In this episode we discuss a highly counter-intuitive approach to learning that flies in the face of the way you think you should learn and how it might transform your learning process. We explore several powerful, evidence based learning strategies that you can start to apply right now in your life, we explain why you should focus on getting knowledge out of your brain instead of into it (and what, exactly, that means), we share a number of powerful memory strategies you can use to super charge your brain - and much more with our guest Peter Brown.
Peter Brown is a best-selling author and novelist. He is the author of five books including Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Peter’s work turns traditional learning techniques on their head and draws from recent discoveries in cognitive psychology to offer concrete techniques for becoming a more productive learner. His work has been featured in The New York Times, American Public Radio, The New Yorker, and more!
As a novelist - how did you come to write a book about applications of cognitive psychology to learning?
What teaching and learning strategies lead to better retention of material?
The non-intuitive approach to learning that flies in the face of the way you think you should learn
Most of us think that learning is about getting knowledge and skills into the brain - that’s wrong
The way to get knowledge to stick is to get learning OUT of the brain! (What does that mean?)
The act of wrestling with knowledge and material is what actually builds learning that sticks
3 Big ideas from Brian’s research
(1) It's about getting the knowledge out of your head, not getting it in
(2) When learning is easy it doesn’t stick. You have to challenge yourself.
(3) Intuition leads us astray. We think that simple repeated practice makes it easier to learn, but that may not be the case. You can’t rely on learning that feels constructive.
Your brain continues to work on and consolidate knowledge while you sleep.
How does memory get stored? How can your lack of understanding about this lead to worse learning strategies?
The more connections you make to existing knowledge, the more you are likely to remember something
When you’re learning something new, you want to engage with something enough to let the brain process it, consolidate it, and connect it to other information networks within the brain
Associate memories with other memory cues if possible
The more you know - the more you can know
The more complex knowledge that you build and develop the more you can develop complex mental models for explaining and understanding reality
Visual markers, memory palaces and mnemonic devices can be very powerful memory techniques
They are not about learning, but rather ORGANIZING what you’ve already learned
The key to learning is to put ideas in your own words, to digest them, play with them, and think about the application of them - not just to review the text or information you’ve already read.
Pulling an all-night is a terrible study strategy for long term retention
Highly effective learning strategies
Put it in your own words
Space out your learning and repetition
Mixing up your practice is also a highly desirable learning strategy
Spacing out learning is very powerful for helping connect various things you’re learning to each other
The “forgetting curve” is a mental model that helps interrupt your pattern of forgetting things - and remembering them at just the right time
Mass practice vs mixed practice - and why the feeling of improvement may be misleading your learning efforts
Transfer of skills is greatly improved when your practice involves mixed challenges instead of practicing the same thing over and over again and then moving to the next thing
The idea of “mixed practice” can help improve your abilities whether they are motor skills or semantic knowledge
How does the research around “mixed practice" interact with distraction and research about multi-tasking and the cost of “task switching”?
The key is to dedicate your working memory to one task at a time, but switch those tasks frequently
The point of studying lots of information at once isn’t leaving, but it’s coming back to the material and forcing yourself to retrieve “what was going on here?”
What does a study about micro-surgery have to do with learning and retention?
Letting your subconscious focus on something and digest it leads to greater retention
“Desirable difficulty” is essential for learning
We often get in our own way - push until it’s challenge and then move into something else, then come back!
Mental effort and persistence towards a learning goal help build deeper memories - literally change the physical structure of your brain and lead to better and richer memories
Don’t feel discouraged about difficulty in learning - it’s a key part of the process
Homework: Look back at your own life and the things that you’ve tackled that were a struggle, and yet you became good at it - use these as examples for how this strategy can work
Homework: Read about the science of learning in general
Homework: Create flash card sets or quizzes for things you want to memorize (even if you aren’t a student) in order to TEST yourself. Practice retrieving information, over and over again. The retrieval is key! Only by doing it can you be confident you know how to do it. Self testing, space it out, and come back later to do it again.
Thank you so much for listening!
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Show Notes, Links, & Research
[SoS Episode] Brain Scans Reveal The Powerful Memory Techniques of Memory Champions, Greek Philosophers, and SuperLearners with Jonathan Levi
[SoS Episodes] Creative Memory Episodes
[ResearchGate Profile] Henry Roediger
[Faculty Profile] Profile on Henry Roediger
[Wiki Page] Forgetting curve
[Journal Article] The Biology of Memory: A Forty-Year Perspective by Eric R. Kandel
[Video] Sea slug brain chemistry reveals a lot about human memory, learning - Science Nation
[Video] Eric Kandel-The Biology of Memory and Age Related Memory Loss
[SoS Episode] Research Reveals How You Can Create The Mindset of a Champion with Dr. Carol Dweck
[Book] Make It Stick by Peter Brown
[Book Website] Make It Stick
[Website] Retrieval Practice
[Website] The Learning Scientists