Scaling Effective Learning Strategies: Retrieval Practice and Long-Term Knowledge Retention in MOOCs


  • Dan Davis TU Delft
  • René Kizilcec Cornell University
  • Claudia Hauff TU Delft
  • Geert-Jan Houben TU Delft



Retrieval Practice, Testing Effect, Experiment, Knowledge Retention, Learning Outcomes


Scientific evidence for effective learning strategies is primarily derived from studies conducted in controlled laboratory or classroom settings with homogeneous populations. Large-scale online learning environments such as MOOCs provide an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of these learning strategies in an informal learning context with a diverse student population. Retrieval practice, a learning strategy focused on actively recalling information, is recognized as one of the most effective learning strategies in the literature. In this study, we evaluate the extent to which retrieval practice facilitates long-term knowledge retention among MOOC learners using an instructional intervention. We conducted a pre-registered randomized encouragement experiment to test how retrieval practice affects learning outcomes in a MOOC. We observed no effect on learning outcomes and high levels of treatment non-compliance. This suggests that even evidence-based strategies may not work "out of the box" in new learning contexts and require context-aware research on effective implementation approaches. We conducted a series of exploratory studies on the extent to which learners recall knowledge gained in MOOCs over the long term. To our surprise, passing and non-passing learners scored similarly on a knowledge post-test, and both retained approximately two-thirds of what they learned over the long term.




How to Cite

Davis, D., Kizilcec, R., Hauff, C., & Houben, G.-J. (2018). Scaling Effective Learning Strategies: Retrieval Practice and Long-Term Knowledge Retention in MOOCs. Journal of Learning Analytics, 5(3), 21–41.