Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong

In Wired‘s Geek Dad column, Garth Sundem spoke with Robert Bjork, a professor of psychology and the director of UCLA’s Learning and Forgetting Lab, on new insights into how our brains absorb and retain information. This research verifies me why noting taking and linear learning make less sense in a networked world. According to Bjork taking notes during class, topic-focused study, and a consistent learning environment are exactly opposite of the best strategies for learning.

People tend to try to learn in blocks,” Bjork said. “Mastering one thing before moving on to the next.

  • Instead of doing that Bjork recommends interleaving. The strategy suggest that instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork.

“This creates a sense of difficulty,” Bjork said. “And people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”

  • Make sure the mini skills you interleave are related in some higher-order way. If you’re trying to learn tennis, you’d want to interleave serves, backhands, volleys, smashes, and footwork — not serves, synchronized swimming, European capitals, and programming in Java.
  • If you want information to be accessible outside your dorm room, or office, or nook on the second floor of the library, Bjork recommends varying your study location.You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable. Then, the more you have to work to pull it from the soup of your mind, the more this second study session will reinforce your learning. If you study again too soon, it’s too easy.
  • Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during. The more you work, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more awesome you can become.
  • Forgetting actually aids recall.

Forget about forgetting,” said Bjork. “People tend to think that learning is building up something in your memory and that forgetting is losing the things you built. But in some respects the opposite is true.”

  • When you are reminded, you retain information much more quickly and strongly than if you were asked to memorize . We forget the old phone numbers, or at least bury them far beneath the ease of recall we gift to our current number.
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2 thoughts on “Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong

  1. I enjoyed this article – it makes sense to teach overarching concepts, rather than having students master independent techniques first. I find this effective in a dance class, where students improve through practice and repetition. I will also include variations on a theme. It makes more sense within the larger framework of a dance choreography, rather than just teaching one step at a time.

    Like

  2. I enjoyed this post too. I just finished a book called the Talent Code whose author is constantly quoting Robert Bjork. It was a very interesting read and makes one really rethink what are the most effective ways to learn and master a skill.

    Like

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