Learning something new about learning 5

OfficeBrooke Lester @AnummaBrooke shared this article via twitter (see Jim, it can be very useful, or at least as useful as a blog), Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits. The article summarizes several decades worth of research regarding how we learn and what  ought to be understand as best practices in learning habits.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

The article goes on to relate how numerous studies have shown that we, everyone, gather and retain knowledge best we when learn it in smaller doses in various contexts. Alternate studying vocab, reading, and conversation when learning a new language, for example, rather than spending a long time trying to memorize that vocab list. Moving locations can help as well. Study ancient near eastern creation myths in your room for a while and then the next day study it again, in a completely different location. Our mind apparently takes in the ambience of our learning environment and by varying the backdrop our mind is able to highlight the commonalities of the two situations, bringing the subject matter out in relief, as it were.

This latter point really resonated with me. As my job has required me to travel more in the last four years I have been flummoxed as to why I have so much better retention of articles read on a plane or in an airport than when I am sitting in my comfy office. (And I can often remember where I was in addition to remembering the content.) Now I know why that is so and having it explained means that I can be more directive in my study habits…and those of my children. Read the article, I think you will learn something as well.

UPDATE: Someone on facebook linked to the abstract of one of the key studies discussed. This is very interesting to read. They concluded:

We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately.v


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

5 thoughts on “Learning something new about learning

  • Sally

    I completely agree that a change in environment can do a world of good for a study plan. I found dozens of good study spots at Penn State, because I felt a need to get up and change places every hour or two, and it really helped my concentration (as paradoxical as that may sound).

  • Lee McCardle

    Your article seems to suggest that students learn in the ghetto as well or better than in high class gated communities. Is that a fair conclusion?

    • Chris Brady Post author

      No, not necessarily. I think what the study is arguing is that regular change of venue (not just a non-quiet place of study) is what helps us to remember and recall things we are studying.

      The term “ghetto” is so freighted we would have to unpack what you mean by that, but there is no doubt that young people in financial disadvantaged situations have fewer resources and often less time to devout to study so the context of such a situation usually does not lead to better learning.

      • Lee McCardle

        Your term, “time to devote to study” hints of the old “transmissive education” concept. My sense is that students living in a non-academic environment are just as reflective in their thinking and learning as students who devote themselves to structured study time. In my view, raw experience provides a very rich source for reflection and learning. The challenge is to sort out and make sense of that personal experience. Obviously, I’m in over my head in responding to that article, which I’ve not read!!!

        • Chris Brady Post author

          I am not suggesting that anyone is more reflective than another, at least not in broad generalizations. (Individually this is certainly the case. My wife is far more contemplative than I.) “Raw experience” is, in many ways, “time devoted to study” but that study is the experience. How does one get experience in history or English? At least in part through reading and that requires time which someone who, for example, is required to work a job or two in order to meet financial obligations would not have. On the other hand, if they work in a store they may well be gaining a great deal of knowledge about the workings of commerce.

          The article itself and the studies it was reporting on was focused upon how people of all ages best learn subject material (as opposed to skills) and found that varying the context in which one studied made a significant difference to retaining that information.