This article, from Medical News Today, describes recent Purdue University research that compared studying methods. Specifically, the study compared Active Recall, in which students set aside the materials they were learning and sought to remember what they had read, to Concept Mapping, in which students created diagrams to try to build connections within their memory. The results were interesting, as described after the break.

The core question addressed was whether forcing students (or one’s self) to set aside materials and practice bringing the facts back to mind creates more powerful memory links than spending time depicting connections among facts. (At a gross level, think flash cards versus open-book diagramming.) According to the Purdue research, those who emphasized active recall outperformed those who utilized concept mapping when tested for long-term recall.

No one is saying concept mapping does not have a place in studying. I think both methods (and others) are valuable. It is notable, however, to see the continued debate about the “best” ways to study. Such research can get us thinking about thinking, which is a valuable tool of self-reflection.

(For more on active recall, see this link. For a more skeptical view than presented in the Medical News Today article, see this review. This analysis of active recall was also very thoughtful. For more on concept mapping, see the resources here, here, and here.)