as they plan out sequences
of instruction.

· The second, third and fourth recommendations relate to how different forms of instruction should be combined: worked example solutions and new problems
posed to the student (in Recommendation 2), graphical and verbal descriptions of concepts and mechanisms (Recommendation 3), and abstract and concrete
representations of a concept (Recommendation 4).

· Recommendation 5 reflects an ongoing concern with memory. In these days of high-stakes tests, instructors are often reminded of how often students appear
to have mastered information and concepts early, only to have forgotten later.

· Recommendation 6 relates to students’ ability to judge how well they have learned new knowledge or skills— psychologists refer to this ability as

· A seventh recommendation targets ways to shape instruction as students gain expertise in a particular domain.

Summary of Recommendations and the Level of Evidence:

1: Space learning over time – Moderate

2: Interleave worked example solutions and problem-solving exercises – Moderate

3: Combine graphics with verbal descriptions -Moderate

4: Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts – Moderate

5: Use quizzing to promote learning – Low and Strong (details to follow in coming weeks!)

6: Help students allocate study time efficiently – Low

7: Ask deep explanatory questions – Strong

Recommendation 1: Space Learning Over Time

Evidence Level: Moderate

To help your students remember key facts, concept and knowledge, we recommend that instructors arrange for students to be exposed to key course concepts on
at least two occasions—separated by a period of several weeks to several months. Research has shown that delayed re-exposure to course material often
markedly increases the amount of information that students remember. The delayed re-exposure to the material can be promoted through homework assignments,
in-class reviews, quizzes or other instructional exercises. In certain classes, important content is automatically reviewed as the learner progresses
through the standard. This recommendation applies to those (very common) course situations in which important knowledge and skills are not automatically

The key action recommended here is for instructors to make sure that important curriculum content is reviewed at least several weeks, and ideally several
months, after the time that it was first encountered by the students. Research shows that a delayed review typically has a large positive impact on the
amount of information that is remembered much later. The benefit of a delayed review seems to be much greater than the same amount of time spent reviewing
shortly after initial learning. This review can occur in a variety of ways, including those described below.

1. Use class time to review important curriculum content. AP Comment: Have a review before the final exam using a video conference technology like Zoom.

2. Use homework assignments as opportunities for students to have spaced practice of key skills and content. In later assignments, be sure to include problems from earlier in your course.

3. Give cumulative midterm and final examinations.

Next week we will discuss the second recommendation – Interleave Worked Example Solutions and Problem-Solving Exercises – and see what the research
suggests is the best practice. Join us on August 7th.

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