Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Studying Rules

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”
Seems all the advice I got about studying when I was growing up was wrong. I guessed that way back then, but now someone else—with more credibility than I—has uncovered why. The cognitive scientists cited in a recent New York Times article ("Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits," by Benedict Carey)  that for motivated students (ah, there's a caveat!) these findings will help children, traditional college students, and adult learners. In a nutshell, they say…
  • Studying the same thing in different locations helps people remember the subject better.
  • Moving from one aspect of a subject to another in a study session is a good thing. It appears that mixing it up makes it all stick better.
  • Self-tests, or quizzes, make things stick better, too.
  • Spacing study sessions, a little here, a little there, is more effective than one long session in the same place.
(Interesting side note: Tests may not be the best measurement tools, but they're terrific learning tools.)

Some of what these researchers have to say helps to explain why I never could remember anything I ever tried to study while sitting at a library table. The article is worth checking out. Neal Conan, host of the radio program "Talk of the Nation" held a great conversation with Carey, a colleague who went back to school mid-career, and some call-in listeners about all this. It's at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130728588&sc=nl&cc=es-20101031 if you'd like to listen. The whole program segment is about 30 minutes long. Good listening while you clean your desk next time.

The article also addresses the recently disparaged idea of "learning styles" which will no doubt be controversial in some circles. But that's a subject for another day.

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