Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Make it Stick

Authors: Peter C. Brown,Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel

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You’ve tried highlighting, underlining and rote-learning only to realize their impact is short-lived. In Make It Stick you will discover new, enriching study techniques such as self-testing and introducing certain difficulties in practice. Not only will they improve your long-term memory, but they will also reduce the amount of time and effort you waste in exaggerated revision methods.

Video Review of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown,Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel

Quotes from Make it Stick

Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.

The process of learning something often starts out feeling disorganized and unwieldy; the most important aspects are not always salient.

Mastery

Mastery in any field, from cooking to chess to brain surgery, is a gradual accretion of knowledge, conceptual understanding, judgment, and skill. These are the fruits of variety in the practice of new skills, and of striving, reflection, and mental rehearsal.

Harder may be better

Many teachers believe that if they can make learning easier and faster, the learning will be better. Much research turns this belief on its head: when learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer. 

We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not. When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often
temporary.

Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow.

Robust longer-term learning

Durable, robust learning requires that we do two things. First, as we recode and consolidate new material from short-term memory into long-term memory, we must anchor it there securely. Second, we must associate the material with a diverse set of cues that will make us adept at recalling the knowledge later. 

Some knowledge is better than no knowledge

Notwithstanding the pitfalls of standardized testing, what we really ought to ask is how to do better at building knowledge and creativity, for without knowledge you don’t have the foundation for the higher-level skills of analysis, synthesis, and creative problem solving. As the psychologist Robert Sternberg and two colleagues put it, “one cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply.

Pitting the learning of basic knowledge against the development of creative thinking is a false choice. Both need to be cultivated. The stronger one’s knowledge about the subject at hand, the more nuanced one’s creativity can be in addressing a new problem. 

Importance of Practice

It’s not just what you know, but how you practice what you know that determines how well the learning serves you later.

Retrieval Practice vs Re-reading

Retrieval practice—recalling facts or concepts or events from memory—is a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading. Flashcards are a simple example. Retrieval strengthens the memory and interrupts forgetting. A single, simple quiz after reading a text or hearing a lecture produces better learning and remembering than rereading the text or reviewing lecture notes.

The act of retrieving learning from memory has two profound benefits. One, it tells you what you know and don’t know, and therefore where to focus further study to improve the areas where you’re weak. Two, recalling what you have learned causes your brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthens its connections to what you already know and makes it easier for you to recall in the future.

Rereading has three strikes against it. It is time consuming. It doesn’t result in durable memory. And it often involves a kind of unwitting self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the content. The hours immersed in rereading can seem like due diligence, but the amount of study time is no measure of mastery.

Testing

In virtually all areas of learning, you build better mastery when you use testing as a tool to identify and bring up your areas of weakness.

The whole idea of the testing effect is that you learn more by testing yourself than by rereading. Well, it’s very hard to get students to do that because they’ve been trained for so long to keep reading and reading the book.

Elaboration

You practice elaboration, there’s no known limit to how much you can learn. Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know. The more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to your prior knowledge, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be, and the more connections you create that will help you remember it later.

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