Effective study skills training

Much research about study skills has been published including six meta-analyses of particular kinds of interventions yet no published analysis has attempted to identify the features of study skills training that are most likely to lead to success.

To remedy this, John Hattie, University of North Carolina/Greensboro; John Biggs, University of Hong Kong; and Nola Purdie, Queensland University of Technology carried out a meta-analysis of 51 studies. These studies typically focused on task-related skills, self-management of learning, or affective factors such as motivation and self-concept.

Studies were included in the analysis only if they were based on reasonable sample sizes, used reliable tests and had a control (pre-test and post-test, or control and experimental groups). However, caution should be used in drawing conclusions because most studies lasted only a short time, used college-age or atypical students — either high or low achievers.

Study skills training combined with content

The results support the theory that, except for simple memory training, learning is context-dependent. In other words, all-purpose study skill training has little effect on achievement. Effective training uses tasks within the specific subject area that is the target for improvement. Results also indicate the importance of modeling and active practice of study techniques with students being taught to monitor their own understanding.

Students of average ability and underachievers benefited most from study skill training. The lowest-ability students were less likely to show benefits from such programs, while the highest-ability students benefited from memory training but not from other types of study skills intervention.

Elementary-age students benefited more than older students. Most positive results with these older students related either to improved attitudes toward learning or to a reduction in anxiety.

Self-directed programs produced good results in academic performance, study skills, and attitudes. However, teacher-directed programs are significantly more effective in achieving performance gains.

Memory training most effective

Memory training is the most effective single program. It is highly effective with all types and ages of students. Most of these interventions had positive effects but many studies were of such short duration that it was unclear how long the effects would last.

Hattie et al. conclude that a general study skills training package is not as effective as metacognitive or contextualized training, but it is better than nothing, especially in the case of younger students. Simple retention of accurate detail can be successfully taught by using imagery, linking items to be learned, or associating them with key words. This is particularly effective when students have to remember procedures, formulas, facts or lists. But it is only suitable for facilitating recall, not for understanding content.

One strong implication from this analysis is that study skills training ought to take place along with the teaching of content, rather than separately, in a resource room. Generic study skills training does have a positive effect on students’ attitudes toward learning, but little or no effect on performance.

These researchers assert that strategy training should be taught in such a way that students understand the conditions under which the strategy works best. In addition, the way in which teachers give feedback to students about their use of strategies seems to influence students’ beliefs concerning the effectiveness of the strategy and the likelihood that they will continue to use it.

“Effects of Learning Skills Interventions on Student Learning: A Meta-Analysis” Review of Educational Research Volume 66, Number 2, Summer 1996 pp. 99-136.

Published in ERN November/December 1996 Volume 9 Number 5.

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