Thursday, November 07, 2019

Individual differences in learning efficiency

Kathleen B. McDermott and Christopher L. Zerr


Most research on long-term memory uses an experimental approach whereby participants are assigned to different conditions, and condition means are the measures of interest. This approach has demonstrated repeatedly that conditions that slow the rate of learning tend to improve later retention. A neglected question is whether aggregate findings at the level of the group (i.e., slower learning tends to improve retention) translate to the level of individual people. We identify a discrepancy whereby—across people—slower learning tends to coincide with poorer memory. The positive relation between learning rate (speed of learning) and retention (amount remembered after a delay) across people is referred to as learning efficiency. A more efficient learner can acquire information faster and remember more of it over time. We discuss potential characteristics of efficient learners and consider future directions for research.

Keywords learning efficiency, individual differences, memory, learning rate, retention

A few select quotes below.  Dr. Joel Schneider and I have written elsewhere that we believe that attentional control (AC; a key mechanism of working memory or Gwm) is a key cognitive mechanism in learning and cognitive functioning.

Learning strategy differences:  Faster learners generate more mediators while learning, and these mediators tend to be both implemented earlier in the learning process and more effective in aiding memory 

Prior knowledge:  However, prior knowledge (or crystallized intelligence) may still promote integration of new information into existing knowledge and improve the efficacy of learning strategies—the more knowledge someone possesses, the richer the set of potential mediators.

Attentional control:  People who are better able to focus their attention are less susceptible to interfering information; further, they more quickly search long-term memory when retrieving information (Unsworth & Spillers, 2010). Neuroimaging evidence suggests that the ability to control one's attention is a potential driver of efficient learning. 

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