Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow. We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not.
If you’re just engaging in mechanical repetition, it’s true, you quickly hit the limit of what you can keep in mind. However, if 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.
People who learn to extract the key ideas from new material and organize them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery. A mental model is a mental representation of some external reality.
- 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!
- What is learned through repetition only lasts shortly.
- 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. Rising familiarity with a text and fluency in reading it can create an illusion of mastery.
Learning is stronger when it matters, when the abstract is made concrete and personal! Apply what you read about to your life.
Mastery requires both the possession of ready knowledge and the conceptual understanding of how to use it.
One of the most striking research findings is the power of active retrieval—testing—to strengthen memory, and that the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit. Think quiz versus rereading. 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 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. In effect, retrieval—testing—interrupts forgetting.
- Chapter: Effortful learning changes the brain, building new connections and capability. This single fact—that our intellectual abilities are not fixed from birth but are, to a considerable degree, ours to shape—is a resounding answer to the nagging voice that too often asks us “Why bother?” We make the effort because the effort itself extends the boundaries of our abilities.
- Chapter: Sometimes the most powerful feedback for calibrating your sense of what you do and don’t know are the mistakes you make in the field, assuming you survive them and are receptive to the lesson.
- Chapter: Structure is all around us and available to us through the poet’s medium of metaphor. A tree, with its roots, trunk, and branches. A river. A village, encompassing streets and blocks, houses and stores and offices. The structure of the village explains how these elements are interconnected so that the village has a life and a significance that would not exist if these elements were scattered randomly across an empty landscape. By abstracting the underlying rules and piecing them into a structure, you go for more than knowledge. You go for knowhow. And that kind of mastery will put you ahead.
- Chapter: Learning is at least a three-step process:
- initial encoding of information is held in short-term working memory before being consolidated into a cohesive representation of knowledge in long-term memory.
- Consolidation reorganizes and stabilizes memory traces, gives them meaning, and makes connections to past experiences and to other knowledge already stored in long-term memory.
- Retrieval updates learning and enables you to apply it when you need it. Retrieval practice that’s easy does little to strengthen learning; the more difficult the practice, the greater the benefit.
- Learning always builds on a store of prior knowledge. We interpret and remember events by building connections to what we already know. Long-term memory capacity is virtually limitless: the more you know, the more possible connections you have for adding new knowledge.
- Trying to come up with an answer rather than having it presented to you, or trying to solve a problem before being shown the solution, leads to better learning and longer retention of the correct answer or solution, even when your attempted response is wrong, so long as corrective feedback is provided.
- Chapter: interweaving two or more subjects during practice also provides a form of spacing. interweaving can also help you develop your ability to discriminate later between different kinds of problems and select the right tool from your growing toolkit of solutions. In interweaving, you don’t move from a complete practice set of one topic to go to another. You switch before each practice is complete.