People who learn information more quickly than their peers have better long-term retention despite spending less time studying it, a study has found.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, tested a novel measure to gauge differences in how quickly and well people learn and retain information.
“Quicker learning appears to be more durable learning,” said Christopher L Zerr from Washington University in St Louis in the US.
“Even though people who learned the material in less time had less actual exposure to the material they were trying to learn, they still managed to demonstrate better retention of the material across delays ranging from minutes to days,” Zerr said.
In the first experiment, almost 300 participants learned two lists of 45 equally difficult Lithuanian-English word pairs over two days for a total of 90-word pairs.
The participants studied 45 pairs each day, which were displayed for four seconds each, and then completed an initial learning test where they typed the English equivalent for the Lithuanian prompt word.
After responding, the participants viewed the correct pairing as feedback, and their response accuracy was collected as a measure of initial learning.
The researchers measured participants’ learning speed, or the number of tests an individual needed to answer a word pair correctly.
Participants then completed a final test of all 45-word pairs without feedback.
They repeated this procedure on the second day with a new set of 45-word pairs.
The results showed that participants varied significantly in their learning curves for the initial test, learning speed and the final test.
Individuals who scored better on the initial test also tended to learn more quickly, meaning they needed fewer tests to correctly answer all 45 pairs.
Those who learned faster also had better scores on the final test, and subjects who scored higher on the initial test remembered more on the final one.