Determinants of learning and performance in an associative memory/substitution task: Task constraints, individual differences, and volition

The way that cognitive abilities, learning task characteristics, and motivational and volitional processes combine to explain individual differences in performance and learning was investigated. A substitution task was studied over practice, and it was discovered that students used strategy in which students persisted in scanning items. Five experiments investigated strategy differences and the ability and motivational correlates of task performance. First, ability correlates of performance and strategy use were demonstrated. Next, reducing task difficulty increased use of the learning strategy. With periodic memory tests, effective reliance on the learning strategy was increased, and task performance correlations with reasoning ability were lowered. Finally, a combination of self-focus and goal-setting interventions increased both general performance levels and use of the learning strategy. Results are discussed in terms of the goal of developing a more comprehensive understanding of learner differences.