Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Least Efficient Way To Learn

Which of these words begins with the letter 'c'?

a) dog b) cat c) rabbit d)goldfish

In the Human-Computer Interaction Module in college our lecturer talked about a study on how many of the answers to a multiple choice question a respondent would remember. As the amount of processing of the word required to answer increased, the percentage of words recalled by respondents increased.

The question above requires very little processing as you only check the first letter. A step down the ladder would be 'Which of these words is coloured red?'. A step up would be 'Which of these words rhymes with sound?'. At the top of the ladder would be a fill-in-the-blank question, where each word must be considered in the context of the sentence.

The conclusion I take from this is that multiple choice questions are a poor tool for re-enforcing learning. When asked a question at a future time, you may recall the correct answer, but your mind may have several other associations with the question.

I have a Capitals Quiz app, although it is not as cool as this one on the right for the iPad. It feels like I should be learning more than I am. This is because of how many questions I have answered. The greater problem is that if the three wrong answers are randomised then my brain is creating even more wrong associations to the question. No application is going to be popular if it changes the format - most people would rather have the illusion of learning than put in the effort to learn.

So it looks like, if I want to learn the new Capitals, I will have to go back to the old methods.
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