“One Size Fits All” Rarely Fits


If you attend Learning and the Brain conferences, or read this blog regularly, you know all about the well-researched benefits of retrieval practice. (You can read earlier articles on this subject here and here.)

The short version of the story: if we ask students to recall ideas or processes that they have learned, they are likelier to learn those ideas/processes deeply than if we simply go over them again.

But, does retrieval practice always work?

The question answers itself: almost nothing always works. (The exception: in my experience, donuts always work.)

Over at The Learning Scientists, Cindy Wooldridge writes about her attempt to use retrieval practice in her class–and the dismaying results.

From her attempt, Wooldridge reaches several wise conclusions. Here are two of them:

Another very important take-away is that learning science is not one size fits all. Just because we say retrieval practice works, doesn’t mean it works in all scenarios and under all circumstances.

This is why it’s so important to be skeptical. Use objective measures to assess whether and how a teaching strategy is working for your students and take time to do some reflection on how and why it worked (or didn’t). This is another great example of a time when my intuition said that this absolutely should work, but we should follow the evidence and not just intuition.

To learn more about her effort and her conclusions, click here.

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