Individual differences in learning efficiency

McDermott & Zerr (2019)


Most research on long-term memory uses an experimental approach whereby participants are assigned to different conditions, and condition means are the measures of interest. This approach has demonstrated repeatedly that conditions that slow the rate of learning tend to improve later retention. A neglected question is whether aggregate findings at the level of the group (i.e., slower learning tends to improve retention) translate to the level of individual people. We identify a discrepancy whereby—across people—slower learning tends to coincide with poorer memory. The positive relation between learning rate (speed of learning) and retention (amount remembered after a delay) across people is referred to as learning efficiency. A more efficient learner can acquire information faster and remember more of it over time. We discuss potential characteristics of efficient learners and consider future directions for research.

Current Directions in Psychological Science
Christopher L. Zerr
Christopher L. Zerr
Postdoc in Psychological & Brain Sciences

Christopher Zerr is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in Psychological & Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.