Over the past few decades, cognitive psychologists have found evidence for the following 6 strategies for effective learning:
Elaboration is a really broad concept - at its core, it just means connecting or adding information. "Elaborative interrogation" is a strategy within this broad idea, and it involves asking “how" and “why" questions and finding those answers (1). Students can do this independently, with the teacher helping, or in pairs of groups. Once they come up with the questions, students must also find the answers!
For example, how might you learn about the physics of flying? You could do it by answering lots of fact-based questions, but you can also supplement this by asking and then answering elaboration questions, such as "why does a plane need an engine?" and "how does a plane take off?"
Elaborative interrogation can be a tricky strategy to implement, because students won’t always focus on the right information, or have the content knowledge necessary to carry out the task effectively. In the podcast episode, we use lots of examples from younger and older students, demonstrating how hard it can be to pick out the right information to ask questions about, or even come up with “how” and “why” questions at all.
Students may also produce incorrect explanations in answer to their own questions. Elaboration has been shown to help students who are more familiar with the topic, while those who are less familiar don’t benefit as much (2); some studies (3) have even found elaboration to be less effective than re-reading, when students are unable to produce useful elaborations (see this guest blog post). Teachers will need to guide students towards the right kinds of questions, and give feedback on explanations.
Ideally, students would be able to describe and explain ideas from memory - that is, retrieval practice using elaborative interrogation!
We hope you enjoyed this podcast! Check back in 2 weeks, when we’ll be releasing a “bite-size research” episode describe an interesting paper on elaborative interrogation.
The Learning Scientists Podcast is funded by The Wellcome Trust.
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(1) Pressley, M., Symons, S., McDaniel, M. A., Snyder, B. L., & Turnure, J. E. (1988). Elaborative interrogation facilitates acquisition of confusing facts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 268-278.
(2) Woloshyn, V. E., Pressley, M., & Schneider, W. (1992). Elaborative-interrogation and prior-knowledge effects on learning of facts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 115-124.
(3) Clinton, V., Alibali, M. W., & Nathan, M. J. (2016). Learning about posterior probability: Do diagrams and elaborative interrogation help? The Journal of Experimental Education, 84, 579-599.