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Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong

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Posted by Alexander Deliyannis
Feb 11, 2012 at 11:40 AM


(Don’t mean to be cheeky; that’s just the title of the article)

The highlights:

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. [...] Bjork explains that successful interleaving allows you to ?seat? each skill among the others. ?If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful,? he said. There?s one caveat: 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.

LOCATION: Similarly, studying in only one location is great as long as you?ll only be required to recall the information in the same location. 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.

SPACING: If you study, wait, and then study again, the longer the wait, the more you?ll have learned after this second study session. Bjork explains it this way: ?When we access things from our memory, we do more than reveal it?s there. It?s not like a playback. What we retrieve becomes more retrievable in the future. Provided the retrieval succeeds, the more difficult and involved the retrieval, the more beneficial it is.? [...] Along these lines, Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during ? forcing yourself to recall a lecture?s information is more effective than simply copying it from a blackboard. You have to work for it. The more you work, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more awesome you can become.

STORAGE vs. RECALL: ?Because humans have unlimited storage capacity, having total recall would be a mess,? said Bjork. ?Imagine you remembered all the phone numbers of all the houses you had ever lived in. When someone asks you your current phone number, you would have to sort it from this long list.? Instead, we forget the old phone numbers, or at least bury them far beneath the ease of recall we gift to our current number. What you thought were sworn enemies are more like distant collaborators.


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