How to make students make more effective use of learning resources

Tim van der Zee

In my forms of educations, students will have access to a wide variety of resources, such as additional learning activities, videos, extra study materials, educational technologies, planners, etc. While educational policies are aimed at providing learners more resources, they rarely address whether students are using these resources effectively (or at all). If we are providing resources to students but they do not use them (effectively), then what is the point?

The idea behind a study from Chen, Chavez, Ong, & Gunderson (2017) was that making students more self-reflective about how they should approach their learning with the resources available to them would hopefully improve their class performance. For this purpose the authors designed a novel Strategic Resource Use intervention.

The intervention

The Strategic Resource Use exercise prompted students to deliberately consider the upcoming exam format, which resources would facilitate their studying, why each resource would be useful, and how they were planning to use each resource. In the first part of the intervention, students in the treatment condition read a message telling them that successful high achievers use resources strategically when preparing for exams. After considering the types of questions that they expected to be tested on in their upcoming exam, students then indicated which class resources they wanted to use (from a list of 15 available) to maximize the effectiveness of their learning. The checklist of class resources included lecture notes, practice exam questions, textbook readings, instructor office hours, peer discussions, private tutoring, and many others


The participants were undergraduate students enrolled in two separate cohorts of a spring-semester introductory statistics class. All students had the same instructor, who was blind to individual students’ randomly assigned condition, thus controlling for instructional style and content. Individual students were randomly assigned to the intervention treatment condition or the control condition. In Study 1, there were 84 students in the treatment group and 87 in the control group. In Study 2, there were 95 in the treatment group and 95 in the control group.

Students randomly assigned to the treatment condition reported being more self-reflective about their learning throughout the class, used their resources more effectively, and outperformed students in the control condition by an average of one third of a letter grade in the class. In addition to performing better, students in the treatment condition also reaped other psychological benefits: They experienced lower negative affect toward their upcoming exams and perceived greater control over their performance, relative to students in the control condition. These secondary benefits add to the value in offering this brief, online intervention to students.
Chen, P., Chavez, O., Ong, D. C., & Gunderson, B. (2017). Strategic Resource Use for Learning: A Self-Administered Intervention That Guides Self-Reflection on Effective Resource Use Enhances Academic Performance. Psychological Science, 28(6), 774-785.