How long ago did we learn that research on memorising trivial, meaningless lists is not the same as research on meaningful learning? Saima Noreen writes in The Conversation about “The internet is eating your memory, but something better is taking its place”, the following:

In the same way, individuals develop a transactive memory with the internet and rely on it for information by focusing on where details are located rather than the details themselves.

More recent research has extended this line of work and found that saving information on a computer not only changes how our brains interact with it, but also makes it easier to learn new information. In a study published last year, the participants were presented with two files that each contained a list of words. They were asked to memorise both lists. Half of the participants were asked to save the first file before moving on to the next list, while the others had to close it without saving.

The experiment revealed that the participants recalled significantly more information from the second file if they had saved the previous file. This suggests that by saving or “offloading” information on to a computer, we are freeing up cognitive resources that enable us to memorise and recall new information instead.

In sum, anyone worrying that technology is wrecking one of our most important abilities should take some reassurance from these findings.

This could be good news, but the question is: What exactly is being off-loaded in the research cited? The answer in the research cited is non-relevant, trivial lists of words (nouns).

Materials. Twelve PDF files were created, each containing a single list of 10 common nouns (four to seven letters long).

And why is there an effect? The most probable reason is because if you have to rehearse and keep these non-relevant, trivial lists in your working memory, there is little room there for processing new information. But what if the information that was saved in the file was not a list of common nouns that had to be recalled, but rather relevant, useful new information that could be meaningfully incorporated in the learners’ already available knowledge schemata? Would we get the same results?

All – OK, I’m overgeneralising here a bit – research begins with such experiments, and as a researcher I’m completely in favour of it. Research on the testing effect, for example, began with learning word pairs and how the use of testing as opposed to repetition/rereading positively affected recall. The proof of the pudding, however, is whether the effect holds up when ‘real learning’ is supposed to happen in real life educational settings. That’s why there is a large group of researchers studying the testing effect for learning from prose learning texts. Before we start to cite such research as ‘proof’ – as is done by Ms. Saima –we first need to do more research in relevant educational contexts. Then if the effect holds up, and we also assume that everyone has omnipresent, ubiquitous access to the necessary databases, then we might be on the right path.

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About Paul Kirschner

Nederlands: Prof. dr. Paul A. Kirschner, dr.h.c. is Universiteishoogleraar en hoogleraar Onderwijspsychologie aan de Open Universiteit. Hij is ook Visiting Professor Onderwijs met een leerstoel in Leren en Interactie in de Lerarenopleiding aan Oulu University (Finland) waar hij ook een Eredoctoraat heeft (doctor honoris causa). Hij is een internationaal erkende expert op zijn gebied en heeft zitting gehad in de Onderwijsraad in de periode 2000-2004 en is lid van de Wetenschappelijk Technische Raad van SURF. Hij is Fellow of the American Educational Research Association (AERA; NB de eerste Europeaan aan wie deze eer werd toegekend), de International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS) en van de Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (NIAS-KNAW). Hij was President van de International Society for the Learning Sciences (ISLS) in de periode 2010-2011. Hij is Hoofdredacteur van de Journal of Computer Assisted Learning en Commissioning Editor van Computers in Human Behavior, en hij is auteur van Ten steps to complex learning (Routledge/Erlbaum). Hij schrift ook regelmatig voor Didactief (de kolom KirschnerKiest over wat docenten kunnen met wetenschappelijke resultaten). Hij is ook medeauteur van het boek Jongens zijn slimmer dan meisjes XL (EN: Urban Myths about Learning and Education). Hij wordt gezien als expert op veel gebieden en vooral computerondersteund samenwerkend leren (CSCL), het ontwerpen van innovatieve, elektronische leeromgevingen, mediagebruik in het onderwijs en het verwerven van complex cognitieve vaardigheden. English: Paul A. Kirschner (1951) is Distinguished University Professor and professor of Educational Psychology at the Open University of the Netherlands as well as Visiting Professor of Education with a special emphasis on Learning and Interaction in Teacher Education at the University of Oulu, Finland where he was also honoured with an Honorary Doctorate (doctor honoris causa). He was previously professor of Educational Psychology and Programme Director of the Fostering Effective, Efficient and Enjoyable Learning environments (FEEEL) programme at the Welten Institute, Research Centre for Learning, Teaching and Technology at the Open University of the Netherlands. He is an internationally recognised expert in the fields of educational psychology and instructional design. He is Research Fellow of the American Educational Research Association and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Science. He was President of the International Society for the Learning Sciences (ISLS) in 2010-2011, member of both the ISLS CSCL Board and the Executive Committee of the Society and he is an AERA Research Fellow (the first European to receive this honour). He is currently a member of the Scientific Technical Council of the Foundation for University Computing Facilities (SURF WTR) in the Netherlands and was a member of the Dutch Educational Council and, as such, was advisor to the Minister of Education (2000-2004). He is chief editor of the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, commissioning editor of Computers in Human Behavior, and has published two very successful books: Ten Steps to Complex Learning (now in its third revised edition and translated/published in Korea and China) and Urban Legends about Learning and Education (also in Dutch, Swedish, and Chinese). He also co-edited two other books (Visualizing Argumentation and What we know about CSCL). His areas of expertise include interaction in learning, collaboration for learning (computer supported collaborative learning), and regulation of learning.

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onderzoek, psychologie

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