Six Strategies for Effective Learning

Six Strategies for Effective Learning

By: Megan Smith & Yana Weinstein

Researchers have learned a great deal about how students learn on their own and in the classroom, and much of this research can be applied to educational settings. One of our primary goals is to make this research on learning more accessible and create free evidence-based resources for teachers and students. To meet that goal, over the past few months we have been working on creating resources in different formats based on 6 learning strategies whose effectiveness is backed by decades of cognitive research:

  • Spacing (1)
  • Retrieval Practice (2)
  • Elaboration (3)
  • Interleaving (4)
  • Concrete Examples (5)
  • Dual Coding (6)

All 6 of these strategies have evidence supporting their effectiveness, but some do have more evidence than others. For example, there is a lot of evidence supporting retrieval practice and spacing, whereas elaboration has more limitations. These certainly aren't the only effective learning strategies, either! We focused on these 6 because a recent report (7) found that few teacher-training textbooks cover these principles. Students are therefore missing out on mastering techniques they could use on their own to learn effectively. With our resources, we're trying to bring information about these particular learning strategies to teachers and students in easy-to-use formats.

So far, we've designed single-page instructional posters that cover all the strategies - one poster per strategy. These posters were illustrated by former educator Oliver Caviglioli. We released the posters just last week, and since then have already seen thousands of downloads. We've been amazed at the excitement generated by these posters - multiple teachers have even shared pictures of their freshly printed posters on social media!

Picture by  Dr C. Kuepper-Tetzel, ‏@pimpmymemory

Picture by Dr C. Kuepper-Tetzel, ‏@pimpmymemory

This week, we've also released sticker versions of each strategy. These stickers name the strategy, describe it with a simple phrase, and illustrate it. Teachers have already been in touch with us about many potential uses for these stickers: reminders for students to use the strategies - and for parents to remind them; a note to students about what strategy is most appropriate for a particular set of materials; positive reinforcement when students do use the strategies. The way these stickers are used will, of course, differ depending on what age group of students you are teaching. If you come up with additional uses, please do let us know!

Coming next week: For the next six weeks, every Friday we will release one set of Powerpoint slides demonstrating one of the six strategies. Teachers will be able to use the slides in their classrooms to teach students how to learn effectively!


(1)  Benjamin, A. S., & Tullis, J. (2010). What makes distributed practice effective? Cognitive Psychology, 61, 228-247.

(2) Roediger, H. L., Putnam, A. L., & Smith, M. A. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In J. Mestre & B. Ross (Eds.), Psychology of learning and motivation: Cognition in education, (pp. 1-36). Oxford: Elsevier.

(3) McDaniel, M. A., & Donnelly, C. M. (1996). Learning with analogy and elaborative interrogation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 508-519.

(4) Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367.

(5) Rawson, K. A., Thomas, R. C., & Jacoby, L. L. (2014). The power of examples: Illustrative examples enhance conceptual learning of declarative concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 27, 483-504.

(6) Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1992). The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 4, 444-452.

(7) Pomerance, L., Greenberg, J., & Walsh, K. (2016, January). Learning about learning: What every teacher needs to know. Retrieved from