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What Is the Best Way for People with ADHD to Learn?

🕑 2 minutes read
Posted February 17, 2016
Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

How do people learn? Lots of research specialists in laboratory environments have looked into what makes people retain information, but how this research can be applied in education, software development, and other areas is still an open question. Researching how people learn has the most potential to benefit people with disabilities. Do the same interventions work for people with and without disabilities? Researchers have begun investigating methods for encouraging learning among people with one of the most common disabilities: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Two recent studies investigated how one learning method, the “testing effect” works for people with ADHD. The testing effect is the idea that testing oneself is more effective than merely reviewing information. It has already been shown to be effective among people without ADHD. The studies had mixed results, suggesting a path for helping people with ADHD to learn, but also indicating that there are still things we do not know.

In a University of Richmond study, researchers asked 100 college students, 25 with ADHD, to memorize two lists of words. In their study session, the words appeared on a computer screen for several seconds. When the students returned for a second study session, they re-studied one word list and took a free-recall test based on the other list. Two days later, the students took an exam that asked them to remember as many words as possible from both lists.

This study demonstrated that the testing effect held in students with and without ADHD. The students recalled about 35 percent of the words they studied twice, but they remembered around 45 percent of the words they quizzed themselves on. This suggests that the self-testing method could be an effective way for people with ADHD to learn.

In another study from Trinity College in Hartford, 18 students with ADHD and 18 students without ADHD took part in a similar test. The students read two short science essays about sea otters and the sun, respectively. When they returned for another study session, they restudied one essay, but tested themselves on the other. When they took comprehensive exams about both essays two days later, they recalled the essays about equally well. The results were the same for students with and without ADHD.

Because ADHD has a spectrum of symptoms, it is possible that certain methodologies work well for some individuals with ADHD, but not others. More research is required to understand how different learning techniques work in various settings to address ADHD’s multiple symptoms.

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