Help Students Succeed with Online Study Aids

Students Succeed with Online Study Aids

As faculty we often chalk up a student’s poor performance to lack of motivation or ability. But often it is due to a failure to understand how to study. Many students study by simply rereading material. But this method is of little help because it is only an attempt to get the content again. It does not mimic the situation of a test where students are required to pull the material out of their own memory. Even when it does work, it tends to be temporary, with the material lasting just long enough for the exam.

A far better method is to ask oneself questions. (Miller, 2017) This simulates the environment in which you will be using the material: the test. It also proves that you know the material, whereas rereading something does not ensure knowledge. Moreover, retrieval is also a far better way of hardening knowledge in the mind than simply rereading, as it forces the firing of neurons and the strengthening of the neural connections in a pattern that constitutes the knowledge.

Faculty can thus greatly improve their students’ study habits and performance by providing students with self-testing study aids to use on their own. These aids also have the advantage of coming in easily digestible packets. This allows the student to return to the aid a number of times, which is important because distributed retrieval practice over time leads to far better retention than a single, long cram session.

I have found that the most efficient way to develop the aids is to create them at the same time as I create the course content. If I create a video, then I create the study aid, such as a quiz, at the same time while the content is still fresh in my mind. This makes it very fast to create aids. It can also help guide the development of the content itself. We are told that “teaching to the test” is a bad thing, but in reality, faculty should consider the evaluation when creating teaching content. If the test is supposed to measure learning, then it makes sense for the content to prepare students for the test. Thus, I will sometimes modify my content so that better leads to an evaluation.

Another method is to have students create the study aids as assignments. As faculty, we assume that we must create the assessment questions that students answer. But faculty can “flip the assessment” by requiring students to create assessment questions. I did this in my online medical ethics course when I put students into groups and required each to create a teaching model on a medical ethics topic. The module included teaching content, but also an assessment for other students to take.

The act of creating that study aid not only leads to a product that will help other students, but also deepens the understanding of the material on the part of the student who created the aid. The instructor can review the aids before they are released to correct any errors, which will illuminate any student misunderstandings about the material. Faculty often assume that students will interpret content the same way as the faculty member does, but a brief look at a student’s notes after class demonstrates this to not be the case. Student-developed study aids provide a picture of how students interpret material, and thus can guide the instructor in correcting common misinterpretations.

There are a number of good study aids available to instructors:

Quizlet ( is possibly the best-known quizzing/study system. Individuals can create study sets in a variety of formats, from flashcards to written response, multiple choice, matching, and even an Asteroid-like video game. One interesting option is to provide the question in audio format. This can certainly be beneficial for learning a foreign language, but can also be helpful for any subject. When students graduate and enter their profession, they will often be hearing and using terms orally, yet normally, all of the assessment is done with text questions. It can be helpful for students in an engineering class to have to answer a question that they hear, rather than read, to help them develop an ear for important terms and concepts. There is also a live module for real-time study sessions in class or online within groups.

Quizlet recently released the interesting Learn model. This is not a question type platform, but rather a whole study program. The system lays out a plan of study for the student leading up to an important assessment in stages, including a series of assessments and dates for doing them based on the test date. It even sends the student reminders to study. Then it implements an adaptive learning function that modifies the difficulty of the questions based on the student’s performance. In this way an instructor can guide students through topics and skills in a coherent way to lead up to the exam.

Go Conqr ( is a relatively new system that is designed to allow students to build self-designed study programs. The system is almost like a personalized LMS in that the user builds themselves a “Course” with a variety of study systems, including quizzes, flashcards, mind maps, and flowcharts, as well as a study planner. Similar to Quizlet Learn, the instructor can design a study program in tandem with designing the course content, thus better ensuring student understanding of the content.

Finally, there are a variety of online flashcard systems that work very well for students to create simple study aids. The unfortunately named Cram ( allows students to both build and share flashcard sets, with over 195 million cards in its library to date. Classmint ( is another online service that allows users to create and share flashcards. Two features that might make it preferable to other systems is its ability to read flashcards to the user, and the ability to upload and annotate images in flashcards. Finally, Flippity ( is a Google Chrome add-on that will build a variety of types of study aids out of questions put into a Google Drive Spreadsheet. These aids include flashcards, a Jeopardy-like quiz show, and a matching game. See this tutorial on how to use Flippity:

Add these online study aids to your courses to improve student achievement.


Miller, M. (2017). Retrieval Practice in Online Teaching, Online Classroom, v. 17, n. 6, June 2017.

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