Does a Distributed Practice Strategy for Multiple Choice Questions Help Novices Learn Programming?

Lishan Zhang, Baoping Li, Qiujie Zhang, I-Han Hsiao


Learning how to program is becoming essential in many disciplines. However, programming cannot be easily learned, especially by non-engineering students. It is challenging to conduct engineering education for non-engineering majored students. Therefore, it is important to teach non-engineering students to learn with efficient learning strategies. To discover an efficient learning strategy, we had 64 students practice programming with a simple learning management system and tracked all of their practice behaviors on multiple choice questions. The learning management system assigned one multiple choice question per day, but let students themselves decide their own practice frequencies. Students could also make unsynchronized communications by commenting on the questions. By analyzing their behavior patterns and other performance indicators, this paper compared the effect of two different practice strategies for multiple choice questions: distributed practice and massed practice. Our analysis found that students who adopted distributed practice significantly outperformed those who adopted massed practice on final exams (p=0.031). We further explored the possible reasons that led to this significant difference. Students who adopted distributed practice strategy tended to make higher percentage of first submission correctness, be more cautious while correcting errors, and be more constructive in posting question-related comments.


distributed practice; massed practice; programming language learning; multiple choice question; data analysis

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Copyright (c) 2020 Lishan Zhang, Baoping Li, Qiujie Zhang, I-Han Hsiao

International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET) – eISSN: 1863-0383
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