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.

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

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!