LEARNING HACK #6: Make yourself uncomfortable

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

It is more effective to move between topics than it is to focus on one topic solidly before moving onto the next.

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It is more effective to move between topics than it is to focus on one topic solidly before moving onto the next.

THIS IS TRUE.

Research now shows that we learn better when we mix it up. Moving between different topics rapidly forces us to draw distinctions between them, which is vital to applying knowledge in a broader context.

Our intuition leads us to revise one topic for an extended period of time before we move on. But, as these myths have shown so far, our intuition is often misguided. It feels much easier to study one topic continuously, but in the long-term we won’t be able to apply our knowledge as effectively as if we swap between topics regularly.

This is an example of desirable difficulty. At first it is awkward and challenging to move between topics, but this difficulty is desirable because it makes our motor and cognitive skills better in the long-term.

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Study Strategies: Interleaving
  2. Robert Bjork – The benefits of interleaving practice
  3. Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: the role of discrimination and retrieval

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

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LEARNING HACK #5: Throw out your highlighters

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

It is important to make notes, highlight them and re-read them before attempting practice questions or quizzing yourself on a topic.

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It is important to make notes, highlight them and re-read them before attempting practice questions or quizzing yourself on a topic.

THIS IS FALSE.

Actually, re-reading and highlighting information may make us feel super confident, but all we really achieve is that we add information to our short-term memories. If we were tested in a few days time, we wouldn’t remember most of it. We become familiar with the material while we are re-reading, which means that we think we know it, but in fact we have not mastered the subject at all.

This is called illusions of knowing. An example would be that you have read ten pages of a book, but when you are tested on it you cannot recall what you’ve just read. If you were to re-read those ten pages you may recognise the content because it is familiar, letting yourself believe that you know it when in reality you don’t.

How, then, do we master a subject? By Retrieval Practice: testing ourselves on information that we are learning.

Although it may seem stupid to test ourselves on topics that we don’t yet feel 100% comfortable with, the effort exerted by the brain while we search for an answer is what embeds the material into our long-term memory. Even if we get the answer wrong, we are more likely to remember it correctly the next time.

Constant testing also means that we can’t lie to ourselves. We’ve all been there – we presume we know a subject well because we’ve highlighted a passage and written notes on it, so we move onto the next topic. If we stopped and tested ourselves we would be more likely to find gaps in our knowledge that we would have to confront, not ignore.

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Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Active recall
  2. How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less
  3. An introduction to Retrieval Practice by the Learning Scientists
  4. Studying through Active Recall (Video)

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!

LEARNING HACK #4: Learn the wrong thing first

This post is part of a series challenging our assumptions about learning techniques. We’re asking you True or False questions to see what you do and don’t know about how to learn effectively, as well as giving you up to date information from current research into learning. Check out the previous post in this series and read the most recent one below.

Time should be devoted to discussing incorrect explanations.

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Time should be devoted to discussing incorrect explanations.

THIS IS TRUE.

Picture this scene: you’re at the pick n mix stand. You start filling up your bag with what you think are chocolate covered honeycomb, only they turn out to be chocolate covered raisins. You hate chocolate covered raisins. You realise your error and hurry over to the chocolate covered honeycomb, adding this to your bag.

But here’s the thing – you never tipped your chocolate covered raisins out, meaning that when you go for a piece of honeycomb you will have the added effort of dodging the raisins. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tip the chocolate covered raisins out, before adding the chocolate covered honeycomb?

Yes. Yes, it would. It is human nature to want to jump to the correct explanation as quickly as possible, but this doesn’t make room for the fact that our misconceptions are still floating about. It is essential that we spend time identifying misconceptions and then eliminating them, because this makes the necessary space in the brain for learning the correct explanation.

As with the pick n mix, if you have two different types of explanation in the brain it can lead to confusion. You may end up using the wrong explanation if you don’t overwrite it with the correct one. So, next time you’re learning something, make sure you take a moment to think about your incorrect answer, why you thought it in the first place and why it turned out to be wrong.

Addressing your misconceptions is like tipping out the chocolate covered raisins; it is only once you’ve dismissed the wrong answer (chocolate covered raisins) that your brain (pick n mix bag) can fully embrace the right answer (chocolate covered honeycomb).

Want to read more on this topic? Check out these links:

  1. Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education
  2. Saying the wrong thing: improving learning with multimedia by including misconceptions

What is Up Learn? Up Learn uses artificial intelligence and research from cognitive science to help students achieve A* results. Find out more.

We’re releasing a new learning hack every 2 days. Like our Facebook page to be notified!