Teaching And Learning Effective Learning Strategies

Education is beset by fads. New theories about teaching and learning spring up like mushrooms after rain. Here we examine some of the myths that relate to learning strategies.

Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson asked why America has spent so much money on school reform and yet has so little to show for it. The answer he said lies not necessarily with schools and teachers, rather:”The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation, the unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong. “Motivation is weak because more students don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well.”

One cause of student failure, then, is poor motivation; Samuelson says that the majority of students are slackers. Another major cause of failure is a lack of viable learning strategies for motivated students. Many students, and their parents, just don’t know how to study effectively. There are effective approaches to learning however; cognitive science reveals simple techniques that can increase how much a student learns from studying.

Where to StudyThe conventional wisdom has it that one should stay with one study location; this is not true. Cognitive scientists have found that changing rooms for study improves retention. The evidence we have is that the brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time of study.

FocusThe conventional wisdom is that one should focus intensely on a single topic, whereas research shows, to the contrary, that varying the type of material studied in a single sitting result in far better learning outcomes than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians know this; their practice sessions often include musical pieces, scales, and rhythmic work. Athletes mix strength, skill and speed drills in their workout routines.

In research quoted in the Journal Psychology and Aging, researchers Kornell, Castel, and Bjork found to their surprise that young and older adults could distinguish the painting styles of 12 artists far better after viewing mixed collections than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.

The myth that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre or type of creative work is busted (with apologies to the TV show Myth Busters). In summary mix and match your studies, if you narrow your focus of study too much, you will not develop the mental hooks that the brain needs to solve problems

By: Francis David