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Forget What You’ve Learnt About Learning

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Source and authorship credit: Everything you thought you knew about learning is wrong Psychology Today
http://www.psychologytoday.com/

Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong How, and how NOT, to learn anything Published on January 28, 2012 by Garth Sundem in Brain Candy

Learning through osmosis didn’t make the strategies list

Taking notes during class? Topic-focused study? A consistent learning environment? All are exactly opposite the best strategies for learning. Really, I recently had the good fortune to interview Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab, distinguished professor of psychology, and massively renowned expert on packing things in your brain in a way that keeps them from leaking out. And it turns out that everything I thought I knew about learning is wrong. Here’s what he said.

First, think about how you attack a pile of study material.

“People tend to try to learn in blocks,” says Bjork, “mastering one thing before moving on to the next.” But instead he recommends interleaving, a strategy in which, for example,instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork. “This creates a sense of difficulty,” says Bjork, “and people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”

Instead of making an appreciable leap forward with yourserving ability after a session of focused practice, interleaving forces you to make nearly imperceptible steps forward with many skills.

But over time, the sum of these small steps is much greater than the sum of the leaps you would have taken if you’d spent the same amount of time mastering each skill in its turn.

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 says.

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.

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.

And again, these tips generalize. Interleaving and varying your study location will help whether you’re mastering math skills, learning French, or trying to become a better ballroom dancer.

So too will a somewhat related phenomenon, the spacing effect, first described by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. “If you study and then you wait, tests show that the longer you wait, the more you will have forgotten,” says Bjork. That’s obvious—over time, you forget. But here’s thecool part:

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.” Note that there’s a trick implied by “provided the retrieval succeeds”: You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable. Then, the more you have to work to pull it from the soup of your mind, the more this second study session will reinforce your learning. If you study again too soon, it’s too easy.

Along these lines, Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during—forcing yourself to recall a lecture’s information ismore effective than simply copying it from a blackboard. “Get out of court stenographer mode,” says Bjork. 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.

“Forget about forgetting,” says Robert Bjork.

“People tend to think that learning is building up something in your memory and that forgetting is losing the things you built.

But in some respects the opposite is true.” See, once you learn something, you never actually forget it. Do you remember your childhood best friend’s phone number? No? Well, Dr. Bjork showed that if you were reminded, you would retain it much more quickly and strongly than if you were asked to memorize a fresh seven-digit number. So this oldphone number is not forgotten—it lives somewhere in you—only, recall can be a bit tricky.

And while we count forgetting as the sworn enemy of learning, in some ways that’s wrong, too. Bjork showed that the two live in a kind of symbiosis in which forgetting actually aids recall.

“Because humans have unlimited storage capacity, having total recall would be a mess,” says 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 theease of recall we gift to our current number. What you thought were sworn enemies are more like distant collaborators.

* Excerpted from Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the Lab-Tested Secrets of Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants and More (Three Rivers Press, March 2012)

@garthsundem
Garth Sundem is the bestselling author of Brain Candy, Geek Logik, and The Geeks’ Guide to World Domination. more…

January 29, 2012 Posted by | ADHD /ADD, brain, Cognition, Education, research, stress, Technology | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Viva La Siesta!: A Nap Significantly Boosts the Brain’s Learning Capacity

BERKELEY — If you see a student dozing in the library or a co-worker catching 40 winks in her cubicle, don’t roll your eyes. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Indeed, the findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.

Conversely, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become, according to the findings. The results support previous data from the same research team that pulling an all-nighter — a common practice at college during midterms and finals — decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.

“Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap,” said Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and the lead investigator of these studies.

In the recent UC Berkeley sleep study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups — nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.

Matthew Walker, assistant psychology professor, has found that a nap clears the brain to absorb new information.

These findings reinforce the researchers’ hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain’s shor

Students who napped (green column) did markedly better in memorizing tests than their no-nap counterparts. (Courtesy of Matthew Walker)

t-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Walker, who presented his preliminary findings on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, Calif.

Since 2007, Walker and other sleep researchers have established that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space.

“It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail. It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder,” Walker said.

In the latest study, Walker and his team have broken new ground in discovering that this memory-refreshing process occurs when nappers are engaged in a specific stage of sleep. Electroencephalogram tests, which measure electrical activity in the brain, indicated that this refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2 non-REM sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Previously, the purpose of this stage was unclear, but the new results offer evidence as to why humans spend at least half their sleeping hours in Stage 2, non-REM, Walker said.

“I can’t imagine Mother Nature would have us spend 50 percent of the night going from one sleep stage to another for no reason,” Walker said. “Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need.”

Walker and his team will go on to investigate whether the reduction of sleep experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented decrease in our ability to learn as we age. Finding that link may be helpful in understanding such neurodegenerative conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Walker said.

In addition to Walker, co-investigators of these new findings are  Bryce A. Mander and psychology undergraduate Sangeetha Santhanam.

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Source: University of California, Berkeley         http://www.berkeley.edu
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February 28, 2010 Posted by | Cognition, Education, Health Psychology, Positive Psychology, Resilience | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment