Productive Learning Strategies: Retrieval Practice in Canvas

Blog Post created by dthompson@instructure.com Employee on Sep 19, 2018

It’s always exciting to discover better, faster, and more efficient ways to support student learning.  With an increasing number of studies confirming which strategies and techniques support productive learning (and which don't!), retrieval practice repeatedly comes out as a highly effective way to support both remembering and learning.*  


What is retrieval practice?  In short, it’s having students recall facts, concepts or events from memory, as opposed to re-reading or reviewing notes.  


Testing is probably the most commonly known form of retrieval practice, though we often think about testing as an assessment strategy rather than as a way to embed learning.  Another way to use retrieval practice is to read or review content, and then put the content away and see how much of it you can recall.


Have you ever considered building retrieval practice into your Canvas courses?


One approach that beautifully leverages quizzing capabilities in support of retrieval practice is practice quizzes.


Let’s say you teach geography, and you’d like your students to learn the capital cities of 100 countries.  You want to help your students practice recalling capital cities to embed their learning. In this situation, Canvas practice quizzes can be your best friend.


  • You can create a single quiz that tests students’ recall of 10 capital cities at a time;  
  • You can allow students to take the quiz with unlimited attempts; and
  • You can randomise which capital cities students will be quizzed on.  Each attempt is like a whole new quiz!


How can you do that, I hear you ask!


Quizzes Classic



Create a Question Bank called “Capitals of the World”

Create an Item Bank called “Capitals of the World”


Add a quiz question in the Question Bank for each of the 100 capital cities you want your students to practice

Add a quiz question in the Item Bank for each of the 100 capital cities you want your students to practice


Build a practice quiz with the following settings:

Build a practice quiz with the following settings:


As a result, you will have created a re-usable resource that incorporates variety and retrieval practice – efficient for teachers, great for student learning.


Now it’s your turn – how could you use Canvas to support retrieval practice with your students?


*Here are a couple of great books that cover effective learning strategies:

  • Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel
  • A Mind For Numbers:  How to Excel and Math and Science by Barbara Oakley.



Developed in collaboration with

Candice Lim, APAC Trainer

Deleted User, APAC Trainer