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Something this simple should not evoke much of a reaction from educators, should it?  It's what we are all about, isn't it?  What we spend a career pursuing.

 

When we talk about redefining education, do we not also have to talk about redefining learning?  The Learning Platform is still quite an elusive construct for most, so how do we make more concrete something that is so abstract?

 

Peter C. Brown, author of Make it Stick, suggests that “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.”

 

If you read that introduction to a book, would you not be compelled to turn the pages – or download it in its entirety?  I was, and did.  If the most effective strategies to enhance robust learning are often counterintuitive, does this mean what we’ve been doing for years and years is all wrong?  Brown provides answers that have me both dismayed and excited at the same time!

 

Brown worked closely with neuroscientists in determining just what works best in creating lasting memories. He says, “learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow.”  With this, I believe we can all agree.  So I had to reflect on how I learned as a student – from elementary school through doctoral studies.  If you are anything like me, you utilized the following strategies in studying and hopefully committing knowledge to long-term memory: reading, highlighting, re-reading, drill and practice, practice, practice. 

 

According to Brown and his neuroscience buddies, these are the least effective strategies in learning something to any level of mastery.  It’s a wonder I know anything today to any depth!  Repeating something over and over again in order to “burn” it into our memories provides the illusion of mastery, but in reality for true mastery or durability these strategies are largely a waste of time.

 

Here’s where my dismay kicks in…..

 

But here’s also where I get excited.  We know so much more about learning, mastery, and cognitive science than we ever did in 1978 when I began my career!  And certainly we are eons from recitation and choral responses.  Another piece of good news – not everything we did as learners, or had our students do as educators, was void of merit!  Take flash cards, for instance.

 

Flashcards are a simple example of retrieval practice - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory—and a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading. Retrieval strengthens memory and interrupts forgetting!

 

So tune in next time for a discussion about testing and its merit – or lack of. 

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