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Self-explanation for studying

Get those gears turning! Self-explanation as an effective study strategy
Published April 16, 2019 by Julia Lane

Self-explanation -- the theory 

In self-explanations, learners describe why a concept or idea is important and how it relates to their prior knowledge (Larsen et al., 2013). Generating self-explanations results in better recall and application than studying without self-explanations (Larsen, Butler, & Roediger III, 2013).

Self-explanation is seen to be an effective learning strategy for a few reasons (Chi, Leeuw, Chiu, & LaVancher, 1994). Generating self-explanations is an active, constructive process in which the learner creates knowledge. Also, during self-explanation, a learner is integrating new information with pre-existing knowledge, as opposed to other constructive activities such as summarizing that may not assemble new information with prior knowledge (Chi et al., 1994). When students interact with content and use their previous experience and knowledge to construct meaning, they are better able to understand and remember the content (King, 1992). Reformulating and adding to information builds cognitive structures which facilitate understanding and memory (King, 1992). Finally, self-explanation can occur many times over the course of learning, and learners have the opportunity to go back to previous generations of explanations and revise any incorrect assumptions as they move through a text and gain more knowledge (Chi et al., 1994).

stick figure studying book at a desk with a lamp

How to self-explain while studying

  • As you read through new information, explain to yourself how this information relates to your prior knowledge.
  • Try to explain the information to yourself while elaborating on it and connecting it to content you already know.
  • If you are studying a procedure with multiple steps, explain to yourself why a subsequent step follows a previous step.
  • You can write down your self-explanations to make the strategy even more effective.

- by Donya Samadi


Happy studying from all of us here at the Student Learning Commons! 


Image credit: 

study by priyanka from the Noun Project