Learning Techniques and Biases

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The first learning technique to be addressed in terms of usage frequency and usage efficiency is highlighting or underlining. While this technique is considered one of the most widely used among students, its efficiency has never proven to be as high (Dunlosky et al., 2013). In essence, the highlighting technique stands for the process of outlining a certain segment of text or information as more important than the adjacent information. Sometimes, the highlighted text is also perceived as an umbrella concept for the information presented in the text. As a result, students underline these parts while hoping that they will help evoke the rest of the content.

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However, the efficiency of such a technique is rather questionable due to the specifics of heuristics and biases implications. To begin with, the simplicity of underlining or highlighting motivates a person to turn to heuristics and use this memorization pattern as a learning shortcut. Indeed, at the beginning of learning, students feel both relieved and pleased by the result, as they are capable of rendering the highlighted information quickly, deceived by an illusion of memorizing the information. While they highlight the information, they inevitably re-read it and memorize some parts of the content. However, the major bias with such a technique is the fact that such memorization happens outside of the learning context, making students unable to draw connections between the memorized text to the meaning it had within the learning material. According to the researchers, highlighting may only be relevant when the underlined information can be retrieved from the context and have the same meaning (Yeari et al., 2017). Otherwise, students’ knowledge will remain rather abrupt and biased.

Unlike the previous technique, practice testing is rightfully considered the most efficient learning strategy in terms of processing and memorizing information. Practice testing is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of different testing approaches, namely:

  • Multiple-choice tests
  • Essay tests
  • Problem-solving tests (Oregon State University, n.d.)

These types are later divided into other subcategories, but despite the specific, they all retain a common goal: to stimulate the learner’s cognitive function and reasoning through evoking a response to a specific situation. Thus, for example, the multiple-choice practice testing, along with the fill-in-the-gaps approach, stimulates response by placing the learner’s mind into a certain context that helps withdraw the appropriate solution. In other cases, the brain function is stimulated by a certain problem or question. To facilitate responsiveness, learners tend to practice by performing more tests and creating flashcards to establish the connection between certain concepts and their possible application. According to Cornell University (2021), the value of practice tests is manifested in the so-called “testing effect,” or the phenomenon that encourages the learner to retrieve information in a challenging environment with no additional resources to address. In such a way, the chances of retrieving this information later in the future are considerably higher.

However, while this approach to learning and memory training is more beneficial than many others, the biases of testing still exist. To begin with, practice testing almost always presupposes the existence of an etalon or a commonly accepted answer. Educators are frequently unwilling to critically appraise every possible approach to the test set, as their heuristic encourages them to define the most appropriate and universal response. As a result, practice testing contributes to the development of “conventional” thinking and undermines the power of creativity and uniqueness of the learning environment perception.

In terms of the novel strategy, the foundation of the approach will be attributed to the strategy of practice testing. However, considering the bias risk described earlier, the educators will not be the ones to create a set of questions. The strategy will primarily address the process of learning a new concept in the classroom. For example, during Economics 101, the students are expected to become acquainted with the notion of the market economy. The strategy outline will look as follows:

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  • Students are given the text that describes some of the fundamental ideas of the market economy with examples.
  • Learners study the content, and their task is to create practice testing for their colleagues. The testing form is the learner’s choice. The only requirement is the ability to find the answer in the learning materials.
  • During the test preparation, the teacher creates short breaks now and then where they encourage the learners to communicate with each other on everything but the market economy.
  • After several sprints of test preparation and communication, students are randomly assigned to complete the tests of their colleagues.
  • Once everyone is ready, the students exchange their tests, and the authors of the test evaluate their classmates’ progress.
  • The class is divided into groups (depending on the number of students, ~ 10 students per group). The newly formed groups present their tests and define the most commonly exploited notions from the learning material, creating a map of learning objectives to cover and memorize by the end of the module.

The present strategy encompasses the approaches of practice testing, peer education, and distributed practice to facilitate the reverse classroom environment where the educators become the ones educated. By observing the students, and their patterns of processing new information, educators have the chance to eliminate their biased and heuristic approach to presenting new ideas. Thus, when the presentation, practice, and production are conducted by students, the workflow of the lesson with inevitably be different and, in most cases, may appear even better in terms of learning outcomes. The combination of the strategies, in its turn, creates the opportunity for the students not to settle for mental shortcuts. When always interrupted by unrelated discussions, students would need to always come back to where they started, and such a starting point would never be the same after a disruption. As a result, the vector of one’s thinking slightly changes with every interval, presenting new insights into reflection and memorization.


Cornell University. (2021). What to do with practice exams. Web.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., and Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,14, 4-58. Web.

Oregon State University. (n.d.). Test types & their strategies. Web.

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Yeari, M., Oudega, M., & van den Broek, P. (2017). The effect of highlighting on processing and memory of central and peripheral text information: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Research in Reading, 40(4), 365-383. Web.

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