Understanding the cognitive processes involved in writing to learn.

Journal Article

Writing is often used as a tool for learning. However, empirical support for the benefits of writing-to-learn is mixed, likely because the literature conflates diverse activities (e.g., summaries, term papers) under the single umbrella of writing-to-learn. Following recent trends in the writing-to-learn literature, the authors focus on the underlying cognitive processes. They draw on the largely independent writing-to-learn and cognitive psychology learning literatures to identify important cognitive processes. The current experiment examines learning from 3 writing tasks (and 1 nonwriting control), with an emphasis on whether or not the tasks engaged retrieval. Tasks that engaged retrieval (essay writing and free recall) led to better final test performance than those that did not (note taking and highlighting). Individual differences in structure building (the ability to construct mental representations of narratives; Gernsbacher, Varner, & Faust, 1990) modified this effect; skilled structure builders benefited more from essay writing and free recall than did less skilled structure builders. Further, more essay-like responses led to better performance, implicating the importance of additional cognitive processes such as reorganization and elaboration. The results highlight how both task instructions and individual differences affect the cognitive processes involved when writing-to-learn, with consequences for the effectiveness of the learning strategy. (PsycINFO Database Record

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Arnold, KM; Umanath, S; Thio, K; Reilly, WB; McDaniel, MA; Marsh, EJ

Published Date

  • June 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 115 - 127

PubMed ID

  • 28447809

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1939-2192

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1076-898X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1037/xap0000119

Language

  • eng