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Effects of Learning Skills Interventions on
Student Learning: A Meta-Analysis
John Hattie
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
John Biggs
University of Hong Kong
Nola Purdie
Queensland University of Technology
The aim of this review is to identify features of study skills interventions that
are likely to lead to success. Via a meta-analysis we examine 51 studies in
which interventions aimed to enhance student learning by improving student
use of either one or a combination of learning or study skills. Such interventions typicallyfocused on task-related skills, self-management of learning, or
affective components such as motivation and self-concept.

 Using the SOLO
model (Biggs & Collis, 1982), we categorized the interventions (a) into four
hierarchical levels of structural complexity and (b) as either near or far in
terms oftransfer. The results support the notion of situated cognition, whereby
it is recommended that training other than for simple mnemonic performance
should be in context, use tasks within the same domain as the target content,
and promote a high degree of learner activity and metacognitive awareness.
The present article reviews studies of attempts to improve student learning by
interventions outside the normal teaching context. Generically, these can be called
study skills interventions, although this term has had varied usage to cover a
multitude of disparate programs. For present purposes, a normal teaching context
is one in which teaching is principally focused on the content to be taught and
learned, although secondary aims may be to focus on procedural skills or other
cognitive, metacognitive, 

and affective attributes of the learner. An innovation or
other departure from normal teaching becomes an intervention in the sense
intended in this review when it (a) is outside what the teacher(s) involved in the
study intended to do in the course of teaching; (b) requires, therefore, an outside
person (e.g., the experimenter) to design and evaluate the intervention; (c) involves a formal experimental design that includes provision for evaluating the
effects of the intervention; and (d) focuses on independent variables that aim to
increase various kinds of performances, usually including academic performance
but going beyond content learning itself.
These interventions have aimed at enhancing motivation, mnemonic skills, selfregulation, study-related skills such as time management, and even general ability
The research was facilitated by a grant from the Australian Research Grants.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the first author.

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Hattie, Biggs, and Purdie
itself; creating positive attitudes toward both content and context; and minimizing
learning pathologies. Some of these variables are both mediating and true dependent variables; for example, study skill enhancement may be an end in itself or a
subgoal whereby enhanced performance is the ultimate criterion by which the
success of the intervention is to be judged and the enhancement of study skills is
the means by which performance itself is enhanced. A general explanation for
these programs is that they are interventions for enhancing learning.
Interventions may broadly be classified as cognitive, metacognitive, and affective in nature. Cognitive interventions are those that focus on developing or
enhancing particular task-related skills, such as underlining, note taking, and
summarizing. Specific skills taught directively are seen as tactics, which can be
grouped and used purposefully as a strategy (Snowman, 1984). 

Derry and Murphy
(1986) described these strategies as "the collection of mental tactics employed by
an individual in a particular learning situation to facilitate acquisition of knowledge or skill" (p. 2). Metacognitive interventions are those that focus on the selfmanagement of learning, that is, on planning, implementing, and monitoring one's
learning efforts, and on the conditional knowledge of when, where, why, and how
to use particular tactics and strategies in their appropriate contexts. Affective
interventions are those that focus on such noncognitive aspects of learning as
motivation and self-concept. Attributions for success and failure were regarded
here as affective.

 Intervention programs may comprise any one or more of these kinds of targets.
In fact, whereas in earlier interventions the thrust was in teaching cognitive skills
and strategies directly, in recent years the emphasis has shifted to embedding the
application of such skills in specific contexts, as is explained in the review below.
The aim of this review is to identify features of study skills interventions that are
likely to lead to success. Via a meta-analysis, we survey the more recent intervention studies so as to assess the relative effect sizes of different kinds and conditions
of intervention and, more generally, to see the extent to which the various
theoretical stances may be supported.
Literature Review
There has been an enormous amount of research on study skills. In the ERIC
database we located 1,415 separate journal articles, published between 1982 and
1992, reporting research on various aspects of study skills (although only a
fraction of that number appear in the present study, for reasons expressed below).
There have been reviews of some of this literature (e.g., Hartley, 1986; Pintrich &
de Groot, 1990; Tabberer, 1984) and six meta-analyses of particular kinds of
interventions. We could find no meta-analyses, however, which attempted to
identify the features of a study skills intervention that are likely to lead to its
The Nature of the Intervention 

The direct teaching of detached study skills has a long history; yet, as relatively
late as 1968, Haslam and Brown reported that "published research on the productivity of study skills instruction for high school students appears to be almost
nonexistent" (p. 223). In any event, this early work did not consider theory-driven
questions like the following: Why should some interventions appear to work while
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Effects of Study Skills Interventions
others appear not to? Under what conditions do interventions work best, if they
work at all? In more recent years, the discussion has turned to study skills in
relation to such factors as learning strategy training, motivation, 

self-regulation, transfer, and the context of intervention (A. L. Brown, Bransford,
Ferrara, & Campione, 1983; Derry & Murphy, 1986; Garer, 1990; McCombs,
1984; Perkins & Salomon, 1989).
Generally, there seems to be a current consensus that direct teaching of general,
all-purpose study skills is not effective (e.g. Garer, 1990; McCombs, 1984;
Pintrich & de Groot, 1990; Tabberer, 1984), although Hartley (1986) claimed that
at least with tertiary students there were small but consistently positive gains.
Kulik, Kulik, and Shwalb (1983) in a meta-analysis of low-ability college students
obtained a small average effect size of 0.29. When researchers concentrate on a
single aspect of studying, results seem to improve. Henk and Stahl (1985) metaanalyzed 14 studies of note taking and found a slightly larger average effect size
of 0.34. In a study of reading and study skills, Sanders (1980) reported a much
more impressive effect size of 0.94. This focus on more specific aspects of study
skills foreshadows the current position, which states that if strategy training is
carried out in a metacognitive, self-regulative context, in connection with specific
content rather than generalized skills, and if such training is supported by the
teaching context itself, positive results are much more likely (A. L. Brown et al.,
1983; Derry & Murphy, 1986; Garer, 1990; McCombs, 1984). Even then,
training and test tasks need to be closely related; the further the test task from the
training task, the more difficult it becomes to find transfer effects (Perkins &
Salomon, 1989).
Kirschenbaum and Perri (1982), reviewing studies conducted with adult participants and published in the period 1974-1978, found 35 studies in which the
interventions comprised programs based on applied behavioral analysis, general
counseling, self-control techniques, and study skills, either as single-component
programs or in multiple-component programs involving certain combinations of
these approaches,

 such as self-control and study skills training. Dependent variables were some aspect of performance, either grade point average or individual
subject grades, and sometimes anxiety and/or attitude. Kirschenbaum and Perri
found that the proportion of successful to unsuccessful interventions was higher
on the affective dependent measures (over 50% were effective) than on performance (33% were effective). As far as performance was concerned, singlecomponent interventions were rather less successful than multiple-component
interventions; interventions incorporating study skills, with either behavioral or
self-control elements, were most effective. 

Behavioral interventions on their own
were most effective in reducing anxiety. There was some disagreement over the
optimum length of a program, but some effective ones were as short as 3 or 8
hours in duration.
The effectiveness of multiple-component over single-component interventions,
Kirschenbaum and Perri (1982) argued, was caused by "credibility," or the
subjects' expectancy for change, which could be another way of describing a
Hawthorn effect. The overall pattern, however, is conceptualized in terms of a
three-component model. Motivation is enhanced by perceived control and efficacy expectations, which in turn provide the impetus for study skills development,
while both are supported by self-regulatory skills development.

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