Dunlosky et al (2013) published a brilliant paper that looked at a number of techniques that are used to learn material in an academic setting. They tested the various techniques, and produced a pretty good assessment on just how good the techniques were. The techniques ranged from the testing effect (very good technique) to highlighting what you want to remember (poor technique for learning). I have reproduced their table below for you to have a look at.
I think they might be mistaken in their rankings. This feeling is based on anecdotal experience and how often each of these techniques are used in the learning process. I think re-reading and highlighting are by far the most useful for learning – based on how often they are used as the principle method of learning 🙂
The entire concept of the Scholarship of learning is based on just how wrong we are about learning. This work stands out as unusual in the education literature because it actually gathers evidence, and then tests the evidence to see just how well it stands up to scrutiny.
In many cases, the evidence is already there. The problem is that educators simply ignore it. Teaching may be an art, but learning isn’t. The sooner educators learn this, the better off society will be.
Self-testing or taking practice tests on material to be learned
Distributed (‘spaced’) practice
Implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time
Generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true
Explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving
Implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or a schedule of study that mixes different kinds of material, within a single study session
Writing summaries (of various lengths) of to-be-learned texts
Marking potentially important portions of to-be-learned materials while reading
Using keywords and mental imagery to associate verbal materials
Imagery use for text learning
Attempting to form mental images of text materials while reading or listening
Restudying text material again after an initial reading