How We Learn

Learning from Cognitive Science and Psychology

For the grant project that I am working with the CATIE Center on, this is a real focus for me now – looking at evidence-based practices for how we actually learn.  Here are the two books that I am finding extremely helpful.

Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning

by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel  Published in 2014.

This books uses stories to illustrate evidence-based practices that help promote durable learning – that is things that last beyond regurgitating items for a test.  Here are some of the principles that help learning last:

  • Effective learning is effortful.  (If it is easy, you probably won’t remember it for the long-term.)
  • Effective learning is spaced out.  (Waiting a week and then testing yourself to try to see if you remember the information – using techniques like flash cards to make yourself try to remember – and then checking to see if you did accurately.)   It is the trying to remember that actually helps establish the neural pathways which allow you to retrieve information for use.
  • Effective learning includes reflection, elaboration, and generation.  Reflect: look back on what you studied and think of how it connects with what you already know; elaborate: make connections to other concepts you use and see how the ideas can be tied together into a mental model; and generate:  imagine how you would apply the concepts in future scenarios.
  • Effective learning uses dynamic assessment.  This includes frequent and low-stakes assessment – like quizzes that both help you know where you stand and also force you to try to retrieve information.  Research shows that this is much better time spent than re-reading or re-watching texts.

I really suggest that this is a book worth reading – to help you learn some powerful tools – and perhaps even more importantly, to be motivated to try some of these new techniques because research also shows that though they produce good results, people sometimes prefer what is familiar because it feels easier and gives the illusion of knowledge.  You might feel like you are learning things more quickly using strategies like re-reading a text – but the reality is that it won’t stick.

Thinking Fast & Slow

by Daniel Kahneman.  Published in 2011.

A book for the lay person by an economic psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate, Kahneman lays out many principles of how our brains work that have an impact on the way we learn.  He uses a great number of examples for the two systems of our brain:

  • System 1:  Our automated brain that is the “thinking fast” part of how we deal with the world.  This is a system designed to make connections, fit information into a cohesive narrative, and jump to conclusions.  It also sometimes fools us and makes serious mistakes because of a number of biases that are built into the process.
  • System 2:  This is the part of our brain requiring conscious effort and is designed to be a check on system 1.  This is the “thinking slow” part.

Kahneman lays out a number of psychological experiments that have demonstrated how these two systems interact and how we sometimes get caught up in thinking errors because we believe we are making decisions solely with our system 2, but that they are often influenced by our system 1.



Posted in: Discourse Mapping, Emerging Paradigm Resources, In Service to Literacy