With the advent of Common Core standards, many teachers are trying to decipher how it will impact their students’ learning retention skills. In other words, one of the greatest challenges for most students is the ability to retain information, particularly, when there is a curriculum change, which can affect teaching methods. For example, a study conducted in the 1960s by the NTL, National Training Laboratories, studied the effect of different teaching methods on learning retention. The study is still relevant today. NTL devised a learning pyramid or the percentage of new learning that students could recall after 24 hours. The ability for students to recall information after 24 hours is defined as long-term storage and is critical to school success. A study in 2005 by Moore showed that after 3 days, learning retention was lowest, only 10 percent with classroom lectures, but higher, 20 percent, when lectures consisted of demonstration. The percentages from the original 1960 study were rounded to the nearest 5 percent and again proved to be frighteningly reflective to studies of this time period.

The 1960 study defined lecture at the top of the pyramid or an average learning retention of only 5 percent after 24 hours. Anyone who has sat through the lecture format knows that retention involves verbal processing with little active participation or mental rehearsal. Moreover, with the lecture format, the teacher verbalizes and the student listens just enough to convert the teacher’s auditory output to written notes. Further, rote rehearsal predominates as auditory information moves onto the notebook (Sousa, 2006). Unfortunately, there is no elaborative rehearsal, a means to develop meaning, and thereby create an opportunity for the brain to encode information, which is why, information is lost for most students.  Ironically, regardless of the lack of learning retention with the lecture format, lecture actually predominates most teaching programs in high school and college.  The hook for the lecture format is that it allows a lot of information to be presented in a short period of time, which could be a response by teachers to the shortened school year? But that would be another topic for future discussion.

Lets examine the rest of the 1960s study pyramid. We have learned that the average percentage of retention after 24 hours for each of the instruction methods was verbal processing at 5 percent for lecture and for reading, at 10 percent. Next are verbal and visual processing or auto visual, 20 percent; demonstration 30 percent and discussion group 50 percent. Practice by doing reached a 70 percent retention level and finally teaching others as immediate use of learning hit 90 percent retention. The doing format  implies the necessity to use new information immediately. When you explain, you learn, which is why cooperative learning groups and even hands-on programs might explain why underachieving students often succeed in programs that are more hands-on. In short, our studies have shown for decades that the best way to retain learned material is to prepare to teach it. Whoever explains learns  (Sousa, 2006).

Of course no one teaching method is best for all students all the time. If Common Core Standards allow for students to be actively engaged in learning, it will be a win, win situation for all involved.

David Sortino Ph.D., a Graton resident, is director of The Neurofeedback Institute. E-mail him at davidsortino@comcast.net.