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Personal and Emotional Appeal While Learning

Updated on August 26, 2014

Self-Explain and Elaboration Learning Techniques

by Richard Brown

There is a better way to study then rereading. Every serious student takes notes. While you're taking notes from text, it is an easy addition, to propose and give a short answer a question periodically. It may sound silly, but numerous studies have been done. The effects are longer lasting then rereading, with an extra boost if you do homework after completing the text. The effectiveness of these techniques is influenced by your answers, not the exact question. You don't need to create extensive answers. Attempting to answering an open-ended question, at about 150 words, is sufficient. These techniques take about as long as reading the text, but with better retention and comprehension.

Simple self-prompted why questions are over 25% more effective then rereading text multiple times. 25% is the difference between a C and an A. Roughly 25% is a many times over, independently clinically verified low ball average. This effect isn't short lived either, differences in learning get more pronounced as time goes by.

Why is this relevant? I will demonstrate prompted interrogation and self-explanation by asking why-or-how questions, roughly every 100 to 200 words. I hope this will help you see how easy it is.


Elaboritive Interrogation

Writing answers to why questions is known as elaboritive interrogation. Elaboritive interrogation can be prompted, meaning you are given why questions, or self generated. Self generated questions are slightly more effective. Make your why questions open ended and general. Incorporate previous knowledge and experiences to create the best answers. The answers don't have to be long, but long enough to communicate a basic understanding of what you just read.

By answering these why question you are actively associating the new knowledge with your previous knowledge. When you are just reading you are passively associating, which doesn't build the neural connects nearly as well. When people reread they become even more passive, likely just skimming through the material. This technique interrupts passive learning, by actively incorporating previous knowledge with what you intend to learn.

When using elaboritive interrogation you are over 50% more likely to use other effective learning techniques simultaneously. Why? A few learning strategies worth mentioning are active association, imagery, and mnemonics. I will not go into detail about these because they each would need there own article. Active association is were the learner tries to create patterns that relate new information to old. Imagery is were the learner develops mental pictures to help them remember, and understand new information. Mnemonics are any technique that facilitates memory, an example would be an acronym.

A simple example of elaborative technique would be: Deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter. Why do deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter? Deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter because they enter a dormancy period. The upkeep of foliage is energy expensive, by losing their leaves trees conserve energy. Biological processes are more difficult at temperature extremes. By entering a state of dormancy organisms can use energy reserves that they developed through the growing season. The leaves turn yellow, orange, and red as the tree removes as much nutrients as possible. The re-absorption of the nutrients in the leaves, gives the tree more energy reserves so that it can survive til spring when growing is more optimal.

Elaboritive interrogation does take previous knowledge. The answers to why questions are intended to develop understanding of the relationships instead of memorization.


TABLE 2. Rubric for Scoring Solutions to the Problem-Solving Task

Number Example

0 No transfer: Answer does not express any knowledge, or answer is not based on

stated problem.

First, I would find out what went wrong in the planning stages, then I would find

out about the distribution stages and determine what has gone on. Someone had

made an error along the way.

1 Incomplete transfer: Answer contains only one solution (or theme) to the problem.

Check to determine whether some inventory is on display, in lunch rooms of

workers, in other places than just the sales floor.

How do you give short answers?

2 Partial transfer: Answer contains two solutions (or themes) to the problem.

I think that if it is a major difference, I would maybe try to recount the

merchandise. Then if I still came up with a wrong count, I would check all the

backrooms and anywhere else there may be any merchandise, such as offices, or

advertising areas. I would ask the employees if they knew where the damaged

merchandise went, because that is an important part of the inventory that might

have been overlooked.

3 Surface transfer: Answer contains more than two solutions with surface rationale.

I would first do a recount to make sure that I was not at fault. If I still came up

with a different amount, I would check my equipment to make sure it was

functioning correctly. If after this I still had a lower count than the store’s records,

I would notify the store manager and have the manager talk to the personnel who

did the count and have them do a recount. Then, if a difference still was seen, I

would have the store bring in a third party to do a count and settle the matter.

How does giving rationale for your solutions, create better answers?

4 Justified transfer: Answer contains multiple solutions with some justification or


The first step in assessing this problem is to get in touch with the distributors to

compare inventory sheets and determine where the problems lie. In doing so, you

will be able to determine if you should be receiving more inventory than what you

already have. If so, you can ask the distributors to send out the rest of the

shipment. However, if the mistake was on your part, you will have to take

different actions. You can put less of the merchandise out on the floor at a time, or

put it in a location where it is not as easily accessible. Also, talk to the store

manager to determine what he or she would like you to do. Make sure to change

the inventory count so that there are no discrepancies in the future.

How would supporting all solutions with reasons, help you to understand?

5 Systematic transfer: Answer contains solution strategies with supporting rationale.

First, I would have another person and I count it again to make sure it was not a

mistake on my part. If it were still lower, then I would check the back of the store

for merchandise that has not been put out yet. If it were still lower, then I would

not question it until the end when everything has been counted because some

items could have been misplaced or returned. If finally it was still lower, I would

subtract the allowed shrinkage and determine how much percentage of the

merchandise was still missing. I would let the store managers know and give them

some possible reasons and things to look out for in the future. Tell them to be real

careful with theft, both internal and external, and make sure that all employees

know to write all damaged merchandise and marked-down merchandise in the

book and to carefully count all merchandise as it is coming in to make sure that

the mistake is not on the vendor’s part.


Answering why questions is difficult if you don't have adequate back ground knowledge. Self-Explanation technique is more effective if why questions are to cumbersome to answer. In Self-Explain you are asked, or ask your self, how questions. How is this different then Elaborative Interrogation? How questions are very similar to why questions but don't require extensive previous knowledge to give a good answer. The best answers incorporate some previous knowledge that is relevant. The question can be vague like a simple How or more developed.

An example would be: Deciduous trees lose leaves before winter. How do deciduous trees change in winter? During fall, their leaves turn yellow and orange. I use a lawn mower instead of racking them up.

Self-Explanation is intended to encourage drawing from previous knowledge to help retain new information. Using more previous knowledge to develop answers will help to develop a stronger retention of the information. Younger learners, and people encountering new areas of study will gain more with self explanation. Self explanation can utilize limited background knowledge by not requiring concepts to be linked.

Getting the most out of it

Better answers to both why and how questions increase their effectiveness. The short answer format that school teachers look for, are the same answers that you should try to give. This format helps to develop better understanding of the material to be learned. How? The best answers include previous knowledge that is not included in the to-be-learned material.

For some reason many teachers and professors believe that you should learn it by osmosis, or that you should have learned how to create these answers long ago. Being able to develop the greatest answers is not necessary for these techniques to be effective, but attempting too, will make them even more effective. To create excellent short answers give multiple insights with supporting rationale for each. I'll give you a system for scoring problem-solving-questions that I encountered during my research to help illustrate.(Dornisch)

How would giving better answers help to facilitate learning? The quality of your answers is not as important as giving an answer, the mere attempt is sufficient. Your answers should be relevant to the question, and the question relevant to the material.

Including references to your personal knowledge will help to tie in what you are learning with what you already know. Relating what your learning with what you already learning is the single best device for learning. Association is the key to learning, this technique is intended to supply a format that encourages it. By creating answers to basic open-ended question a huge array of brain structures are activated. Using what you already know to develop insights is the biggest predictor of learning, not just with this technique.


These learning techniques have been thoroughly evaluated in clinical studies. In both elaborative interrogation and self explanation, the questions have been studied at simply why and how. When asked simply why, the statistical average didn't change but the range did. When asked simply why, the people who gave more involved answers did better and the people who gave less involved answers did worse. This suggests that giving a through answer is more important if the question is vague. How would this be true?

Because of the simple format, these techniques can be applied to almost anything. They are not limited by curriculum demands. You can use them outside of school. The material to be learned doesn't have to be a textbook or a lecture, it can be anything. You can apply it to sports, work, hobbies, any were you want to learn. Martial arts can be used as an example.


By simply taking the time to ask an open-ended question periodically you can learn much more effectively. These techniques have an average increase in learning that can turn a C into an A. These techniques do not to take any longer then common diligent study. The exact question isn't nearly as important as the answer. Attempting to give a decent answer is all that is necessary for huge gains. Give the best short answer to either how or why. Why weren't you thought this in school? There is nothing wrong with the American public education system; it works exactly as intended. These techniques have been studied for decades. Teaching methods are thoroughly used, with text books facilitating incorporation of modern teaching methods. Little emphasis has been placed on increasing students ability to learn.

Rubric Taken From

Dornisch, Michele. "facilitating learning from technology enhanced text: effects of prompted Elaboritive Interrogation". Journal of Educational Research. 99(3) pp156-166. DOI: 10.3200/JOER.99.3.156-166

founder of the us department of education
founder of the us department of education | Source


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