Meditation: Helping Students Get More from Lectures

Paying attention is without doubt the first step in listening to a lecture. When a mind wanders, there is hardly any reception. Listening and following a lecture do not really work well with multitasking. Watching a movie demands an undivided attention. My son watches a movie that he likes repeatedly. What is surprising, in my case, is that with each repeat, I become aware of some details I have missed after watching the movie only once. And I thought I was paying attention. Inside a lecture hall even writing down notes can prevent a student from following the flow of the lecture. Retention of the material presented in a lecture is challenging so taking notes is a way of storing the lecture in pieces of paper that hopefully can be easily retrieved in the future for review. Thus, the choice has to be made on whether to try as hard as possible to listen or write as much as one can with the hope of making sense out of all of the notes later. 

To address this problem, Jared Ramsburg, a doctoral student in cognitive sciences at University of Illinois at Chicago, has a suggestion. First, Jared is also a martial arts instructor. He has been featured in one of the pages of the Illinois Filipino Martial Arts page Katipunan Illinois 2012:

Photo Downloaded from Katipunan Illinois 2012

Together with Robert Youmans, an assistant professor of psychology, Ramsburg published a study in the journal Mindfulness. The article, "Meditation in the Higher-Education Classroom: Meditation Training Improves Student Knowledge Retention during Lectures", has the following abstract:

Ramsburg, J.T., & Youmans, R.J. (2013). Meditation in the Higher-Education Classroom: Meditation Training Improves Student Knowledge Retention during Lectures. Mindfulness. Epublished March 15.

Abstract: The cognitive skills required for successful knowledge retention may be influenced by meditation training. The current studies examined the effects of meditation on the knowledge retention of students. In three experimental studies, participants from three introductory psychology courses randomly received either brief meditation training or rest, listened to a class lecture, then took a post-lecture quiz that assessed students’ knowledge of the lecture material. The results indicated that meditation improved students’ retention of the information conveyed during the lecture in each of the three experiments. Mood, relaxation, and class interest were not affected by the meditation training. Limitations and implications are discussed.

The article caught the attention of The Huffington Post and in "Meditation Could Help Students Get Better Grades, Study Finds", the post writes:
Interestingly, researchers found that the meditation's effect was even more pronounced in freshmen classes. 
"Personally, I have found meditation to be helpful for mental clarity, focus and self-discipline," study researcher Jared Rambsurg, who is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. "I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals." 
This is certainly not the first time mindfulness has been shown in a study to help with academics. A study published last month in the journal Psychological Science showed that mindfulness helped students' memory and reading comprehension before taking the verbal reasoning portion of the GRE.

No doubt, both physical and mental states of students matter in learning. Efforts in improving both focus and self-discipline, as shown by this study, help in improving retention of material presented in lectures.