I investigate learning principles from cognitive psychology that are potentially applicable to real-world educational environments. I conduct experiments on human memory, use mathematical modeling to analyze the underlying cognitive mechanisms supporting learning benefits, and explore ways of applying laboratory findings to authentic educational settings. By applying fundamentals of cognitive psychology to areas of educational psychology, I seek to develop promising instruction methods for teachers and study strategies for learners. In addition to laboratory experiments, I have conducted field experiments which tested learning principles in middle-school classrooms. I believe that psychological research should include the dissemination of knowledge, the meeting of prevailing needs in the community, and the exchange of ideas through collaboration within and between research disciplines. In the long run, I want to advance the research field by evaluating theories and developing principles that result in more efficient curricula and better learning outcomes for a wide range of students.
For the most part, I have investigated the distributed practice effect: One of the oldest learning phenomena in cognitive psychology dating back to Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. In essence, it refers to the finding that long-term retention of information is improved when a fixed amount of study time is distributed across multiple learning episodes instead of being massed into a single one. Although this effect is quite robust and can be found for different materials, different age groups, and in various settings, it is theoretically not well understood. I have tackled this issue in my research and offer potential explanations for this effect.
In collaboration with Mark McDaniel at Washington University in St. Louis I have looked into the benefits of distributed practice for well- and ill-structured material. We find that the structure of the material affects how beneficial distributed practice is. Another research project with Dave Balota and Jan Duchek from Washington University in St. Louis looks at the effects of distributed practice in older adults to study the robustness of this learning effect over the lifespan and the underlying memory processes contributing to it.
Apart from my research on the distributed practice effect, I have ongoing projects that look at the effect of sleep on memory. In collaboration with Edgar Erdfelder (University of Mannheim) I examine the contributions of encoding, maintenance, and retrieval processes to the beneficial role of sleep on memory. Using mathematical modeling, we are able to draw strong conclusions on competing theoretical accounts by revealing that maintenance and retrieval processes are both positively affected by sleep. In another collaborative project, Meike Kroneisen (University Koblenz-Landau) and I investigate how testing affects the role of sleep on memory.
Since I am convinced that psychological research should serve the public, I aim at implementing learning strategies in educational settings in order to offer teachers and students a wide range of beneficial strategies that promote long-term retention. Taken together, my research goal is to use scientific evidence to enhance learning outcomes, more specifically, and to solve prevailing problems in education, more generally.