Study Strategies Have Meager Support: A Review with Recommendations for Implementation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Study skills instruction in higher education has become increasingly popular in the past decade. Many universities and colleges have developed short courses to teach study skills, established learning resource centers, instituted counseling programs, and offered workshops focusing on study skills. An increasingly common venue embeds study skills instruction within a full-semester formal course, "University 101," that aims to ease high-school students' transition to university life.

It is not coincidental that study skills are receiving increased attention in postsecondary education. Whereas universities and colleges once rigorously screened and selectively admitted candidates, they now face a need to balance the costs of sustaining quality teaching in the face of major budget cuts and potentially reduced enrollments (McKeachie, 1988). Students now pay a larger proportion of direct costs for their postsecondary education, and in turn they are justified in holding universities and colleges accountable for services they purchase. Furthermore, as institutions orient toward serving mature students who have been away from school for a number of years and students who are challenged in their pursuits of higher learning, there are increased needs to support students as they strive to cope with the academic demands of higher education.

In this climate, we suggest that higher education should not merely teach students knowledge in curricular subjects such as history, chemistry, and sociology. Institutions also should provide means for students to develop adaptable strategies with which to pursue knowledge and solve problems during and after postsecondary experiences. Having such skills contributes abilities and the motivation necessary for lifelong learning.

Early Investigations of Studying

In the late 1970s and early 1980s researchers began to probe how postsecondary students studied and to explore factors that correlated with more effective approaches to studying. In innovative articles, Biggs (1978), Dahlgren and Marton (1978), Ramsden and Entwistle (1981) surveyed students and correlated their reports about how they studied with measures of achievement; personality factors, such as locus of control; and various situational variables, such as college major, attributes of how course grades were assigned, and workload. A theme these studies shared was that a particular form of cognitive engagement, called deep processing, correlated with more vigorous and apparently effective studying. Deep processing is a collection of separable studying tactics that articulate basic cognitive operations to build meaningful and coherent structures of knowledge. Specific tactics that lead to deep processing include retrieving related concepts and ideas relevant to material currently being studied, monitoring relationships between new information and prior knowledge, assembling propositions into elaborated structures, rehearsing and transforming information into meaningful schemata, and metacognitively monitoring and adapting learning tactics according to the requirements of a task (Winne, 1985).

Paralleling such surveys of students' studying were a growing number of proposals that students be taught studying methods that could support deeper processing of course materials. Perhaps the most well known of these is Robinson's (1946) SQ3R - survey an assignment, generate questions, read, recite answers to questions, and review answers in relation to the text. Such apparently useful approaches to studying were widely proposed, but these suggestions were unfounded. Summarizing research prior to 1980, Johns and McNamara (1980, p. 1) concluded that "support for SQ3R is based more on opinion than on empirical fact." Our search of the literature since this review was published found just four empirical investigations (Chastain & Thurber, 1989; Graham, 1982; McCormick & Cooper, 1991; Schumaker, 1982). …