Learning is Misunderstood


I have recently been reading Make it Stick The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel and it has some interesting insights into learning that I thought I would share.

Chapter 1: Learning is Misunderstood

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not.  When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.
  • Rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge are by far the preferred study strategies of learners of all stripes, but they’re also the least productive. By massed practice we mean the single-minded, rapid-fire repetition of something you’re trying to burn into memory, the “practice-practice-practice” of conventional wisdom.
  • For true mastery or durability these strategies (rereading and massed practice) are largely a waste of time.
  • Retrieval practice – recalling facts or concepts or events from memory – is a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading.
  • Simple quiz after reading a text or hearing a lecture produces better learning and remembering than rereading the text or reviewing lecture notes.
  • Periodic practice arrests forgetting, strengthens retrieval routes, and is essential for hanging onto the knowledge you want to gain.  Space out practice at a task and get a little rusty between sessions, or you interleave the practice of two or more subjects, retrieval is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.
  • Try to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt. (Pre-assessment and inquiry based learning)
  • The popular notion that you learn better when you receive instruction in a form consistent with your preferred learning style, for example as an auditory or visual learner, is not supported by the empirical research.
  • In virtually all areas of learning, you build better mastery when you use testing as a tool to identify and bring up your areas of weakness. (check ins and feedback)
  • New learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.
  • Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.
  • People who learn to extract the key ideas from new material and organise them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery.
  • Many people believe that their intellectual ability is hard-wired from birth, and that failure to meet a learning challenge is an indictment of their native ability.  But every time you learning something new, you change the brain – the residue of your experiences is stored. (Growth Mindset)
  • Learning is stronger when it matters, when the abstract is made concrete and personal.
  • If rereading is largely ineffective, why do students favour it? Rising familiarity with a text and fluency in reading it can create the illusion of mastery.

Creativity is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein

One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply – Robert Sternberg



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