To Highlight or Summarize? The Benefits of Constructive Learning in Geology.

Primary Author: Rachel Wong

Faculty Sponsor: Olusola Adesope


Primary College/Unit: College of Education

Category: Arts and Education Sciences

Campus: Pullman




Learning strategies that college students frequently utilize include highlighting or summarizing. However, based on Chi and Wylie’s ICAP framework (2014), these strategies are not equally effective. The framework identifies four modes of cognitive engagement in learning – passive, active, constructive, and interactive, defined by the overt learning activities that learners participate in. As learners’ engagement increase from passive towards interactive, they are likely to develop a deeper understanding of the material. Based on the framework, highlighting is classified as active and summarizing as constructive, implying that summarizing should result in greater learning.


This study was conducted with undergraduate geology students. Students were randomly assigned to either the highlighting or summarizing condition. All students completed a 5-item pre-test. The learning material consisting of six paragraphs, presented individually, aligned with students’ curriculum. In the highlighting condition, students highlighted key words for each paragraph while students in the summarizing condition summarized each paragraph after reading. All students completed immediate and delayed retention and transfer questions, with the delayed questions administered a week later.


Results indicated that the summarizing condition outperformed the highlighting condition on both immediate retention (d = 0.52) and delayed transfer (d = 0.54). The findings from this study provide empirical support for the ICAP framework, indicating that a constructive mode of engagement is more beneficial than an active mode of engagement. Since this study was conducted in an authentic learning environment, the findings are even more impactful for educators and students who are interested in identifying strategies to improve learning.