How Online Educators Are Using Research Into How Students Learn and (Most Importantly?) Retain What They've Learned: Tips For Online Teachers

In designing online courses, teachers have access to centuries of practices, research into the science of learning, and the latest algorithms for optimizing learning and retention.

For example, online educational algorithms - extrapolating from research into how students learn and retain learned information - can remember how students have performed on quizzes and then the software can generate quizzes that retest concepts at intervals that are most likely to enhance each individual student's learning and retention.

Such an algorithm is the subject of a January 1, 2013 blogpost by Annie Murphy Paul. The concept underlying Ms. Paul's blogpost is something that many experienced teachers already know and try to utilize: "To remember something long term, a student must return to it several times, increasing the interval between each revision."

But how can online tools improve upon the teacher's intuitive sense of when to repeat things?

Didn't Dale Carnegie have the last word about the importance of repetition when he advised public speakers: "Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said?"

The new online tools for educating students are taking the ability to track each student's performance on quizzes - and to repeat certain questions at intervals that will benefit each particular student - to a new level...

One educational software maker, Cerego, is currently experimenting with software that tracks how long a student takes to answer questions, how much faster those answers come when that student has seen a question before, and which questions each student skips or gets wrong. All that information is then analyzed. The result? Cerego's software can create customized quizzes that employ repetition at optimal intervals. In other words, the Cerego software works out when each student would most likely benefit from re-encountering a piece of information.

There are numerous options:

If a student quickly and correctly gives an answer, the system might wait two or three days before quizzing on that fact again.

But, when a student provides a wrong answer, that item might come up every few minutes until the student improves.

After the student succeeds on a given question, the software will only re-test the concept after an interval - extending the interval between retests each time a question is answered correctly.

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