By interspersing online lectures with short tests, student mind-wandering decreased by half, note-taking tripled, and overall retention of the material improved, according to Daniel Schacter, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology, and Karl Szpunar, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology. Their findings are described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“What we hope this research does is show that we can use very strong, experimentally sound techniques to describe what works in online education and what doesn’t,” said Szpunar. “The question, basically, is how do we optimize students’ time when they’re at home, trying to learn from online lectures? How do we help them most efficiently extract the information they need?
“It’s not sufficient for a lecture to be short or to break up a lecture as we did in these experiments,” Schacter said. “You need to have the testing. Just breaking it up and allowing them to do something else, even allowing them to re-study the material, does nothing to cut down on mind-wandering, and does nothing to improve final test performance.”