Pretesting Reduces Mind Wandering and Enhances Learning During Online Lectures

Steven C. Pan, Faria Sana, Alexandra G. Schmitt, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Although online lectures have become increasingly popular, their effectiveness at promoting learning can be attenuated by mind wandering (shifts in attention away from the task at hand towards unrelated thoughts). We investigated whether taking tests on to-be-studied information, also known as pretesting, could mitigate this problem and promote learning. In two experiments, participants viewed a 26-min video-recorded online lecture that was paired with a pretest activity (answering questions about the lecture) or a control activity (solving algebra problems), and with multiple probes to measure attention. Taking pretests reduced mind wandering and improved performance on a subsequent final test compared to the control condition. This result occurred regardless of whether pretests were interspersed throughout the lecture (Experiment 1) or were administered at the very beginning of the lecture (Experiment 2). These findings demonstrate that online lectures can be proactively structured to reduce mind wandering and improve learning via the incorporation of pretests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-554
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec. 2020


  • Mind wandering
  • Online learning
  • Prequestions
  • Pretesting
  • Video lectures


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