How We “Learn”

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens is not so much a book about learning but more the Cognitive Psychology of memorization. If you’re looking for general learning strategies or research into more effective ways of learning, you won’t find that here.

What you will find is a synthesis of cognitive psychology research that contradicts many of the long held beliefs about how the brain works. Much of it makes sense to me even though I wasn’t expecting a book about learning to be solely focused on memorization.

Through an examination of the literature, the author suggests that to optimize study that seeks memorization of facts as an outcome, an individual should;

  • Not have a quiet study zone as distractions can aid learning. Taking a break and checking facebook allows for incubation and may actually facilitate a solution;
  • Study in different locations as this can enhance memorization;
  • Engage in spaced repitition, varied practice and interleaving, that is spacing short regular study periods and mixing related but distinct material during study leads to transferrability. Repitition of the same skill over and over again has the potential to create a powerful and dangerous illusion. The illusion of fluency or actually knowing. With traditional ‘drill and kill’ repitition, skills improve quickly and then plateau. Transferrability is also suspect in this case. By contrast, varied practice produces a slower apparent rate of improvement in each single practice session but a greater accumulation of skill and learning over time;
  • Recite what you are learning out loud;
  • Start something early, leave it for an extended period, and then come back to it often;
  • Procrastinate as this leads to percolation, and this is a good thing for a motivated learner.

A interesting perspective on memorization and how we can benefit from the distractions of everyday life.

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