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September 14, 2022 • 1 minute read
By: Mike Hale, Ph.D., Chief Learning and Content Officer

VitalSource has long been committed to increasing student success through easy access to affordable content. We also believe that if you can, you must improve learning for students and expand educational opportunities for all learners. Of course, we are not alone in this view and it is the reason many companies have built assessment-rich course materials. 

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Blog > The Practical Effects of Maximizing Learning by Doing

April 19, 2022 • 2 minute read

The Practical Effects of Maximizing Learning by Doing

Learning Science


If I were to ask most educators, instructional designers, and even students, nearly everyone would agree that yes, doing practice while you study is a good thing. Formative practice is an established learning method across content subjects, learning contexts, and age groups. Research from Carnegie Mellon University found that doing practice while you read has been proven to cause better learning outcomes—a learning science principle called the Doer Effect. Yet, while the Doer Effect research uses large volumes of data and a complex statistical model to prove a causal relationship between practice and outcomes, it does not answer one of the most commonly asked questions: how much does doing practice help students improve their grades? 

To answer that question, we needed to partner with faculty who could work with us to investigate how doing practice impacts grades. To get the benefits of the Doer Effect, students need to do the formative practice, but this is often easier said than done. It’s a well-known fact that students often don’t use learning resources as intended. This is another reason why working with faculty is so critical— instructor implementation matters a great deal to student engagement. It was a joy to work with Dr. Martha Hubertz at the University of Central Florida to follow this line of research. She used SmartStart courseware for her Psychology of Sex and Gender course, which was taught entirely online. After teaching one semester, Dr. Hubertz changed the percentage of the students’ grade assigned for completing the majority of the formative practice from 2% to 20%. This change in her policy dramatically increased engagement with the practice the following semester. 

So, if Dr. Hubertz was able to maximize student engagement with the practice through her implementation policies, what impact did it have on grades? Her students had higher mean scores on the three exams than the previous semester (up to a mean of 10 points higher). I also was interested to see that the lowest range of exam scores was consistently much higher than before, an indication to me that the practice was having an effect on students who struggle with the material. 

While we’ve proven that doing practice causes better learning in the Doer Effect research, working with faculty to understand how the Doer Effect translates to student grades in natural learning contexts is vital to understand how to best support students. When students maximized their engagement with the practice as they read, exam scores went up. The practical value of this learn-by-doing method is clear, but it’s through the iteration of teaching practice from dedicated instructors such as Dr. Hubertz that the formative practice in courseware can be optimized to help students be successful. 

Read the full paper here: https://doi.org/10.22492/issn.2189-1036.2022.19 

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