Combining retrieval, spacing, and feedback boosts STEM learning — from

Scientists demonstrated that when college students used a quizzing program that combined retrieval practice, spacing, and feedback, exam performance increased by nearly a letter grade.


The most effective educational interventions often face significant barriers to widespread implementation because they are highly specific, resource intense, and/or comprehensive. We argue for an alternative approach to improving education: leveraging technology and cognitive science to develop interventions that generalize, scale, and can be easily implemented within any curriculum. In a classroom experiment, we investigated whether three simple, but powerful principles from cognitive science could be combined to improve learning. Although implementation of these principles only required a few small changes to standard practice in a college engineering course, it significantly increased student performance on exams. Our findings highlight the potential for developing inexpensive, yet effective educational interventions that can be implemented worldwide.

In summary, the combination of spaced retrieval practice and required feedback viewing had a powerful effect on student learning of complex engineering material. Of course, the principles from cognitive science could have been applied without the use of technology. However, our belief is that advances in technology and ideas from machine learning have the potential to exponentially increase the effectiveness and impact of these principles. Automation is an important benefit, but technology also can provide a personalized learning experience for a rapidly growing, diverse body of students who have different knowledge and academic backgrounds. Through the use of data mining, algorithms, and experimentation, technology can help us understand how best to implement these principles for individual learners while also producing new discoveries about how people learn. Finally, technology facilitates access. Even if an intervention has a small effect size, it can still have a substantial impact if broadly implemented. For example, aspirin has a small effect on preventing heart attacks and strokes when taken regularly, but its impact is large because it is cheap and widely available. The synergy of cognitive science, machine learning, and technology has the potential to produce inexpensive, but powerful learning tools that generalize, scale, and can be easily implemented worldwide.

Keywords: Education. Technology. Retrieval practice. Spacing. Feedback. Transfer of learning.



From DSC:
The picture below was posted in the item below from edutopia. What a powerful picture! And not just for art or drama teachers!

Does it not once again illustrate that we are different? The lenses that we view the world through are different. Our learners are different. Each of us comes to a learning experience with different backgrounds, emotions, knowledge…and different real-life experiences.

As the article mentions, we need to create safe and supportive learning environments, where the love of (or at least the enjoyment of) learning can thrive.


Getting creative with social and emotional learning (SEL) — from by Maurice Elias, Sara LaHayne
How to incorporate creative expression and movement in the classroom while building social and emotional learning skills.


Being creative is an inherently vulnerable process. In order to authentically build SEL competencies through creative expression, teachers need to strive to create a safe space, provide time, and open doors for validation.

  • Creating a safe and supportive classroom environment
  • Providing time
  • Opening the doors for validation



Introducing several new ideas to provide personalized, customized learning experiences for all kinds of learners! [Christian]

From DSC:
I have often reflected on differentiation or what some call personalized learning and/or customized learning. How does a busy teacher, instructor, professor, or trainer achieve this, realistically?

It’s very difficult and time-consuming to do for sure. But it also requires a team of specialists to achieve such a holy grail of learning — as one person can’t know it all. That is, one educator doesn’t have the necessary time, skills, or knowledge to address so many different learning needs and levels!

  • Think of different cognitive capabilities — from students that have special learning needs and challenges to gifted students
  • Or learners that have different physical capabilities or restrictions
  • Or learners that have different backgrounds and/or levels of prior knowledge
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Educators  and trainers have so many things on their plates that it’s very difficult to come up with _X_ lesson plans/agendas/personalized approaches, etc.  On the other side of the table, how do students from a vast array of backgrounds and cognitive skill levels get the main points of a chapter or piece of text? How can they self-select the level of difficulty and/or start at a “basics” level and work one’s way up to harder/more detailed levels if they can cognitively handle that level of detail/complexity? Conversely, how do I as a learner get the boiled down version of a piece of text?

Well… just as with the flipped classroom approach, I’d like to suggest that we flip things a bit and enlist teams of specialists at the publishers to fulfill this need. Move things to the content creation end — not so much at the delivery end of things. Publishers’ teams could play a significant, hugely helpful role in providing customized learning to learners.

Some of the ways that this could happen:

Use an HTML like language when writing a textbook, such as:

<MainPoint> The text for the main point here. </MainPoint>

<SubPoint1>The text for the subpoint 1 here.</SubPoint1>

<DetailsSubPoint1>More detailed information for subpoint 1 here.</DetailsSubPoint1>

<SubPoint2>The text for the subpoint 2 here.</SubPoint2>

<DetailsSubPoint2>More detailed information for subpoint 2 here.</DetailsSubPoint2>

<SubPoint3>The text for the subpoint 3 here.</SubPoint3>

<DetailsSubPoint3>More detailed information for subpoint 3 here.</DetailsSubPoint1>

<SummaryOfMainPoints>A list of the main points that a learner should walk away with.</SummaryOfMainPoints>

<BasicsOfMainPoints>Here is a listing of the main points, but put in alternative words and more basic ways of expressing those main points. </BasicsOfMainPoints>

<Conclusion> The text for the concluding comments here.</Conclusion>


<BasicsOfMainPoints> could be called <AlternativeExplanations>
Bottom line: This tag would be to put things forth using very straightforward terms.

Another tag would be to address how this topic/chapter is relevant:
<RealWorldApplication>This short paragraph should illustrate real world examples

of this particular topic. Why does this topic matter? How is it relevant?</RealWorldApplication>


On the students’ end, they could use an app that works with such tags to allow a learner to quickly see/review the different layers. That is:

  • Show me just the main points
  • Then add on the sub points
  • Then fill in the details
  • Just give me the basics via an alternative ways of expressing these things. I won’t remember all the details. Put things using easy-to-understand wording/ideas.


It’s like the layers of a Microsoft HoloLens app of the human anatomy:


Or it’s like different layers of a chapter of a “textbook” — so a learner could quickly collapse/expand the text as needed:


This approach could be helpful at all kinds of learning levels. For example, it could be very helpful for law school students to obtain outlines for cases or for chapters of information. Similarly, it could be helpful for dental or medical school students to get the main points as well as detailed information.

Also, as Artificial Intelligence (AI) grows, the system could check a learner’s cloud-based learner profile to see their reading level or prior knowledge, any IEP’s on file, their learning preferences (audio, video, animations, etc.), etc. to further provide a personalized/customized learning experience. 

To recap:

  • “Textbooks” continue to be created by teams of specialists, but add specialists with knowledge of students with special needs as well as for gifted students. For example, a team could have experts within the field of Special Education to help create one of the overlays/or filters/lenses — i.e., to reword things. If the text was talking about how to hit a backhand or a forehand, the alternative text layer could be summed up to say that tennis is a sport…and that a sport is something people play. On the other end of the spectrum, the text could dive deeply into the various grips a person could use to hit a forehand or backhand.
  • This puts the power of offering differentiation at the point of content creation/development (differentiation could also be provided for at the delivery end, but again, time and expertise are likely not going to be there)
  • Publishers create “overlays” or various layers that can be turned on or off by the learners
  • Can see whole chapters or can see main ideas, topic sentences, and/or details. Like HTML tags for web pages.
  • Can instantly collapse chapters to main ideas/outlines.



Top Trends in Active and Collaborative Learning — from by Joe Hammett


My daughter is a maker. She spends hours tinkering with sewing machines and slime recipes, building salamander habitats and the like. She hangs out with her school friends inside apps that teach math and problem solving through multi-player games. All the while, they are learning to communicate and collaborate in ways that are completely foreign to their grandparent’s generation. She is 10 years old and represents a shift in human cognitive processing brought about by the mastery of technology from a very young age. Her generation and those that come after have never known a time without technology. Personal devices have changed the shared human experience and there is no turning back.

The spaces in which this new human chooses to occupy must cater to their style of existence. They see every display as interactive and are growing up knowing that the entirety of human knowledge is available to them by simply asking Alexa. The 3D printer is a familiar concept and space travel for pleasure will be the norm when they have children of their own.

Current trends in active and collaborative learning are evolving alongside these young minds and when appropriately implemented, enable experiential learning and creative encounters that are changing the very nature of the learning process. Attention to the spaces that will support the educators is also paramount to this success. Lesson plans and teaching style must flip with the classroom. The learning space is just a room without the educator and their content.


8. Flexible and Reconfigurable
With floor space at a premium, classrooms need to be able to adapt to a multitude of uses and pedagogies. Flexible furniture will allow the individual instructor freedom to set up the space as needed for their intended activities without impacting the next person to use the room. Construction material choices are key to achieving an easily reconfigurable space. Raised floors and individually controllable lighting fixtures allow a room to go from lecture to group work with ease. Whiteboard paints and rail mounting systems make walls reconfigurable too!.

Active Learning, Flipped Classroom, SCALE-UP, TEAL Classroom, whatever label you choose to place before it, the classroom, learning spaces of all sorts, are changing. The occupants of these spaces demand that they are able to effectively, and comfortably, share ideas and collaborate on projects with their counterparts both in person and in the ether. A global shift is happening in the way humans share ideas. Disruptive technology, on a level not seen since the assembly line, is driving a change in the way humans interact with other humans. The future is collaborative.




A Space for Learning: A review of research on active learning spaces — from by Robert Talbert and Anat Mor-Avi

Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) are learning spaces specially designed to optimize the practice of active learning and amplify its positive effects in learners from young children through university-level learners. As interest in and adoption of ALCs has increased rapidly over the last decade, the need for grounded research in their effects on learners and schools has grown proportionately. In this paper, we review the peer-reviewed published research on ALCs, dating back to the introduction of “studio” classrooms and the SCALE-UP program up to the present day. We investigate the literature and summarize findings on the effects of ALCs on learning outcomes, student engagement, and the behaviors and practices of instructors as well as the specific elements of ALC design that seem to contribute the most to these effects. We also look at the emerging cultural impact of ALCs on institutions of learning, and we examine the drawbacks of the published research as well as avenues for potential future research in this area.


1: Introduction
1.1: What is active learning, and what is an active learning classroom?
Active learning is defined broadly to include any pedagogical method that involves students actively working on learning tasks and reflecting on their work, apart from watching, listening, and taking notes (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Active learning has taken hold as a normative instructional practice in K12 and higher education institutions worldwide. Recent studies, such as the 2014 meta-analysis linking active learning pedagogies with dramatically reduced failure rates in university-level STEM courses (Freeman et al., 2014) have established that active learning drives increased student learning and engagement across disciplines, grade levels, and demographics.

As schools, colleges, and universities increasingly seek to implement active learning, concerns about the learning spaces used for active learning have naturally arisen. Attempts to implement active learning pedagogies in spaces that are not attuned to the particular needs of active learning — for example, large lecture halls with fixed seating — have resulted in suboptimal results and often frustration among instructors and students alike. In an effort to link architectural design to best practices in active learning pedagogy, numerous instructors, school leaders, and architects have explored how learning spaces can be differently designed to support active learning and amplify its positive effects on student learning. The result is a category of learning spaces known as Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs).

While there is no universally accepted definition of an ALC, the spaces often described by this term have several common characteristics:

  • ALCs are classrooms, that is, formal spaces in which learners convene for educational activities. We do not include less-formal learning spaces such as faculty offices, library study spaces, or “in-between” spaces located in hallways or foyers.
  • ALCs include deliberate architectural and design attributes that are specifically intended to promote active learning. These typically include moveable furniture that can be reconfigured into a variety of different setups with ease, seating that places students in small groups, plentiful horizontal and/or vertical writing surfaces such as whiteboards, and easy access to learning
    technologies (including technological infrastructure such as power outlets).
  • In particular, most ALCs have a “polycentric” or “acentric” design in which there is no clearly-defined front of the room by default. Rather, the instructor has a station which is either
    movable or located in an inconspicuous location so as not to attract attention; or perhaps there is no specific location for the instructor.
  • Finally, ALCs typically provide easy access to digital and analog tools for learning , such as multiple digital projectors, tablet or laptop computers, wall-mounted and personal whiteboards, or classroom response systems.

2.1: Research questions
The main question that this study intends to investigate is: What are the effects of the use of ALCs on student learning, faculty teaching, and institutional cultures? Within this broad overall question, we will focus on four research questions:

  1. What effects do ALCs have on measurable metrics of student academic achievement? Included in such metrics are measures such as exam scores, course grades, and learning gains on pre/post-test measures, along with data on the acquisition of “21st Century Skills”, which we will define using a framework (OCDE, 2009) which groups “21st Century Skills” into skills pertaining to information, communication, and ethical/social impact.
  2. What effects do ALCs have on student engagement? Specifically, we examine results pertaining to affective, behavioral, and cognitive elements of the idea of “engagement” as well as results that cut across these categories.
  3. What effect do ALCs have on the pedagogical practices and behaviors of instructors? In addition to their effects on students, we are also interested the effects of ALCs on the instructors who use them. Specifically, we are interested in how ALCs affect instructor attitudes toward and implementations of active learning, how ALCs influence faculty adoption of active learning pedagogies, and how the use of ALCs affects instructors’ general and environmental behavior.
  4. What specific design elements of ALCs contribute significantly to the above effects? Finally, we seek to identify the critical elements of ALCs that contribute the most to their effects on student learning and instructor performance, including affordances and elements of design, architecture, and technology integration.


Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs)



The common denominator in the larger cultural effects of ALCs and active learning on students and instructors is the notion of connectedness, a concept we have already introduced in discussions of specific ALC design elements. By being freer to move and have physical and visual contact with each other in a class meeting, students feel more connected to each other and more connected to their instructor. By having an architectural design that facilitates not only movement but choice and agency — for example, through the use of polycentric layouts and reconfigurable furniture — the line between instructor and students is erased, turning the ALC into a vessel in which an authentic community of learners can take form.





Reflections on “Are ‘smart’ classrooms the future?” [Johnston]

Are ‘smart’ classrooms the future? — from by Julie Johnston
Indiana University explores that question by bringing together tech partners and university leaders to share ideas on how to design classrooms that make better use of faculty and student time.


To achieve these goals, we are investigating smart solutions that will:

  • Untether instructors from the room’s podium, allowing them control from anywhere in the room;
  • Streamline the start of class, including biometric login to the room’s technology, behind-the-scenes routing of course content to room displays, control of lights and automatic attendance taking;
  • Offer whiteboards that can be captured, routed to different displays in the room and saved for future viewing and editing;
  • Provide small-group collaboration displays and the ability to easily route content to and from these displays; and
  • Deliver these features through a simple, user-friendly and reliable room/technology interface.

Activities included collaborative brainstorming focusing on these questions:

  • What else can we do to create the classroom of the future?
  • What current technology exists to solve these problems?
  • What could be developed that doesn’t yet exist?
  • What’s next?




From DSC:
Though many peoples’ — including faculty members’ — eyes gloss over when we start talking about learning spaces and smart classrooms, it’s still an important topic. Personally, I’d rather be learning in an engaging, exciting learning environment that’s outfitted with a variety of tools (physically as well as digitally and virtually-based) that make sense for that community of learners. Also, faculty members have very limited time to get across campus and into the classroom and get things setup…the more things that can be automated in those setup situations the better!

I’ve long posted items re: machine-to-machine communications, voice recognition/voice-enabled interfaces, artificial intelligence, bots, algorithms, a variety of vendors and their products including Amazon’s Alexa / Apple’s Siri / Microsoft’s Cortana / and Google’s Home or Google Assistant, learning spaces, and smart classrooms, as I do think those things are components of our future learning ecosystems.




From DSC:
Ever notice how effective Ted Talks begin? They seek to instantly grab your attention with a zinger question, a somewhat shocking statement, an interesting story, a joke, an important problem or an issue, a personal anecdote or experience, a powerful image/photo/graphic, a brief demonstration, and the like.

Grabbing someone’s attention is a key first step in getting a piece of information into someone’s short-term memory — what I call getting through “the gate.” If we can’t get through the gate into someone’s short-term memory, we have zero (0) chance of having them actually process that information and to think about and engage with that piece of content. If we can’t make it into someone’s short-term memory, we can’t get that piece of information into their long-term memory for later retrieval/recall. There won’t be any return on investment (ROI) in that case.



So why not try starting up one of your classes this week with a zinger question, a powerful image/photo/video, or a story from your own work experience? I’ll bet you’ll grab your students’ attentions instantly! Then you can move on into the material for a greater ROI. From there, offering frequent, low-stakes quizzes will hopefully help your students slow down their forgetting curves and help them practice recalling/retrieving that information. By the way, that’s why stories are quite powerful. We often remember them better. So if you can weave an illustrative story into your next class, your students might really benefit from it come final test time!

Also relevant/see:

Ready, set, speak: 5 strong ways to start your next presentation — from by Olga Mack, with thanks to Mr. Otto Stockmeyer for this resource
No matter which of these five ways you decide to launch your presentation, ensure that you make it count, and make it memorable.


  1. Tell a captivating story
  2. Ask thought-provoking questions to the audience
  3. State a shocking headline or statistic
  4. Use a powerful quote
  5. Use silence
    When delivering a speech, a pause of about three or even as many as 10 seconds will allow your audience to sit and quiet down. Because most people always expect the speaker to start immediately, this silence will thus catch the attention of the audience. They will be instinctively more interested in what you had to say, and why you took your time to say it. This time will also help you gather your nerves and prepare to speak.




Three shifts as big as print to digital — from by Tom Vander Ark

Excerpts (emphasis DSC):

We just lived through the biggest shift in learning since the printing press—a 25-year shift from print to digital. While it extended access and options to billions, it didn’t prove as transformational as many of us expected. It did, however, set the stage for three shifts that will change what and how people learn.

  1. Basic to broader aims.
  2. Passive to active learning.
  3. Time to demonstrated learning.




You spend weeks studying for an important test. On the big day, you wait nervously as your teacher hands it out. You’re working your way through, when you’re asked to define “ataraxia.” You know you’ve seen the word before, but your mind goes blank. What just happened? Elizabeth Cox details the complex relationship between stress and memory.



Some of the ways to reduce stress that was mentioned include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Doing practice tests — especially under similar conditions; under time pressure for example
  • On the day of the test, take deep breaths




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