Context Aided Retrieval in Retrospective Surveys. A Cognitive Pretest of Memory Processes Related to Episodes of Further Education

Andrea Dürnberger, Katrin Drasch, Britta Matthes


Further education and training activities are considered to be recalled only with difficulty. Therefore, non-formal and informal training activities have rarely been collected in retrospective surveys. However, within the framework of the IAB-ALWA study “Working and Learning in a Changing World” short and relatively insignificant training activities that occurred sometime in the past are also of central interest. It was the goal of this study to examine whether recalling these activities is aided by providing context. In particular, we addressed the question whether there is a connection between the memory strategies used by respondents and the amount of events as well as the time-lag to the context of memorization when remembering further education episodes. In our study the contexts of memorization were employment episodes. Our approach involved applying cognitive pretesting – a qualitative method originally developed to validate the understanding of survey questions – to the analysis of recall processes that are related to events that are difficult to remember per se.

The results of the cognitive pretest show that respondents remember training activities from the recent past well. For events that are further back in the past, context-based memory strategies are frequently used. In sum, we demonstrate that context-based data collection is an appropriate instrument for the retrospective collection of training activities which occured only a few years ago. The longer the retrospective intervall is, however, the greater are the memory problems which cannot be compensated by context-based retrieval. The findings from the cognitive pretest were used for designing instruments of the main survey of the IAB-ALWA study and its follow-up study, the first wave of the adult stage of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS).

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Copyright (c) 2016 Andrea Dürnberger, Katrin Drasch, Britta Matthes

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