Answering Questions Out Loud Helps Your Learners to Remember

I recently came across an interesting study about the value of answering questions out loud. Victor Boucher of the University of Montreal tested student’s ability to memorize lists of words under four conditions. First, the students studied a list of words on a computer. He then divided the students into four groups and had each group either:

  1. Repeat the words to themselves silently in their head
  2. Repeat the words silently while moving their lips
  3. Repeat the words out loud while looking at the screen
  4. Repeat the words out loud to someone else

After a short distraction task he had the students recall the words they memorized. Method 1 was the least effective way to encourage recall and Method 4 was the most effective. (Oversimplification alert: This is a very short synopsis. There’s a lot more detail in the actual study.)

I have a couple of reactions to this study:

  1. It involved short-term recall (after a distraction task), so it doesn’t say anything about long-term recall.
  2. With the caveat above, these results do run counter to how we normally provide review and reinforcement questioning exercises: silently, on the computer.

So, three practical take-aways:

  1. If you are using instructor-led training, have your learners answer questions orally, not in writing, during the class.
  2. Using virtual coaching techniques (e.g. recording a video of yourself responding to a virtual coach) may not be sufficient. Apparently there is something in the “learner-listener gaze” that enhances learning. And, if you think about it this is not surprising: We are social animals and for the most part, throughout history, learning has been a social phenomenon, so recording yourself on a phone or tablet is not the same as responding to a live person.
  3. This argues for the use of Authentic Assessment, not traditional objective assessment or even virtual “role-play” assessment, as a means of promoting retention.

Not familiar with Authentic Assessments? Stay tuned for my next blog post.

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