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DFG Research Unit 5254/1 "Lasting Learning": How learning becomes lasting knowledge

DFG Research Unit 5254/1 "Lasting Learning": How learning becomes lasting knowledge

How must knowledge be conveyed so that it is retained over the long term and can be applied flexibly? This is the central question addressed by the DFG research unit "Lasting Learning". The spokesperson of the research unit is psychologist Professor Tobias Richter from Würzburg. A team from the University of Passau, headed by Professor Judith Schweppe, is also involved.

Many of us are familiar with the phenomenon from their time at school or university: Just before the exam, it's cram as cram can, and then shortly after the exam you forget most of what you have learned. Some people call this kind of behaviour "bulimic studying" – and one thing is clear: This type of studying has no long-term benefits.

How to go about it differently, what requirements need to be met to ensure that studying produces lasting knowledge which can be retrieved after a long time: These questions will be addressed by a research unit that is due to receive four million euros in funds from the German Research Foundation (DFG) as of October. The researchers hope to contribute to effective learning and instruction and a theory of lasting learning in educational contexts.

The unit's spokesperson is Professor Tobias Richter who holds the Chair of Psychology IV at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU). Researchers from the universities of Passau, Kassel, Bochum, Duisburg-Essen, Freiburg, Gießen, Osnabrück, Tübingen and Technische Universität München (TUM) are involved.

Limited research on lasting learning

Tobias Richter describes the object of research as follows: "After a relatively short time, much of what you learned at school can no longer be retrieved from your long-term memory. In our understanding, lasting learning is a way of learning that keeps people from quickly forgetting what they have learned and allows students to apply the knowledge they have acquired even after some time". In the ideal case, this knowledge is retained over a lifetime. "Unfortunately, there is hardly any systematic research – let alone a comprehensive theory – from which recommendations could be drawn on how learning and teaching at school should be undertaken in order to produce lasting knowledge," says Richter.

"Desirable difficulties" in learning

The purpose of the research unit is to help close this knowledge gap. In its effort to do so, it will resort to a framework model that combines research on "desirable difficulties" in learning with the principle of "meaningful learning". The focus will be on the following three desirable difficulties, which make learning more difficult in the short term but enhance long-term retention and the transfer of the acquired knowledge:

  • Distributed practice involves distributing exercises and revision of the material learned over several learning phases instead of learning and revising the material all at once.
  • Interleaved learning means to alternate between the different materials in class instead of teaching the materials in thematically self-contained blocks, as is customary.
  • Retrieval practice involves practice tests in the form of quizzes, for example, which are implemented early on in the learning phase so as to strengthen acquired knowledge and make it available over the long term.

About the subproject of the universities of Passau and Kassel

The subproject "The testing effect and the complexity of the learning material" of the universities of Passau and Kassel takes the last point as its cue. Professor Judith Schweppe (University of Passau) and Professor Ralf Rummer (University of Kassel) will be focusing on the question of whether and under what conditions active retrieval of acquired knowledge from long-term memory is conducive to learning also if the material learned consists of complex texts. "You use this technique when you learn vocabulary, for example. We actually begin to retrieve the information we learned from our memory early on," says Dr Schweppe who holds the Professorship of Psychology with a Focus on Teaching and Learning with Digital Media at the University of Passau. "We are conducting a series of field experiments at secondary schools to investigate whether this form of learning also serves its purpose with complex texts in German classes." For this purpose, Professor Schweppe and Professor Rummer will put together appropriate learning material at the University of Passau in close collaboration with the Professorship of German Literature and Language Education headed by Professor Markus Pissarek.

The subproject of the universities of Passau and Kassel is one of a total of eight that includes researchers from different disciplines who have come together to study the cognitive basis of lasting learning and its effective implementation in class. Researchers from psychology, educational science and subject-specific education are involved.

More information:

Principal Investigator(s) at the University Prof. Dr. Judith Schweppe (Professur für Psychologie mit Schwerpunkt Lehren und Lernen mit digitalen Medien)
Project period 01.10.2022 - 30.09.2026
Source of funding
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Sachbeihilfe
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Sachbeihilfe
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Forschungsgruppe
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Forschungsgruppe

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