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Future directions and concluding thoughts

Strategies and skills, as forms of procedural knowledge, are the actual processes that students do in order to improve their learning or achievement in school (Dinsmore, 2017). As has been discussed over the course of this chapter, there are a number of caveats that complicate the way that students evoke their procedural knowledge within and across domains learning. For example, procedures can be effortfully utilized (i.e., strategies) or automatized (i.e., skills) and that level of automaticity can vary within a student across domains, even for the same strategy. In addition, even though the same strategy can be identified as useful to students learning one domain as well as different students learning another domain, it may also be that a single student who is capable of successfully applying a strategy in one domain will not be capable of doing so in another domain. Further, the same student, as they develop expertise in a particular domain, may be more or less capable of transferring their strategic processes across domains, or if they do transfer, those strategies may be differentially effective for that learner across those domains. The type of learning context (e.g., task, domain, or discipline) also determines the specificity or generality of strategies wherein some task-specific strategies, if that task arises across domains, may be considered domain-general, and some strategies that can be useful across domains can be enacted very differently across disciplines, leading to a disciplinarily distinct strategic process.

Although the number and complexity of these caveats, and the others discussed in more detail earlier in this chapter, appear to undermine the systematic and empirical study of strategic processes, I would argue that, instead, they point to the richness of this research area and the possible fruitfulness of future inquiries into strategy use. Indeed, any psychological and educational study that goes beyond the quantification of performance or the measurement of ability to a finer grained look at what students actually do when they are thinking and learning, can meaningfully add to the current knowledge about the domain-generality and specificity of strategic processes. For example, it seems apparent that there is a continued need for a longitudinal perspective on strategy and skill development, not just in theorizing but also in empiricism. Most longitudinal work in psychology measures performance on tasks designed to indicate a construct that students have and develop (see Fryer & Vermunt, 2018 for an exception), but the actual procedural shifts students make in order to improve their performance on such tasks may be more interesting and relevant to education than is task performance. One longitudinal perspective that has begun to address this concern is called Dynamic Measurement Modeling (McNeish & Dumas, 2017), and this area of research shows the process for determining the generality of learning strategies, but definitive studies remain in the future.

In addition to a longitudinal or time-series perspective on strategy use, the inclusion of biometric data such as eye-tracking, skin connectivity, or neurological blood flow into studies of strategic processing also appears to be necessary and interesting. When incorporated with cognitive or behavioral data, such biometric markers may aid the field in determining how students evoke strategies when they are engaged in learning. For example, some recent attempts to combine strategic processing codes from think-aloud data, eye-tracking indicators, as well as academic performance, have been able to make novel inferences about reading strategies (Catrysse et al., 2018). In my view, this multi-faceted measurement approach will be particularly useful going forward in this line of inquiry.

For psychologists that study education, a focus on student performance or abilities across domains of learning is not sufficient to determine how students actually engage with tasks to enact their performance. Perhaps even more importantly, a focus on performance and ability does not provide the needed information to determine how instruction can be designed to improve learning outcomes because, without knowing the cognitive procedures by which students improve their performance, we cannot instruct students at the fine-grain procedural level. For this reason, research on strategic processing is absolutely necessary in educational psychology. However, even a sequence of well-designed studies of strategic processing within a single domain of learning cannot determine whether or how strategic knowledge in one domain can transfer to another, or even more so, whether direct instruction on strategies that are designed to be domain-general will actually improve student performance across a variety of domains. For this, targeted work focused on the domain-generality or domain-specificity of strategic processes is necessary.

Throughout the history of educational psychology as a discipline, researchers have sought to identify attributes of learners that would improve their learning and performance not only in one domain of learning but across the gamut of their academic activities (Alexander, 2018). The promise of such domain-general capacities has, in short, been that if students can improve on a domain-general ability, their performance will subsequently increase across multiple domains of learning. However, a finer-grained research approach into the actual cognitive procedures (i.e., strategies and skills) that students enact while thinking and learning has challenged this belief. For example, we now know that even procedures that appear highly generalizable do not readily transfer across domains (Sprenger et al., 2013). For this reason, the research area concerning strategic processing within and across domains, individual students, and expertise development stages currently holds many open questions. But it also remains clear that the evidence-based answers to these educationally relevant questions may be the only way to provide clear and actionable instructional recommendations to practitioners about strategy instruction. Therefore, research attention to the domain-generality and domain-specificity of strategic processes must continue in service of a central disciplinary goal of educational psychology: to support the learning of all students.

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