Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When Do Learners Shift from Habitual to Agenda-Based Processes When Selecting Items for Study?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When Do Learners Shift from Habitual to Agenda-Based Processes When Selecting Items for Study?

Article excerpt

Abstract Learners presumably attempt to allocate their study time to maximize reward, yet in some contexts, their study choices are driven by reading biases that would not maximize reward. For instance, when presented with items in a horizontal array that are worth different values if correctly recalled, learners will often first select the leftmost item (i.e., a reading bias), even when it is associated with the lowest value. In four experiments, we investigated the degrees to which various factors cause learners to shiftto agenda-based regulation. On each trial, participants were presented with three cues and a point value (1, 3, or 5) for each. The participants could select any cue for study (in which case, its target would be presented) in any order. In Experiment 1, participants either selected items for study under time pressure or were given unlimited time to select items. Not limiting selection time increased the likelihood that higher-valued items would be prioritized for study, but reading biases still influenced item selection. In Experiment 2, participants could select only one item per trial, and higher-valued items were prioritized even more for study, but not exclusively so. In Experiments 3 and 4, we ruled out a lack of motivation and inaccurate task beliefs as explanations for why participants would sometimes choose lower-valued items. The results demonstrate the influence of a pervasive reading bias on learners' item selections, but as importantly, they show that a shifttoward agenda use occurs when habitual responding cannot maximize reward.

Keywords Self-regulated study . Item selection . Agenda-based regulation . Habitual responding

When studying for an upcoming exam, learners may make a variety of decisions about how to allocate their study time across the to-be-learned materials. These include deciding (a) the order in which to select items for study, (b) how long to study an item before moving on to the next one, and (c) when to terminate a study session (Dunlosky & Ariel, 2011b). Decades of research on study time allocation have highlighted a variety of factors that influence these decisions, including the reward associated with learning items (Ariel, Dunlosky, & Bailey, 2009; Dunlosky & Thiede, 1998; Soderstrom & McCabe, 2011), the subjective difficulty of learning items (for reviews, see Dunlosky & Ariel, 2011b; Son & Metcalfe, 2000), a learner's intrinsic motivation (Pintrich, 2000; Pintrich & De Groot, 1990), and even reading habits (Ariel, Al-Harthy, Was, & Dunlosky, 2011; Dunlosky & Ariel, 2011a).

According to the agenda-based regulation (ABR) framework of study-time allocation, learners' study decisions are influenced by two qualitatively different kinds of processes: agenda-based and habitual (Dunlosky & Ariel, 2011b). Agenda-based processes involve learners constructing an agenda-or simple plan-that they use to regulate their study (Ariel et al., 2009; Winne & Hadwin, 1998). Learners construct agendas in response to environmental conditions to achieve their learning goals efficiently (Thiede & Dunlosky, 1999). Consider a learner who wants to excel on an upcoming exam. This learner can maximize the likelihood of performing well by constructing an agenda that prioritizes items for study that are likely to return the highest reward (Castel, 2007). This agenda-driven learner will then compare potential study items to the criteria of this agenda and select items for study that meet these criteria.

In contrast to agenda-based processes, habitual processes involve the task environment activating a prepotent or overlearned response (Dunlosky & Ariel, 2011b). To illustrate the influence of a habitual process on learners' study decisions, consider an experiment from Ariel, Al-Harthy, Was, and Dunlosky (2011). Native English readers and native Arabic readers completed a task presented in their native language in which they were allowed to select easy, moderately difficult, and difficult cue-target items for study. …

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