Sequence matters! Retrieval practice before generative learning is more effective than the reverse order
In a recent article in Learning and Instruction, Julian Roelle, Linda Froese, Rebecca Krebs, Niklas Obergassel, and Julia Waldeyer published an article discussing the effects of sequencing retrieval practice and generative learning. In other words, does it matter if, after reading a text learners, first carry out retrieval practice on what they’ve read followed by generative learning or vice versa. This was, of course, compared to reading a text twice.
In short, this was the result:
If you want to know more about the article (it’s behind a paywall) then read on.
As follow-up to an initial study phase, both generative learning activities and retrieval practice can substantially enhance learning, but via different functions. Generative activities are theorized to mainly serve the function of constructing coherent mental representations of the learning content that are well integrated with prior knowledge, whereas retrieval practice is theorized to mainly serve the function of consolidating learners’ mental representations in memory. In view of these complementing functions, the present study investigated whether the sequence of these activities matters. In an experiment with N = 158 university students, we varied the sequence of generative learning and retrieval practice after an initial study phase. We found that the retrieval before-generation sequence yielded better retention and reduced cognitive load during both types of activities. We conclude that although it might seem counterintuitive, engaging learners in retrieval practice before engaging them in generative learning can be more beneficial than vice versa.
The authors state:
Generative learning and retrieval practice serve fundamentally different functions and thus promote learning via different mechanisms. Generative learning activities such as elaborating on provided content mainly serve the function of constructing coherent mental representations of the learning content that are well integrated with learners’ prior knowledge, whereas retrieval practice mainly serves the function of consolidating the constructed mental representations in memory. In view of these complementing functions, the combination of generative learning and retrieval practice has received increasing attention in recent years. Surprisingly, however, to date the field has widely ignored one important fundamental question: When learners are engaged in both types of activities – does the sequence matter?
The present study contributes to filling this research gap. After an initial study phase, in which learners read an expository text that covered new concepts, we varied whether learners were engaged in generative learning before retrieval practice or in retrieval practice before generative learning. A sequence in which learners were engaged in restudy twice served as control condition. Pre-post-gains as well as performance and cognitive load in the follow-up learning phases were used as the main dependent variables.
Here’s the setup:
The authors conclude:
In sum, the present study entails the following main contribution: The sequence of generative learning and retrieval practice matters. Although the learners were engaged in the same generative and retrieval practice tasks and did not differ regarding performance on these tasks, the retrieval-before-generative sequence learners reached higher gains from the pretest to the posttest, experienced lower cognitive load during both types of learning tasks and needed less time to perform the learning tasks than the learners who completed the intuitively potentially more plausible generative-before-retrieval sequence. It is too early to make claims about the robustness, underlying mechanisms, and potential moderators of these sequence effects. Yet the present study clearly shows that the sequence and consequently the interplay between generative learning and retrieval practice can affect subjective experiences during learning as well as knowledge acquisition, which is a promising starting point for future research on this topic.