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The Science of Habit and Its Implications for Student Learning and Well-being

Abstract

Habits are critical for supporting (or hindering) long-term goal attainment, including outcomes related to student learning and well-being. Building good habits can make beneficial behaviors (studying, exercise, sleep, etc.) the default choice, bypassing the need for conscious deliberation or willpower and protecting against temptations. Yet educational research and practice tends to overlook the role of habits in student self-regulation, focusing instead on the role of motivation and metacognition in actively driving behavior. Habit theory may help explain ostensible failures of motivation or self-control in terms of contextual factors that perpetuate poor habits. Further, habit-based interventions may support durable changes in students’ recurring behaviors by disrupting cues that activate bad habits and creating supportive and stable contexts for beneficial ones. In turn, the unique features of educational settings provide a new area in which to test and adapt existing habit models.

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Notes

  1. Ironically, one of the few articles on habits in Educational Psychology Review is an interview with the most productive educational psychologists, who cite consistent work habits as important for maintaining research productivity and work-life balance (Flanigan et al. 2018; see also Kiewra and Creswell 2000; Patterson-Hazley and Kiewra 2013). Accounts of writers, artists, musicians, and scientists concur that habits and ritual set the foundation for creativity and productivity (Currey 2013, 2019).

  2. The amount of repetition ultimately required to form a habit likely depends on the complexity of the habit (Mullan and Novoradovskaya 2018) and the suitability of the performance context (Wood 2019).

  3. The term “study habits” is often defined broadly to include frequency of using various techniques, without specifying the nature or stability of specific context cues or the automaticity of the behavior. For example, Crede and Kuncel (2008) define study habits as “sound study routines, including but not restricted to, frequency of studying sessions, review of material, self-testing, rehearsal of learned material, and studying in a conductive environment” (p. 429).

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Acknowledgments

I thank Wendy Wood and one anonymous reviewer for their constuctive feedback and suggestions. I also thank Deborah Barany, Qian Zhang, and Michele Lease for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Finally, I thank the students from my First Year Odyssey Seminar at the University of Georgia, Applying the Science of Habit, for their valuable insight into the role of habits in their lives.

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Fiorella, L. The Science of Habit and Its Implications for Student Learning and Well-being. Educ Psychol Rev 32, 603–625 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09525-1

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Keywords

  • Habits
  • Self-regulation
  • Self-control
  • Study habits
  • Well-being