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Cognitive Factors that Affect Learning

Dr. Robert Ryan, Department of Psychology

The research of Dr. Ryan and his students has spanned face recognition, the use of the internet for data gathering, and applying cognitive methods in education. One study on face recognition examined people who have high visual skill combined with poorer verbal skills. It showed that they are especially susceptible to having their ability to remember a face disrupted by describing the face. That study was published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology in 1998. In 2013, Dr. Ryan and two of his students published a finding in Computers in Human Behavior that provided further support for the claim that data gathered on the internet is just as reliable as that gathered in a controlled laboratory setting.

Dr. Ryan and Tanajsia MasonHowever, the bulk of Dr. Ryan and his students' work has examined cognitive factors that affect learning. For example, in 2006 Dr. Ryan published a study in the journal Teaching of Psychology that presented a hands-on exercise to improve students' understanding of a difficult concept in statistics. More recently, Dr. Ryan has engaged several groups of students in a series of studies on math learning. For example, Dr. Ryan and one of his students have recently submitted for publication in Cognitive Technology a study that demonstrates a technique of matching corresponding features of examples of algebra word problems to help students learn algebra. That study is a follow up to a study that Dr. Ryan published in that journal in 2005 that demonstrated how to use a technique of judging the similarity of example problems to improve algebra learning.

Currently, some of Dr. Ryan's research assistants, including Tanajsia Mason (pictured above) are running subjects in a study on the effects of presenting the same algebra problem in different formats. Another series of six experiments conducted with Dr. Steven Howell over seven semesters examined the effects of presenting examples of concepts in statistics in different formats. Those studies showed the benefits of combining the techniques of presenting different types of examples in an interleaved format, focusing the students on the relevant features of the examples, and requiring them to generate answers followed by feedback. Those studies are currently being written up for journal submission. In addition to examining the aforementioned factors, Dr. Ryan has also examined the effects of practicing retrieval of information, and the effects of trying to increase students belief in the value of statistics on their learning.

Dr. Ryan's students are currently helping to examine the implications of the most recent literature on knowledge, learning, and instruction for designing methods for teaching statistics. These students, as others have done over the past 13 years that Dr. Ryan has been at Kutztown, will gain practical experience at designing and conducting experiments, and at presenting the results at professional conferences and publishing them in peer reviewed journals.

June, 2014