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Charu Sudan Kasturi, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 21, 2011
Traditional memory-based studying may be superior to new-fangled teaching methodologies both in recalling information and in meaningful learning while studying science, new research by American scientists has shown. The research, published in Jan 21 edition of the journal Science, is relevant to India because it comes at a time when the country’s schooling policy is slowly shifting away from its much-criticised focus on memory-based learning.

The National Curriculum Framework, 2005 and subsequent policy decisions taken by the human resource development (HRD) ministry have focused on reducing the need to memorize information studied in classrooms.

These decisions are based on studies that have argued that the current schooling system – with its emphasis on what is often called “rote” learning – pressurizes students, placing them under stress, and kills their creativity.

The research by Purdue University scientist Jeffrey Karpicke, published in Science however suggests that shifting to newer learning techniques involving drawing connections between different ideas studied, could reduce the effectiveness of learning.

"Learning is about retrieving. So it is important to make retrieval practice an integral part of the learning process," Karpicke said.

In two studies conducted by Karpicke and a colleague on 200 students, one group was asked to study a science text using concept maps – reading material and drawing diagrams connecting different ideas to learn the subject studied.

The other group of students read the text, put it away and then practiced recalling what they had read.

The retention of information was near identical between the two groups immediately after the first study. But when the two groups were tested in a second study a week later, the group that used memory-based learning showed a 50 per cent improvement in long-term retention over the group that used concept maps.

“The final retention test was one of the most important features of our study, because we asked questions that tapped into meaningful learning," said Karpicke.

Students who used memory-based learning were better at answering concept related questions and drawing connections between different concepts, the research found. The findings surprised even the students tested, the researchers said.