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The Effect of Selected "Desirable Difficulties" on the Ability to Recall Anatomy Information
Anatomical Sciences Education
  • John L. Dobson, Georgia Southern University
  • Tracy Linderholm, Georgia Southern University
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“Desirable difficulties” is a theory from cognitive science used to promote learning in a variety of contexts. The basic premise is that creating a cognitively challenging environment at the learning acquisition phase, by actively engaging learners in the retrieval of to-be-learned materials, promotes long-term retention. In this study, the degree of desirable difficulties was varied to identify how cognitively challenging the learning acquisition phase must be to benefit university-level students' learning of anatomy concepts. This is important to investigate as applied studies of desirable difficulties are less frequent than laboratory-based studies and the implementation of this principle may need to be tailored to the specific field of study, such as anatomy. As such, a read-read-read-read (R-R-R-R) condition was compared to read-generate-read-generate (R-G-R-G) and read-test-read-test (R-T-R-T) conditions. The three conditions varied in terms of how effortful the retrieval task was during the learning acquisition phase. R-R-R-R required little effort because participants passively read the materials four times. R-G-R-G required some effort to generate a response as participants completed a word fragment task during the learning acquisition phase. R-T-R-T was thought to be most demanding as participants performed a free recall task twice during the learning phase. With regard to the absolute amount of anatomy information recalled, the R-T-R-T condition was superior at both immediate and delayed (one week) assessment points. Thus, instructors and learners of anatomy would benefit from embedding more free recall components, or self-testing, into university-level course work or study practices.

Citation Information
John L. Dobson and Tracy Linderholm. "The Effect of Selected "Desirable Difficulties" on the Ability to Recall Anatomy Information" Anatomical Sciences Education Vol. 8 Iss. 5 (2015) p. 395 - 403 ISSN: 1935-9780
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