Research in the lab focuses on a wide range of topics in cognition and is motivated by questions such as: What are the cognitive processes that affect how individuals process and retain information? What cognitive factors contribute to individual differences in learning? In other words, why are some individuals better or worse at learning than others? What strategies effectively promote learning? Why? For whom? And in what domains? Below are a few broad examples of current research projects that address these questions.
Exploring cognitive strategies that enhance memory retention: The scientific study of human learning and memory consists of thousands of experiments dedicated to identifying cognitive processes fundamental to learning. This tremendous knowledge base has allowed researchers to identify a series of strategies that enhance memory.
- Interleaved practice: concepts (e.g., 1,2,3) are learned better when practiced in a mixed fashion (interleaved: 123231) rather than in blocks (blocked: 111222333).
- Spaced practice: concepts are learned better when repeated study opportunities are distributed—i.e., “spaced out”—in time, rather than massed or “crammed” together.
- Pretests: concepts are learned better if students are given pretests—questions on to-be-taught concepts—compared to no pretests.
When multiple strategies are available, the question is not simply which one is best, but also, why, and for whom is it best. Moreover, do these strategies improve learning beyond laboratory settings in real-world classrooms? We explore the boundary conditions of some of these strategies.
Investigating individual differences via Aptitude by Treatment Interaction (ATI): ATI is a research paradigm that examines how learning outcomes depend on the match between a specific cognitive ability and an instructional treatment. We incorporate ATI methods into research by examining how various factors (e.g., a learner’s working memory, perceptions, motivation) interact with evidence-based strategies (e.g., interleaved practice, pretests) to affect learning, retention of information, and academic performance.
Facilitating conceptual understanding beyond rote memorization across domains: Until recently, studies in cognitive psychology have focused on rote learning, which do not capture the range of typical classroom instruction and critical thinking skills that students are expected to acquire. For example, there are multiple levels of learning, including rote/factual memorization and applied/inferential learning. Do evidence-based strategies foster both levels of learning? And in all domains? We examine the extensibility of these strategies beyond factual recall to more applied learning across several domains (e.g., statistics, physics, psychology) in actual classrooms.
Examining practical issues in classrooms and other learning environments: In order to bridge the gap between education and cognition, it is critical to examine teacher and school-relevant concerns. For example, how does technology use in classrooms affect learning? How can distracting behaviours be minimized? Do these behaviours affect peer attention and learning? Does it matter if instruction is online or face-to-face? How can homework completion rate be increased? How can in-the-moment learning be accurately assessed? What are some time-effective strategies that can improve comprehension? How can in-class participation be encouraged? We examine these wider range of educational issues in an empirical and systematic way both in the lab and in classroom settings.