Over the past few years, academia has focused more and more on helping students develop study skills to help them succeed. One limitation of these efforts is that they tend to take the form of workshops or resources that provide general study skill information. Students easily forget the information from these resources or don’t understand how to apply it to a particular issue when they run into it in class. Offering targeted, specific support in class is more effective.
A group of educators from the University of Guelph instead looked at how course-specific study help can improve student performance (Bingham et al., 2021). The work offers ideas about how educators can do something similar in their courses and even expand on it using recent advances in technology.
The authors point out that study skills are often grouped under broader terms, such as metacognitive or self-regulatory skills. Metacognition refers to thinking about thinking, and applied to learning represents the ability to manage one’s own learning. The authors then divide it into three categories that more or less represent the stages of implementation:
- Metacognitive monitoring: the ability to identify what you want to know and what you actually know (e.g., a calculus student recognizing they have differentials down pat but struggle with integrals)
- Metacognitive knowledge: understanding the various strategies for learning, such as spaced repetition
- Metacognitive control: the ability to implement learning strategies, such as scheduling study time
We might think of these categories as knowledge of self, knowledge of learning, and knowledge of time management.
The researchers wanted to provide students with the tools to foster all three types of knowledge across the course. They did so by providing students with a calendar of course activities, including study activities. A particular day might include “self-test/review of Unit 1” or “Review answers to Quiz 11.” The calendar also included lesson-specific self-test questions. Students could answer these questions to determine what material they needed to go back over to fill in gaps in their understanding.
I love the course and lesson-specific nature of the guide, and I hope that academia builds on the model to provide course-specific rather than generalized student help. In particular, modern technology allows institutions to fine-tune the help beyond course- and assignment-specific help to deliver student-specific help. Imagine a world where the learning management system (LMS) provides personalized student support. Right now, the LMS provides students only with information on their grade and which questions they missed. But questions from multiple assessments within a class unit, both graded and ungraded, can be tagged by topic by the course designer so that students also get a report after each unit that shows students which topics within that unit they did well and poorly on. This report could then generate a list of resources and activities that the student could use to fill the gaps in their knowledge. It might be video tutorials, live tutoring, self-tests, or an AI-enabled chat that asks the student questions and provides corrections on wrong answers. More self-tests can then lead to an updated report on understanding that shows students their progress.
Finally, the system can be accompanied by a scheduling app that allows the student to plan study time within their days. They can input recurring activities, such as work or classes, and then when given information on a gap in their knowledge, schedule time for the activities to fill it. Of course, scheduling apps already exist; it just amounts to integrating them with an LMS and study recommendations.
Apps such as Duolingo already implement this type of system for learning languages, and similar apps exist for learning computer programming, math, writing, and more. Thus, the technology already exists. Hopefully, studies such as this can prod academia into investing resources that provide the personalized help that makes a real difference.
Bingham, B. E., Coulter, C., Cottenie, C., & Jacobs, S. R. (2021). A metacognitive instructional guide to support effective studying strategies. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2020.3.8318