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Ellen J. Langer, The Power of Mindful Learning

We asked half the students simply to learn the material. We expected that this instruction would result in students' trying to memorize the material. We asked the other students to make the material meaningful to themselves: "This may entail thinking about how certain parts of the information remind you of past, present, or future experiences, how the information could be important to yourself or someone else, or simply finding some significance of the story in relation to anyone and/or anything. Remember, what is meaningful to one person is not necessarily meaningful to another...

...The essays were judged by raters who were unaware of the groups' instructions. Students who learned the material in the traditional manner and were told of an impending test performed worse than all other groups. They tended to recall less information, and they showed less improvement from the first test to the second. The students instructed to make the material relevant, regardless of whether they expected to be tested, showed improvement in the intelligence and creativity of their essays.

Although we encouraged half of the subjects not to memorize the information, they did not necessarily follow our instructions. After each test we asked the students how they went about learning the material. Twelve of the twenty-eight students asked to make the material relevant nonetheless used only memorization to learn it. When we compared these students with the students who did follow the instruction, we found that the students who did not rely on memorization outperformed the others on every measure: they recalled more information from both readings; the essays they wrote were judged to be more creative and intelligent; and their scores improved from the first to the second test.

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