LEARNING STRATEGIES AND LEARNING SUCCESS: CROSS- SECTIONAL STUDIES
Given that some cognitive processes are essential in almost all learning, what evidence is there for the value of the nine principal strategies outlined above? Two kinds of investigation are possible. Cross-sectional studies can examine the relationship between the use of particular strategies and success in learning, without any intervention by a researcher. Alternatively, interventions might be made, modifying strategy use and examining the consequences of that modification. This section will review cross-sectional studies, and intervention research will be summarized in the following section.
Research of the first kind typically takes an overall measure of learning success, such as final course grade (perhaps standardized across several courses, in order to increase the size of a sample), and calculates the significance of the association between self-reported learning strategy and that criterion performance. We will first review such bivariate associations, and then examine other individual characteristics which may underlie the bivariate findings.
Cognitive Strategies and Success
Three main 'cognitive' strategies were outlined earlier: rehearsal, organization and elaboration. Findings in respect of the first of these have been ambiguous, but use of the other two is consistently associated with greater learning success.
Self-reported rehearsal has on several occasions been examined through the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (see above). Two investigations of American college students by Pintrich et al. (1993) and Pintrich and Garcia (1993) both recorded correlations of only 0.05 with final course grade. However, an earlier study of the same design by Pintrich and Garcia (1991) found a significant association (r = 0.31). For American high-school students, the correlation of learning achievement with another index of rehearsal was 0.18 (p < 0.01) in research by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986), but that association was non-significant in a later study (Zimmerman & Martinez- Pons, 1990).
Use of the second cognitive strategy (organization) has been shown to be significantly associated with academic performance. Published correlations with reported organization of material are 0.31 (Zimmerman & Martinez- Pons, 1986), 0.17 (Pintrich et al., 1993) and 0.18 (Pintrich & Garcia, 1993). The difference in self-reported use of organization between high- and low- achieving school pupils was also significant in the study by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1990).
A laboratory investigation with physics texts showed that specific processes of organization (identified through questions asked of participants in the course of their task) led to more effective learning and retention (Ferguson-Hessler & de Jong, 1990). Lonka, Lindblom-Ylanne and Maury (1994) studied high-school students' use of organizational strategies by directly scoring their work books. Greater organization (in terms of creating conceptual maps between key concepts) was significantly predictive of learning success, but only when the material to be learned was complex and required critical evaluation.
Positive findings have also been obtained in respect of the third cognitive strategy (elaboration). Using the Inventory of Learning Processes (above), Schmeck and Grove (1979) observed a significant difference between highland low-achieving American college students, and Schmeck (1983) has summarized several other findings of that kind. In studies introduced above, Pintrich et al. (1993) and Pintrich and Garda (1993) found significant correlations of mental elaboration with course grade of 0.22 and 0.18 respectively.
In practice, reported organization and elaboration tend to covary; for example, the intercorrelation was 0.52 in the study of Pintrich et al. (1993). Studies examining the combined effect of both those strategies together have produced results similar to findings for the individual strategies. In Pintrich and Garcia's (1991) study the correlation with course grade was 0.30, and Kardash and Amlund (1991) observed values of 0.31, 0.24, 0.38 and 0.25 in four other samples of American university students. The latter researchers also examined laboratory learning and recall of textual material as a function of reported organization and elaboration; the median correlation was 0.38.
Several investigators have obtained self-reports of strategy use combining both rehearsal and elaboration. For example, Thomas, Bol, Warkentin, Wilson, Strage, and Rohwer (1993) recorded a correlation with learning test score of 0.18 (p < 0.05) for American high-school students. The same level of association was found for 173 seventh-grade students by Pintrich and De Groot (1990), in respect of course grade and a measure combining all three mental strategies: rehearsal, elaboration and organization.
In an industrial study, Warr and Bunce (1995) examined through a single scale junior managers' reported rehearsal, elaboration and organization in a programme of open learning. It was found that the amount of use of the three strategies together was strongly associated with learning score at the end of the programme: r = 0.46.