Imbalance in Western education is ‘extreme’ – Dunlosky

The emphasis on knowledge acquisition over learning strategy is undermining schools’ efforts, says the prominent researcher

Tes Editorial

John Dunlosky: How to tackle the 'imbalance' in education with learning strategies

When assessing the merits of Western education, Professor John Dunlosky doesn’t pull any punches.

“The imbalance is so extreme, it’s almost shocking,” says the researcher behind one of education psychology’s most cited papers, "Strengthening the student toolbox".

The imbalance he’s referring to is that between the teaching of knowledge and the teaching of learning strategy; something he thinks is drastically skewed towards the former.

“I absolutely understand what teachers are up against. Students need to pass a variety of different tests,” he admits.

Read more: The full interview with John Dunlosky in Tes magazine 17 September 2021

Podcast: How to build a better learner, with John Dunlosky

World Ed Summit: Find the highlights from WES 2021 

“Even so, the strategies are not that difficult to train, so just a little extra instruction about strategies spaced across each school year may be all that is needed.”

John Dunlosky: The need to focus on learning strategies

One of the keynote speakers at next year’s World Education Summit, Dunlosky is often referred to when it comes to revision sessions, but he claims the research that made him such a prominent figure is much more wide-ranging than that.

“We need a more global use of the key strategies across classes. So as a pupil moves from class to class, teacher to teacher, if they tend to be encountering the same set of effective strategies, then the lightbulb would go off.”

Listen to the full interview through the Tes Podcast: 

His landmark paper assesses the merits of 10 different strategies for learning, ranging from the effective "practice testing" and "distributed practice", to the less convincing "highlighting and underlining" and "keyword mnemonics". 

He insists that the strategies he included in the research are those that can be easily used in all classrooms at no cost to the teacher involved. He also suggests that these strategies are simple enough for young learners to adopt.

"The time to begin building a more effective learner is very early on," Dunlosky explains. "It would be super if we started showing students how to gain that knowledge in the most effective way, even in third or fourth grade [Year 4 or 5]."

Professor John Dunlosky will be speaking as part of next year’s World Education Summit. Tes is the official media parter for the event. For more information or to book tickets, visit  

WES 2022

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