NUS Students Leverage Learning Science to Supercharge their Studies

Students and teachers celebrate completion of LTLB pilot, paving the way for the first full-credit course in 2018.

To meet the growing rigors of undergraduate life, students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are increasingly turning to techniques from learning science to optimize their studies and improve their academic performance. Many are now enrolling in Learning to Learn Better (LTLB), a new course that examines recent research and longstanding wisdom from the field.

Launched by ALSET, a learning science and education technology institute at NUS, the course helps students avoid common misconceptions about learning and develop healthy, evidence-based study habits. Following a successful pilot in 2017, it is now being offered on a for-credit basis to all undergraduates at NUS in 2018, attracting over 110 students in its first semester.

“As the global workforce becomes increasingly competitive and complex, top-tier universities need to better prepare their students more than ever,” said Professor Robert Kamei, Associate Provost (Education) at NUS and ALSET’s founding director. “Yet few provide any kind of formal instruction in the basic principles of how we learn, choose, and think. We strive to change that.”

Without a basic grounding in learning science, many students develop ineffective learning strategies during their childhood and cling to suboptimal habits throughout their adult lives.

“Nearly all of our students, including relatively high-performing ones, started the class with at least a few misconceptions about how to learn effectively,” says Mr. Fung Fun Man, ALSET’s Assistant Director (Education) and one of the lead architects of the course. “We help them correct ineffective study habits and build useful learning practices early so that they will continue to learn more strategically as they pursue more challenging opportunities in university and life.”

Some of these poor habits include “cramming” for exams, which remains common practice even though most evidence suggests that learning spaced apart is vastly more effective. Many students also believe that re-reading their texts will increase comprehension and retention, but most research indicates that it is an inferior strategy.

The course covers 12 key concepts in learning science, including self-motivation, goal setting, self-organizing, practice, repetition, spacing, interleaving, making connections, collaboration, and managing sleep. It also includes reflective tasks and small group seminars in which students collaboratively work through the course content.

“After taking the class, I noticed that I was starting to make interesting connections between different subjects that I hadn’t considered,” said one of the students. “For example, I am learning Java programming, and I found myself coming up with better ideas of what certain terms means, how certain functions work, and how to implement the programs.”

LTLB is one of many initiatives by NUS to future-proof its student body, including introducing computer programming, interpersonal communications, critical thinking and reasoning skills across the entire curriculum that are applicable to students from every faculty.

Founded in 2016, ALSET’s mission is improve education through the application of learning science and education technology. The Institute conducts original research on learning science, technology, and pedagogy; promotes novel and entrepreneurial projects that improve learning outcomes; and works to ensure that the latest research and learning technologies have broad impact, both at NUS and also in the broader education community.