A Better Way to Study and Learn

Our current educational process in one sentence: assume student is empty vessel; provide student with content; reward student for remembering and regurgitating content; repeat.

Yet, we have known for a while, and an increasing body of research corroborates our belief, that this method of teaching and learning is not very effective, or stimulating for that matter. It’s simply an efficient mechanism for the mass production of an adequate resource for the job market. Of course, for most it then takes many more decades following high school or college to unlearn the rote trivia and re-learn what is really important.

Mind Hacks reviews some recent studies that highlight better approaches to studying.

[div class=attrib]From Mind Hacks:[end-div]

Decades old research into how memory works should have revolutionised University teaching. It didn’t.

If you’re a student, what I’m about to tell you will let you change how you study so that it is more effective, more enjoyable and easier. If you work at a University, you – like me – should hang your head in shame that we’ve known this for decades but still teach the way we do.

There’s a dangerous idea in education that students are receptacles, and teachers are responsible for providing content that fills them up. This model encourages us to test students by the amount of content they can regurgitate, to focus overly on statements rather than skills in assessment and on syllabuses rather than values in teaching. It also encourages us to believe that we should try and learn things by trying to remember them. Sounds plausible, perhaps, but there’s a problem. Research into the psychology of memory shows that intention to remember is a very minor factor in whether you remember something or not. Far more important than whether you want to remember something is how you think about the material when you encounter it.

A classic experiment by Hyde and Jenkins (1973) illustrates this. These researchers gave participants lists of words, which they later tested recall of, as their memory items. To affect their thinking about the words, half the participants were told to rate the pleasentness of each word, and half were told to check if the word contained the letters ‘e’ or ‘g’. This manipulation was designed to affect ‘depth of processing’. The participants in the rating-pleasentness condition had to think about what the word meant, and relate it to themselves (how they felt about it) – “deep processing”. Participants in the letter-checking condition just had to look at the shape of the letters, they didn’t even have to read the word if they didn’t want to – “shallow processing”. The second, independent, manipulation concerned whether participants knew that they would be tested later on the words. Half of each group were told this – the “intentional learning” condition – and half weren’t told, the test would come as a surprise – the “incidental learning” condition.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of the Telegraph / AP.[end-div]