When can a lack of structure facilitate strategic processing of information?


Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada L2S 3A1 (e-mail: twilloug@spartan.ac.brocku.ca)


Background: Researchers examining the effectiveness of an elaboration strategy (answering ‘why’) for learning new information have been concerned with the familiarity of the materials and how that affects learning. It may be, however, that both how information is organised and familiarity impact on the potency of the strategy.

Aims: We examined the influence of presentation structures (i.e., organisation of information) on the effectiveness of an elaboration strategy.

Samples: All participants were undergraduates (78 females, 67 males) enrolled in a first-year psychology course. Fifteen students participated in Experiment One, 42 students in Experiment Two, and 88 students in Experiment Three.

Methods: In Experiment One, preference for conceptual organisation was assessed. In Experiments Two and Three, students answered ‘why’ questions when different presentation structures were used.

Results: Students' preferred method of organisation did not match the imposed structure found in past research, suggesting that students may have been restricted in their ability to process the information distinctively. Students who were presented with the information in a random order achieved the largest memory scores.

Conclusions: When students have to reconstruct as well as encode the information, these added task demands provide an added benefit for learning.