Domain Knowledge and Retrieval Practice


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the ‘most followed educators’on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ by The Sunday Times as a result of…
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How do larger increases in domain knowledge impact student study decisions?

Students’ study choices are related to their prior knowledge in the domain of interest and are influenced by engaging in retrieval practice. However, the relationship between prior knowledge and students’ switch decisions during self-regulated learning is unknown.

How do students achieve success?

In a new, 20-page paper, researchers explore ‘learning complex concepts’ to unpick how students achieve success, influenced by students’ study order choices during learning (Babineau et al., 2022)

Domain Knowledge and Retrieval Practice The research considers how students switch to a new category (interleaved study order) or stay within the same category (blocked study order).

Learning is a complex process. It involves acquiring knowledge, skills, and behaviours through experience, practice, and instruction. Learning can occur in various settings, including the classroom, at home, and in the workplace; although I have highlighted 100s of times across this website – we must define ‘learning what’, who and why to be able to define how learning happens.

For now, let’s keep things generic. Learning is an active process that requires effort, motivation, and engagement. It involves making connections between new and existing information, practising and refining skills, and developing new behaviours.

Yet, for teachers, not much is known about how students select study order choices to learn concepts. The success of learning depends on the ability to identify the best order for studying the material – the most useful highlighted in this literature review.

Students often prefer easier (study) decisions – simply based on how they perceive the task – during learning and make relatively few switch decisions; however, an important question is whether students switch decisions depending on their level of prior knowledge in the domain and the learning strategy they use (retrieval practice versus study).


This research recruited undergraduate students from an introductory geology course to examine these relationships.

The undergraduate students who participated (n = 66) self-rated their knowledge, took a prior knowledge test, classified exemplar material by completing study or retrieval practice trials, and made study order choices. Students then completed assignments and attended lectures. In the paper, another variation of this method was used and the full details of the trial.


The research found “that changes in students’ domain knowledge were not significantly related to switching decisions during self-regulated learning.”

Yet, students “reported that they believed domain knowledge would impact study order decisions.”

Future research should aim to understand the complex relationships between students’ domain knowledge, self-regulated learning, retrieval practice, and final test performance.

Download the paper.