College Students Get Better Grades When They Take Courses That Use Psychological Principles to Teach Study Skills
AScribe Newswire - August 08, 2003

TORONTO, Aug. 8 (AScribe Newswire) -- Students at Ohio State University who took a psychology-based study skills program had higher grade point averages and were more likely to return for their next year of college than a group of similar students who didn't take the class, according to a new study.

This quarter-long (10-week) class is different than many other study skills courses because, rather than just passing on common-sense tips, it is based on well-founded psychological principles, said Bruce Tuckman, a professor of education at Ohio State who designed the class.

"In effect, this class is teaching the students psychology. The only difference is that we are teaching them how to put the psychology of motivation and learning into practice in their own lives," Tuckman said.

Tuckman has studied how students who took this class have fared in terms of grade point averages and retention in college compared to other students. He presented results of the latest study August 8 in Toronto at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The study involved 226 students who enrolled in the five-credit hour "Strategies of Achievement" class and 226 matched controls. The students taking the class were matched on gender, ethnicity, year in school and prior cumulative GPA to students not taking the class.

Tuckman compared the two groups on their GPA the quarter the first group took the course, and for the next quarter. For academically at-risk students (those with a GPA under 2.0), he also calculated the percent returning to college for the following academic year.

Results showed that students who took the class earned a cumulative GPA of 2.97 the quarter the class was taken, compared to 2.48 for those who didn't take the class. When he compared GPAs excluding the studies skill course, the course takers still came out ahead with a GPA of 2.63 versus 2.36.

In the following quarter, students who had taken the class had an average GPA of 2.46, compared to 2.27 for those who hadn't take the class.

The study found that 77 percent of the at-risk students who took the study skills class returned to college the next academic year, compared to only 63 percent of those not taking the class.

Overall, Tuckman said the study shows the value of teaching students the skills they need to succeed in college.

"The results are pretty strong. Students who take the class get better grades and are more likely to stay in school," Tuckman said.

Because the study skills course is an elective, it is possible that students who take the class do better simply because enrolling in the class indicates they are motivated to do well in school, Tuckman said. So he also did an analysis in which he examined the grades of students who took the study skills class for the quarter before they enrolled in the class. This group would include motivated students, but not ones who had the benefit of the class. These students still had GPAs lower than they did after they took the class.

Part of the class was devoted to the psychology of motivation and how students could put motivational techniques into practice. Specifically, they learned about overcoming procrastination, building self-confidence, taking responsibility and managing their life. Another major part of the class involved the psychology of learning. In this part, students focused on learning from lecture, learning from text, preparing for exams and writing papers.

Tuckman said another key to the success of the class is that is not done in a traditional class setting. The course was taught using a hybrid, web-based instructional model Tuckman developed called "Active Discovery And Participation Through Technology" (ADAPT). This hybrid includes some features of a traditional classroom, such as a textbook and a live instructor. But the students also had more than 200 computer-based activities they had to complete in the class.

"They aren't just sitting in the class listening to an instructor talk," he said. "They have a multitude of assignments they have to complete on the computer that helps them put into practice what they are learning."

The students had firm deadlines about when they had to submit various assignments on the computer.

"Students learn how to manage their time and their study habits just by virtue of the conditions of the class itself," Tuckman said.

Tuckman said he believes all types of students could benefit from a course like the one at Ohio State. Other universities could help increase retention, especially of at-risk students, if they taught students how to learn.

"Psychological principles and theories about achievement, motivation, self-regulation and information processing can be applied to the challenge of being a successful student," he said.

"Most students pick up these skills, if they ever do, by accident, by being in the right place at the right time. But we can teach them these skills and help them succeed in college."

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Last updated: 08/08/2003 - 10:01 PM