Pre-Lecture Diagrams Improve Student Retention

July 1, 2015
Corey Allikas

Professors who provide pre-lecture diagrams can help their students retain more information in large classroom settings.

Professors who provide pre-lecture diagrams can help their students retain more information in large classroom settings.

A new study examined 144 college undergraduates' “structure-building” skills, or the ability to understand and visualize difficult concepts as a cohesive mental image in one’s head. For those who lack this skill, illustrations can help.

These college undergraduates—all whom had no prior mechanical experience—were taught how a car’s braking system worked. Some students were given no diagram, some received a basic one, and others a detailed one.

All the students who were given the detailed diagram performed better in recollecting the information. Students given the detailed diagram also took more concise notes of better quality.

While those with high-structure building skills did well with or without diagrams, this concept could be helpful to those with low-structure building, the researchers suggested. Students have different learning styles, and large lecture hall classes make it difficult to help individual students. Pre-lecture diagrams could help students who struggle with difficult concepts, and they may offer more support in their learning and retention, according to the researchers.

"Some students are very good at building these mental frameworks on their own, but others struggle with the process, and it’s those students who will benefit most from getting extra support in advance of the lecture," study author Mark McDaniel, PhD, a Washington University professor, said in a press release. "It shows them a basic framework or model of the concept that they can begin building in their minds."

This study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.