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Instructional Design: Learning Strategies

This guide serves faculty, staff, and students in improving and supporting instruction and learning in various learning environments (e.g., face-to-face, hybrid, and fully online). This represents our effort to share our knowledge with you.



Metacognition is becoming aware of how you learn. Have you ever tested your learning strategies to see if they're effective? Or are you locked into a routine (habit) of study because that's the way you always did it? Cognitive science has determined several best practices for learning and retaining information. For example, flashcards provide for spaced learning---learning over time as opposed to cramming all at once. They form a visual cue for you to remember. This helps new information move from short-term memory to long-term memory through repetition (practice). Can you think of other examples of cognitive strategies teachers promote to help you learn? Part of Jesuit education is showing students ways to take responsibility for their own learning. On campus, Fr. Viscardi is an advocate of metacognitive strategies.

The most important thing you need to remember about metacognition is that you need to do something with what you learn! I created the acrostic MOVE IT to remember my options for learning. MOVE IT stands for M=make it meaningful, O= organize the information in some way that makes sense, V= form a visual of the information (ex. acronyms like MOVE are a visual---don't just think of drawings), E= elaborate on what you learned (e.g. make something out of it, apply it to a new situation), I= information, and T= transfer (transfer to long-term memory). This mnemonic device helps me to remember how to design for instruction so that students do something with the information they receive. It also helps me to be a learner. I hope this will help you, too. This information on human learning is based on an educational psychology book by Jeanne Ormrod (2012). The acrostic is my own idea.

Student Learning Organizer for Metacognitive Strategies

Directions: Use this checklist to chart your metacognitive strategy usage. It is a job aid to help you remember how to maximize your learning through self-regulation. This is currently being used in the LEAP lab for freshmen at SHC. However, these strategies are for learners of all ages.




My Usage

Was it effective?


Make it meaningful to you

Meaningful things increase the likelihood of being remembered because special attention is paid to it (Bruning, Schraw, & Norby, 2011).


Formulate a matrix

Cognitive psychologists believe the act of organizing it forms a mental representation that you can reference later on during recall. For example, concept maps encode information both verbally and visually (Ormrod, 2012).


Visualize it

“…The brain constructs a visual representation of the world” (Ward, 2010, p. 103).  Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) recommend imagery as a way to encode information.


Describe the history of it.

This provides deeper learning of the topic (Bruning, Schraw, & Norby, 2011).

Maintenance Rehearsal

Review words in flashcard deck twice a week all semester long.

Distributed practice is more effective than massed practice (Ericsson, 1996; Bruning, Schraw, & Norby, 2011). Also, on how to practice, Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that students in the treatment group of study-test-test-test (STTT) outperformed other students in these other treatment groups: study-study-study-test (SSST) and SSSS.

Elaborative Rehearsal

Relate it  to your previous knowledge

This increases the likelihood of incorporating new information into your existing knowledge (Bransford, et al., 1999; Bruning, Schraw, & Norby, 2011).


Use 1st-level letters to form an acronym or quirky phrases with the list of categorical terms to aid memory.

This is a learning short-cut to remember different pieces of information. West, Farmer, and Wolf (1991) classified it as 8/10 on “high tonnage,” which means you can string together a large number of items with this strategy. For example, Dr. Rogers' acrostic 'MOVE IT!' stands for making it meaningful, organize, visualize, and elaborate for information transfer. See mnemonic generator if you can’t think of one yourself.

My Own Strategies:­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

What type of learning mindset do you have?


Dweck (2009) identified students’ beliefs about learning as their mindsets. Those who underestimate their ability to learn may have a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn have a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to know the right answer. They want to be corrected; their ego isn’t tied to learning. They don’t mind revealing what they do not know. They understand that learning takes effort, and they enjoy it. Those with a fixed mindset don’t pay attention to corrective feedback; they don’t want to put forth the effort to learn. Instead, they believe that learning shouldn’t take any effort because it’s tied to their intelligence. It shouldn’t be difficult if they’re intelligent; their ego influences how they learn.

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from

Cognitive Strategies


Which of these cognitive strategies do you already use?

1. Concept mapping: This is a spatial cognitive strategy that utilizes visual arrangements. When you create a concept map for something you're learning; this activity takes the new information learned and places it into an organized structure.

2. Overlearning: This strategy requires you to learn something perfectly and then continue to study it through rehearsals. This aids your accuracy in recalling the information from long-term memory. 

3. Metaphors, analogies, and similes: These are figures of speech. Use these strategically to make connections to something you already know. This will allow you to encode information verbally and visually. This is referred to as dual coding in memory. For example, here's a visual analogy about speed reading: Regular reading is to speed reading as regular swimming is to an Olympic swimming competition.

  • Analogy- An analogy makes a comparison based on similar end results. Example: Taking medicines on a regular basis is like watering a garden. If you wait until the plants are a little wilted, it's too late. Water every day. (Source: The Altoona List of Medical Analogies
  • Metaphor- A metaphor makes a comparison of two, unlike things. Generally, this is done for literary purposes or jokes. Example: Her eyes were glowing emeralds. 
  • Simile- A simile is a type of metaphor but uses the word 'like' or 'as' to make a comparison. It can also form an analogy. Example: Speed reading is like the Olympics. You need a lot of practice.

4. Mnemonics: This learning strategy is when you need to memorize something that contains several actions or names. Each letter stands for something. This is a single-use type of mnemonics. Together it forms another memory cue to help you remember it. has an extensive list of acronyms, acrostics, and other tricks for memorizing information. Try this mnemonic generator for any content you need to learn at There are other types of mnemonics: keyword, chain, and method of loci. The Romans used the latter by associating information with a place. With this method, you rely on the location to recall the information. 

5. Frames: This is a way to organize information into a matrix. Create a chart of the main topics and their features. Frames can help you figure out what is important (and might be on a test). This helps you analyze information and improves recall. Here's a frame from the human digestive system from Vaughn (1984):

Function Subparts Function of Subparts
Swallowing Tube
Small Intestine
Large Intestine

Creative Ways to Design Your Learning


Make learning tasks memorable to increase your long-term memory of the content! Here's a list of ideas on how to do that by using free and innovative technology, metacognitive strategies, and creativity. The SHC instructional designer, Dr. Rogers, shared examples from her past learning and homework assignments below.

1. Use Google Drawings to create an infographic. Why? Visuals can help you remember the content. Find Google Drawings in your Google Drive in Gmail. It's a free app. 

2.  Use Google Sites to create a Website, portfolio, or workspace for an individual or group project. Here's a 1-minute video on how to access it from Gmail.

3. Use a blog to share what you learned from an assignment. Why? Reflection helps you remember the lesson. Here's one of Dr. Rogers' reflections about a graduate assignment on instructional design on her WordPress blog.

4. Create a Twitter-based electronic newsletter on your major or course topic to learn from experts tweeting about it. Sandra uses to capture tweets from educational leaders on technology. If you don't have a Twitter account, search for newsletters created by others in your field of study. Follow their paper or sign-up for the real simple syndication (RSS) feed. Why? A newsletter will help you to continue your learning with each weekly update, and you can access the archive for past articles!

5. Use metacognitive strategies to increase the amount you learn. Metacognition means that you are hyperaware of your thought process.  As a doctoral student, Sandra created the first-letter-coding mnemonic, MOVE IT (make it meaningful, organize it, visualize it, elaborate on it, for information transfer) for research-based best practices. Use this mnemonic to remember different things you can do to enhance learning. Why? Mnemonics are highly effective learning strategies.  

6. Use Padlet to post your project or culminating events to a virtual wall. Dr. Rogers used the virtual wall to pin her activities at a professional conference, so she could share it with others. It's a free app that allows you to post all types of file formats to it. Why? This serves as an archive of the event for you to access in the cloud.

7. Use to make a professional poster for your next conference poster session! It offers a template to create your entire poster on one slide. The poster is a 36" x 48" template, which is the common parameter for professional poster sessions. The template also provides an 8" x 11" PDF print out for your handouts. Here's Dr. Rogers' poster for a qualitative case study on gaming. Consider adding a QR (quick response) code to your poster to link it with your full paper.  Here's a QR generator. Attendees use their phone to access the paper using a QR app. You'll need to generate a link for the QR code. Upload your document to your Google Drive and the link will produce a QR code (See after upload to Google Drive. Hover to the right of the number of clicks and a 3-dot menu will appear with the QR code option.)