Updated: Jun 26, 2019

A Recipe for Learning

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I am currently in graduate school. My degree name has to be at least a runner up in the Longest Degree Name of the Year Award (if this is not a real award, it should be). It's called a Masters of Education and Human Resource Studies in Organizational Learning, Performance and Change. It wasn't until this, my fourth semester, that I could just deliver the full name when asked. Maybe it wasn't important, but probably I just wasn't sure whether Human Resource was actually part of the title. I've decided to tell a few friends the full name of the degree (for fun) recently and they all exclaim about how long it is and that perhaps I should have to pay more for it than if I had a degree with a shorter name. I don't agree, but I appreciate their engagement.

Lately, We've Been Learning About Learning

"Repeated effortful recall or practice helps integrate learning into mental models, in which a set of interrelated ideas or a sequence of motor skills are fused into a meaningful whole that can be adapted and applied in later settings" (Brown, 2014).

Part of my degree program focuses on training and development - and on the process (art) of learning, forgetting, and remembering or retrieving. Research Professor Dr. Robert Bjork at UCLA and other research psychologists have published studies demonstrating that the more you provide opportunities for low stress (consequence-free) retrieval practice, such as an intermittent quizzes that don't impact your grade, the more ingrained the information becomes and the easier it is to recall later. So you read a chapter or learn a new skill, then test yourself, wait and test yourself again, wait and test yourself again. Based on research, a month or two later you will remember the information better than if you took one quiz or were not quizzed at all. As well the act of retrieval or testing yourself, leads to better learning than reading and re-reading the same material.

Variety is the Spice of...

"When practice conditions are varied or retrieval is interleaved with the practice of other material, we increase our abilities of discrimination and induction and the versatility with which we can apply the learning at a later date" (Brown, 2014).

As well, Bjork and Bjork explain that if you learn a variety of things interleaved such as abcabcabc rather than one thing at a time such as aaabbbccc, the learning will be slower but more accessible and more broadly applicable later. For example, if you were learning how to pitch a baseball rather than focus on and learn one type of pitch at a time, you might learn and practice a slider, then a fastball, then a curve ball, then a sinker, and back to the slider again. It takes longer to learn each throw, but the motor skills and ability to remember how (muscle memory and cognitive memory) to throw each type of pitch stays with you longer and your abilities are more versatile.

"Retrieval practice that you perform at different times and in different contexts and that interleaves different learning material has the benefit of linking new associations to the material. This process builds interconnected networks of knowledge that bolster and support mastery of your field. It also multiplies the cues of retrieving and knowledge, increasing the versatility with which you can later apply it."

How do you learn best? Have you tried straying from the seemingly tried and true highlighting and re-reading method and used flashcards or intermittent quizzes? According to researchers, this kind of retrieval leads to memory pathways that cannot be replicated by re-reading or mass study alone.

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© 2019 by Lisa Holloway

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