LEARNING HACK #3: Can gaming ever be a good addiction?

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 first and second posts in this series and read the most recent one below.

Gaming is an addiction that has a negative impact on learning.

What do you think?

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Gaming is an addiction that has a negative impact on learning.

THIS IS FALSE.

Wait, what? But my parents are always telling me to get off my computer, stop playing mindless games and do my homework!

While playing hours upon hours of FIFA isn’t going to get you an A*, the ideas behind gaming – like point scoring, competing with others and rewards – genuinely make it more fun and therefore increase the likelihood of us coming back for more learning and successfully improving our grade.

(Image Credit)

If you can implement gaming into the way you study, or use tools that have this built in, you might find yourself getting addicted to learning! That’s an addiction with a side-effect of better grades… Count me in.

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

  1. Gamification and student motivation
  2. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

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 #2: Learning styles – helpful or harmful?

Over the next few weeks we will be posting a series of learning hacks that will force you to confront what you do and don’t know about how to learn. A lot of research into learning techniques has been done over the years. Interestingly, many of the conclusions that studies have drawn are taking time to filter into mainstream thought, because often they go against the beliefs that we have held for decades upon decades. We want to get rid of the blinkers and give you a chance to uncover the key principles of current research into learning.

This is the second post in the series, so feel free to check out the first too.

There are different types of learners. Some people are predisposed to learning more effectively from visual material, some from auditory material and others from kinaesthetic practice. Accepting this unlocks potential.

What do you think?

View Results

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Select an answer above and then click HERE to reveal whether you were right!

There are different types of learners. Some people are predisposed to learning more effectively from visual material, some from auditory material and others from kinaesthetic practice. Accepting this unlocks potential.

THIS IS FALSE.

That we all learn best in different ways has established itself as the go-to rule: even 85% of teachers believe it to be true. Unfortunately, there’s next to nothing to back up this idea and, in fact, the past 40 years of research have only shown evidence that disproves it.

It may hold us back to go on thinking that we can only study in one particular way. We may prefer visual materials to auditory materials, or vice versa, but there is no evidence that we learn more effectively when learning in our preferred style. In fact, there is evidence to show that everyone learns better when more senses are engaged, which means not limiting yourself to just one style.

As explained in a QZ article (link below),

The assumption behind learning myths seems to be based on the scientific fact that different regions of the cortex have different roles in visual, auditory, and sensory processing, and so students should learn differently “according to which part of their brain works better.” However, writes Howard-Jones, “the brain’s interconnectivity makes such an assumption unsound.”

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

  1. Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence
  2. The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths
  3. How to Talk About Learning Styles

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!

The Generation Game: Why the best learners make the most mistakes

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by failing to attempt.”
– William Shakespeare

The fear of failure and the myth of errorless learning

Why are we so afraid to make mistakes? Part of the answer can be traced to our remote past, when we were more concerned with getting eaten by wild animals or starving than with acquiring new languages or learning algebra. Exclusion from a group in those times would almost inevitably lead to death, so anything that threatened our status would set alarm bells ringing. The legacy of this instinct is that standing out by making mistakes still feels like a huge risk even if it’s actually trivial.

Our natural instinct to avoid social exclusion is accentuated in school, where most questions have right and wrong answers and we’’re praised on achievement rather than effort. The cost of a mistake in this environment often outweighs any potential benefits of suggesting a solution. This leads to the familiar scenario of a teacher’’s questions being met with the sound of crickets, as students sit glued to their chairs in terrified silence. To make things worse, the instructional methods that many teachers still use have been designed to eliminate errors. In the 1960s, the psychologist B.F. Skinner promoted the mass adoption of “errorless learning” methods, which encouraged teachers to spoon feed students material and quiz them while it was still fresh in their short-term memory to eliminate mistakes. These methods are highly counterproductive because they steer students away from the valuable insights that mistakes can bring.

All of this means that most learners continue to view errors as failure and do anything they can to avoid them, only answering questions when they definitely know the answer and keeping silent when they’’re unsure.

Generation and video games

Research in cognitive science has shown that errors are a crucial part of learning and that strategies that are highly likely to result in errors, such as generation, ‘the process of trying to find a solution to a problem before you know the answer’,– produce stronger learning and retention than more passive methods.

For generation to be effective the problem itself must be solvable through a reasonable amount effort. If I give you a Chemistry textbook in Swahili and you don’t know the language, then the problem isn’’t defined as solvable in this context (although of course, you could learn Swahili and study the textbook if you really wanted to). It’’s also important that there’’s corrective feedback given quickly so I can know when I’’ve made a mistake as soon as possible.

The effectiveness of generation is well illustrated by the iterative learning we experience in video games. When playing new games on PlayStation as a teenager I never looked at the instruction manual and would learn the new features of the game by experimenting. Whenever I made mistakes or lost, I redoubled my efforts and this mindset, combined with the continuous process of trial, error and quick feedback meant that I improved rapidly. This rapid progress made me want to spend more time playing, dominating the living room TV for hours at a time to the dismay of my family.

The lesson I’’ve learned from this is that rapid trial and error through generation can lead to the quickest progress and most effective learning.

Free your memory

The fear of failure can have such a negative impact on performance because it takes up space in our working memory (How am I doing? Am I making mistakes?), leaving less capacity to work on the problem itself.

This was proven in an experiment with French school children in the sixth grade, who were tasked with solving difficult anagrams. After struggling with the problems for 10 minutes, half of the children were made aware that mistakes were to be expected, while the other half were asked how they’’d tried to solve the anagrams. In a subsequent test, the first group showed far better use of working memory and better performance than the second. So the students who relaxed into making more mistakes, had more success than those who didn’t.

These results inspired the staging of a “Festival of Errors” by an elite graduate school in France, aiming to teach students that mistakes are a valuable part of learning. The same concept is implemented in a different context at the annual FailCon event, where entrepreneurs meet to share stories of the failures which provided critical insights for their later success.

The Takeaway

We often associate errors with failure, which makes us shy away them. In fact, errors are a critical part of the learning process and should be embraced as they can help to deepen retention and improve understanding. Strategies like generation have proved highly effective as the additional effort of trying to solve a problem before being given the solution makes the mind more receptive to new learning. The mistakes we make by using generation also allow us to immediately eliminate some answers or methods before we’ve even started.

Actions

1) Solve a Real Life Problem

Experiential learning is the ultimate form of generation. To tackle a problem in real life we have to use our creativity and existing knowledge or consult experts, colleagues or the Internet for a solution. This makes the experience deeper and makes us more likely to remember the solution than if we were taught it. So if you want to learn about forces in Physics, try estimating the moment of an elephant and a mouse on a see-saw (you could even go on to calculate the resulting projectile speed of the mouse…).

2) Prediction and Explanation

When reading a chapter of a textbook or notes for the first time, try to explain the key ideas you expect to find beforehand and how you expect them to tie in with what you already know. Then, read the material and see how it differs from your expectations: the less subject knowledge you have initially, the harder generation is but this doesn’’t make it any less beneficial.

3) Take a Pre-Test

The process of testing yourself on a subject before you start it helps you gain an understanding of its structure. For students starting a new course, look through past exam papers first. Even if you don’’t understand much, you’’ll identify the key concepts and how they come up. As you begin to learn the course, you’ll immediately recognise concepts and know how to apply them when it comes to the exam.

Up Learn

At Up Learn, we’ve taken insights from cognitive psychology and neuroscience and implemented them in an accelerated learning system for achieving A* at A Level. We’ve designed generation into our courses to make your learning more effective. Find out more at Up Learn.

This post was written by Nasos Papadopoulos from MetaLearn.net

Why You’re Learning the Wrong Way and What To Do About It

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

You’re doing it wrong

For most of my life I’ve been learning the wrong way and the chances are you have too. For me, studying at school and university mostly involved long periods of time reading textbooks, highlighting and underlining them and writing out notes. I even transferred this high volume philosophy to the sports I played, believing that persistent practice of my skills would lead to higher performance.

It’s not that this strategy didn’t work at all – I achieved a measure of academic success and was competent in the sports I played. But the truth is that I was doing a lot wrong and I wasn’t the only one. The tools that my friends and I used to improve learning all involved working more – reread the chapter, hit more forehands, write more detailed notes.

Fortunately, research in cognitive science has now provided insights that are helping us build new models of the learning process. We can now use more effective strategies to replace the standard practices that are used by most learners around the world.

What’s wrong with our ideas?

Most of our ideas about learning are taken on faith and shaped by our own intuition about what works well. Two common beliefs that many of us hold are:

1) Repeated exposure ‘burns’ material into your memory and is the most effective way to memorise – the belief that if I reread my notes or repeat my lines enough, they’ll stick eventually.

2) Massed practice is the best route to mastery – the belief that the best way to gain mastery in a skill or field of knowledge is through single-minded, rapid-fire repetition or “practice-practice-practice.”

These beliefs are so widely held that they permeate every dimension of our beliefs about learning and education. Cognitive scientists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel have compiled a series of research studies to counter these beliefs and recommend alternative methods. In their book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, they find that:

1) Rereading is more time consuming and less effective than other strategies.

2) The gains from massed practice are temporary. Most of us see fast improvement during the initial learning phase of massed practice, but these benefits are short-lived.

Our ideas about learning are so appealing because of their familiarity, and because we suffer from “illusions of knowing” which make us poor judges of when we’re learning well and when we’re not. Strategies like rereading notes and massed practice in sports feel effective because we’re getting comfortable with a text or skill and improving our fluency in it. But for real permanent gains, these strategies are largely a waste of time. Fluency is not learning and it’s certainly not mastery.

“But of course it takes hard work and practice to learn something,” I hear you shout. That’s true – the fundamental building blocks of learning are a strong learning mindset and consistent deliberate practice. But deliberate practice does not have to involve rote learning and repetition. There are many ways to get from A to B and some are better than others.

Using different tools

More effective learning strategies are like technology that allows us to do more with less. Before 1440, all books were produced by hand – works of law, science and philosophy were painstakingly copied onto papyrus and parchment. But when Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press, book making was mechanised. Now the same amount of labour could be used to produce many more books.

Using standard learning strategies such as rereading is like trying to produce books by hand when a printing press is available. Science has provided us with a deeper understanding of how we learn, so it’s time to replace some of our old tools with new ones, or at the very least, to experiment with what seems to be working better.

What are these new tools? I discuss each of them in depth in separate posts but they centre on the principles of self-testing, spaced retrieval and mixed practice. Self-testing allows us to tackle our illusions of knowing by showing us what we’ve actually learned.

Spaced retrieval strengthens the memory and interrupts forgetting, which makes learning deeper and more durable. Mixed practice involves the interleaving of different components of a subject or skill, which makes you better at picking the right solutions in unfamiliar situations.

The Takeaway

People generally go about learning the wrong way. Methods such as rereading and massed practice are by far the most popular but the research tells us that the gains from them are limited. Although it may feel like these methods of learning are productive, gaining familiarity with a subject or skill is not the same as mastering it.

We often spend a lot of time trying to choose the right path or strategy for our learning but we can save a lot of time by eliminating what doesn’t work and experimenting with what’s left.

Actions

1) Start Self-Testing

Don’t avoid self-testing until you feel comfortable with the material. Self-testing helps you identify how much you actually know and what you need to work on so do it before you feel ready. You’ll inevitably make mistakes but use those as opportunities for learning.

2) Use Retrieval Practice instead of Rereading

Avoid repeatedly rereading material. Instead try recalling facts or concepts more often using flashcards. You can build your own with free software like Anki or use ready-made decks on Memrise for a wide range of subjects.

3) Use Mixed not Massed Practice

Mix your practice up by practicing different aspects of a skill or subject together rather than repeating the same thing over and over again. If you’re doing maths problems, don’t do 10 calculus problems followed by 10 geometry ones – mix them up randomly instead.

Up Learn

At Up Learn, we’ve taken insights from cognitive psychology and neuroscience and implemented them in a learning system for achieving A* at A level. Find out more at Up Learn.

This post was written by Nasos Papadopoulos from MetaLearn.net