Is it possible to successfully add to your long term memory in the current educational climate? In Make It Stick, author Peter C. Brown and psychology professors Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel delve into the science of learning. They approach learning as a function of maximizing our ability to memorize and recall with a focus on the design of learning from a teacher’s perspective. Coming in at 336 pages, this is a great candidate for being read in chunks of one chapter at a time which jibes well with the information within regarding how we best retain what we read.
Even before the standardized testing world got out of control, I was a terrible student in the traditional sense. Once online learning, with the flexibility to work as I saw fit, came into play my grades skyrocketed. What I didn’t realize was that several of my basic tactics for gathering and retaining new knowledge were close to what is best supported by research for retention and life long learning. I’ve also noticed some of these principles in places like Duolingo as I’m attempting to learn German. I’m always looking for ways to improve my personal learnings as well as my approach to instructional design as I hopefully move into that field, and Make It Stick has several interesting observations to chew on.
Make It Stick (Chapter by Chapter)
Learning Is Misunderstood
We don’t really understand how learning works. Things like reading a text over and over show little lasting gains in knowledge while other techniques are far more effective.
First, to be useful, learning requires memory, so what we’ve learned is still there later when we need it.
Second, we need to keep learning and remembering all our lives.
Third, learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive.
To Learn, Retrieve
Our current system of gigantic standardized tests that offer no concrete feedback for students to learn from is a complete waste. Meanwhile, smaller tests that are given regularly with quality feedback cause much better retention, recall, and application.
To be most effective, retrieval must be repeated again and again, in spaced out sessions, so that the recall, rather than becoming a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort.
When retrieval practice is spaced, allowing some forgetting to occur between tests, it leads to stronger long-term retention than when it is massed.
In all studies of testing that reported students’ attitudes, the students who were tested more frequently rated their classes more favorably at the end of the semester than those tested less frequently.
Frequent low-stakes testing helps dial down test anxiety among students by diversifying the consequences over a much larger sample: no single test is a make-or-break event.
Mix Up Your Practice
You don’t go to the gym and only work your arms every time. You shouldn’t go and do the exact same exercises for each body part all the time. Much the same, our brains need some diversity to maximize how well they learn. What you learn, how you learn it, and how often you review it are all important.
Interleaving the practice of two or more subjects or skills is also a more potent alternative to massed practice.
In other words, the kind of retrieval practice that proves most effective is one that reflects what you’ll be doing with the knowledge later.
The inference is that learning gained through the less challenging, massed form of practice is encoded in a simpler or comparatively impoverished representation than the learning gained from the varied and more challenging practice which demands more brain power and encodes the learning in a more flexible representation that can be applied more broadly.
The harder the learning is, as long as you can attach it to earlier learning, the more you’ll be able to consolidate in your memory if you stick with it. Retrieval becomes easier as we add to our knowledge base and form diverse connections.
The more you’ve forgotten about a topic, the more effective relearning will be in shaping your permanent knowledge.
Would you rather read an article in normal type or type that’s somewhat out of focus? Almost surely you would opt for the former. Yet when text on a page is slightly out of focus or presented in a font that is a little difficult to decipher, people recall the content better.
It’s better to solve a problem than to memorize a solution. It’s better to attempt a solution and supply the incorrect answer than not to make the attempt.
Long-term memory capacity is virtually limitless: the more you know, the more possible connections you have for adding new knowledge.
What Are You Going To Do About It?
What do you do to learn something you really want to know? Do you see these principles in your own approach to learning or in any apps or classes you are using to increase knowledge?