Source and authorship credit: Everything you thought you knew about learning is wrong Psychology Today
Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong How, and how NOT, to learn anything Published on January 28, 2012 by Garth Sundem in Brain Candy
Learning through osmosis didn’t make the strategies list
Taking notes during class? Topic-focused study? A consistent learning environment? All are exactly opposite the best strategies for learning. Really, I recently had the good fortune to interview Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab, distinguished professor of psychology, and massively renowned expert on packing things in your brain in a way that keeps them from leaking out. And it turns out that everything I thought I knew about learning is wrong. Here’s what he said.
First, think about how you attack a pile of study material.
“People tend to try to learn in blocks,” says Bjork, “mastering one thing before moving on to the next.” But instead he recommends interleaving, a strategy in which, for example,instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork. “This creates a sense of difficulty,” says Bjork, “and people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”
Instead of making an appreciable leap forward with yourserving ability after a session of focused practice, interleaving forces you to make nearly imperceptible steps forward with many skills.
But over time, the sum of these small steps is much greater than the sum of the leaps you would have taken if you’d spent the same amount of time mastering each skill in its turn.
Bjork explains that successful interleaving allows you to “seat” each skill among the others: “If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful,” he says.
There’s one caveat: Make sure the mini skills you interleave are related in some higher-order way. If you’re trying to learn tennis, you’d want to interleave serves, backhands, volleys, smashes, and footwork—not serves, synchronized swimming, European capitals, and programming in Java.
Similarly, studying in only one location is great as long as you’ll only be required to recall the information in the same location. If you want information to be accessible outside your dorm room, or office, or nook on the second floor of the library, Bjork recommends varying your study location.
And again, these tips generalize. Interleaving and varying your study location will help whether you’re mastering math skills, learning French, or trying to become a better ballroom dancer.
So too will a somewhat related phenomenon, the spacing effect, first described by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. “If you study and then you wait, tests show that the longer you wait, the more you will have forgotten,” says Bjork. That’s obvious—over time, you forget. But here’s thecool part:
If you study, wait, and then study again, the longer the wait, the more you’ll have learned after this second study session.
Bjork explains it this way: “When we access things from our memory, we do more than reveal it’s there. It’s not like a playback. What we retrieve becomes more retrievable in the future. Provided the retrieval succeeds, the more difficult and involved the retrieval, the more beneficial it is.” Note that there’s a trick implied by “provided the retrieval succeeds”: You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable. Then, the more you have to work to pull it from the soup of your mind, the more this second study session will reinforce your learning. If you study again too soon, it’s too easy.
Along these lines, Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during—forcing yourself to recall a lecture’s information ismore effective than simply copying it from a blackboard. “Get out of court stenographer mode,” says Bjork. You have to work for it.
The more you work, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more awesome you can become.
“Forget about forgetting,” says Robert Bjork.
“People tend to think that learning is building up something in your memory and that forgetting is losing the things you built.
But in some respects the opposite is true.” See, once you learn something, you never actually forget it. Do you remember your childhood best friend’s phone number? No? Well, Dr. Bjork showed that if you were reminded, you would retain it much more quickly and strongly than if you were asked to memorize a fresh seven-digit number. So this oldphone number is not forgotten—it lives somewhere in you—only, recall can be a bit tricky.
And while we count forgetting as the sworn enemy of learning, in some ways that’s wrong, too. Bjork showed that the two live in a kind of symbiosis in which forgetting actually aids recall.
“Because humans have unlimited storage capacity, having total recall would be a mess,” says Bjork. “Imagine you remembered all the phone numbers of all the houses you had ever lived in. When someone asks you your current phone number, you would have to sort it from this long list.” Instead, we forget the old phone numbers, or at least bury them far beneath theease of recall we gift to our current number. What you thought were sworn enemies are more like distant collaborators.
* Excerpted from Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the Lab-Tested Secrets of Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants and More (Three Rivers Press, March 2012)
Garth Sundem is the bestselling author of Brain Candy, Geek Logik, and The Geeks’ Guide to World Domination. more…
It’s not much of a leap to extrapolate from the GPS to the smartphone. A normal cellphone can remember numbers for you so that you no longer have to do so. Confess– can you remember the actual cellphone number of the people you call most frequently? We used to rely on our neurons to hold onto these crucial bits of information. Now they reside somewhere out there in the ether. What’s worse is that most people don’t even take the time to write down a new phone number anymore. You call your new acquaintance and your new acquaintance calls you, and the information is automatically stored in your contacts. It’s great for efficiency’s sake, but you’ve now given your working memory one less important exercise. Memory benefits from practice, especially in the crucial stage of encoding. Let’s move from phone numbers to information in general. People with smartphones no longer have to remember important facts because when in doubt, they can just tap into Google. When was the last time St. Louis was in the World Series, you wonder? Easy! Just enter a few letters (not even the whole city name) into your “smart” search engine. Your fingers, much less your mind, don’t have to walk very far at all. Trying to give your brain a workout with a crossword puzzle? What’s to stop you from taking a few shortcuts when the answers are right there on your phone? No mental gymnastics necessary. This leads us to Siri, that seductress of the smartphone. With your iPhone slave on constant standby, you don’t even have to key in your questions. Just say the question, and Siri conjures up the answer in an instant. With a robot at your fingertips, why even bother to look the information up yourself? The irony is that smartphones have the potential to make our brains sharper, not dumber. Researchers are finding that videogame play involving rapid decision-making can hone your cognitive resources. Older adults, in particular, seem to be able to improve their attentional and decision-making speeded task performance when they play certain games. People with a form of amnesia in which they can’t learn new information can also be helped by smartphones, according to a study conducted by Canadian researchers (Svobodo & Richards, 2009). The problem is not the use of the smartphone itself; the problem comes when the smartphone takes over a function that your brain is perfectly capable of performing. It’s like taking the elevator instead of the stairs; the ride may be quicker but your muscles won’t get a workout. Smartphones are like mental elevators. Psychologists have known for years that the “use it or lose it” principle is key to keeping your brain functioning in its peak condition throughout your life. As we become more and more drawn to these sleeker and sexier gadgets, the trick will be learning how to “use it.” So take advantage of these 5 tips to help your smartphone keep you smart: 1. Don’t substitute your smartphone for your brain. Force yourself to memorize a phone number before you store it, and dial your frequently called numbers from memory whenever possible. If there’s a fact or word definition you can infer, give your brain the job before consulting your electronic helper. 2. Turn off the GPS app when you’re going to familiar places. Just like the GPS-hippocampus study showed, you need to keep your spatial memory as active as possible by relying on your brain, not your phone, when you’re navigating well-known turf. If you are using the GPS to get around a new location, study a map first. Your GPS may not really know the best route to take (as any proper Bostonian can tell you!). 3. Use your smartphone to keep up with current events. Most people use their smartphones in their leisure time for entertainment. However, with just a few easy clicks, you can just as easily check the headlines, op-eds, and featured stories from respected news outlets around the world. This knowledge will build your mental storehouse of information, and make you a better conversationalist as well. 4. Build your social skills with pro-social apps. Some videogames can actually make you a nicer person by strengthening your empathic tendencies. Twitter and Facebook can build social bonds. Staying connected is easier than ever, and keeping those social bonds active provides you with social support. Just make sure you avoid some of the social media traps of over-sharing and FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome. 5. Turn off your smartphone while you’re driving. No matter how clever you are at multitasking under ordinary circumstances, all experts agree that you need to give your undivided attention to driving when behind the wheel. This is another reason to look at and memorize your route before going someplace new. Fiddling with your GPS can create a significant distraction if you find that it’s given you the wrong information. Smartphones have their place, and can make your life infinitely more productive as long as you use yours to supplement, not replace, your brain. Reference: Svoboda, E., & Richards, B. (2009). Compensating for anterograde amnesia: A new training method that capitalizes on emerging smartphone technologies. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 15(4), 629-638. doi:10.1017/S1355617709090791 Follow Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging and please check out my website,www.searchforfulfillment.com where you can read this week’s Weekly Focus to get additional information, self-tests, and psychology-related links.
- Why Do So Many Robots Have A Woman’s Voice? [Technology] (jezebel.com)
- Siri lets strangers control some iPhone functions (redtape.msnbc.msn.com)
And They All Lived Together In a Little Row Boat…Clap! Clap!: How Clapping Games Improve Cognition And Motor Skills In Children
BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL, April 28, 2010 – A researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) conducted the first study of hand-clapping songs, revealing a direct link between those activities and the development of important skills in children and young adults, including university students.
“We found that children in the first, second and third grades who sing these songs demonstrate skills absent in children who don’t take part in similar activities,” explains Dr. Idit Sulkin a member of BGU’s Music Science Lab in the Department of the Arts.
“We also found that children who spontaneously perform hand-clapping songs in the yard during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors.”
Dr. Warren Brodsky, the music psychologist who supervised her doctoral dissertation, said Sulkin’s findings lead to the presumption that “children who don’t participate in such games may be more at risk for developmental learning problems like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
“There’s no doubt such activities train the brain and influence development in other areas. The children’s teachers also believe that social integration is better for these children than those who don’t take part in these songs.”
As part of the study, Sulkin went to several elementary school classrooms and engaged the children in either a board of education sanctioned music appreciation program or hand-clapping songs training – each lasting a period of 10 weeks.
“Within a very short period of time, the children who until then hadn’t taken part in such activities caught up in their cognitive abilities to those who did,” she said. But this finding only surfaced for the group of children undergoing hand-clapping songs training. The result led Sulkin to conclude that hand-clapping songs should be made an integral part of education for children aged six to 10, for the purpose of motor and cognitive training.
During the study, “Impact of Hand-clapping Songs on Cognitive and Motor Tasks,” Dr. Sulkin interviewed school and kindergarten teachers, visited their classrooms and joined the children in singing. Her original goal, as part of her thesis, was to figure out why children are fascinated by singing and clapping up until the end of third grade, when these pastimes are abruptly abandoned and replaced with sports.
“This fact explains a developmental process the children are going through,” Dr. Sulkin observes. “The hand-clapping songs appear naturally in children’s lives around the age of seven, and disappear around the age of 10. In this narrow window, these activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”
Sulkin says that no in-depth, long-term study has been conducted on the effects that hand-clapping songs have on children’s motor and cognitive skills. However, the relationship between music and intellectual development in children has been studied extensively, prompting countless parents to obtain a “Baby Mozart” CD for their children.
Nevertheless, the BGU study demonstrates that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart music (.i.e., the ‘Mozart Effect’) does not improve spatial task performance compared to 10 minutes of hand-clapping songs training or 10 minutes of exposure to silence.
Lastly, Sulkin discovered that hand-clapping song activity has a positive effect on adults: University students who filled out her questionnaires reported that after taking up such games, they became more focused and less tense.
“These techniques are associated with childhood, and many adults treat them as a joke,” she said. “But once they start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood.”
Sulkin grew up in a musical home. Her father, Dr. Adi Sulkin, is a well-known music educator who, in the 1970s and 1980s, recorded and published over 50 cassettes and videos depicting Israeli children’s play-songs, street-songs, holiday and seasonal songs, and singing games targeting academic skills.
“So quite apart from the research experience, working on this was like a second childhood,” she noted.
Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Related articles by Zemanta
- Brain Training Or Just Brain Straining?: The Benefits Of Brain Exercise Software Are Unclear (peterhbrown.wordpress.com)
- Sticks & Stones AND Words Can Hurt You: How Words Can Cause Physical Pain (peterhbrown.wordpress.com)
- Classroom Creativity [The Frontal Cortex] (scienceblogs.com)
You’ve probably heard it before: the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened. It’s an assumption that has spawned a multimillion-dollar computer game industry of electronic brain-teasers and memory games. But in the largest study of such brain games to date, a team of British researchers has found that healthy adults who undertake computer-based “brain-training” do not improve their mental fitness in any significant way.
The study, published online Tuesday by the journal Nature, tracked 11,430 participants through a six-week online study. The participants were divided into three groups: the first group undertook basic reasoning, planning and problem-solving activities (such as choosing the “odd one out” of a group of four objects); the second completed more complex exercises of memory, attention, math and visual-spatial processing, which were designed to mimic popular “brain-training” computer games and programs; and the control group was asked to use the Internet to research answers to trivia questions.
All participants were given a battery of unrelated “benchmark” cognitive-assessment tests before and after the six-week program. These tests, designed to measure overall mental fitness, were adapted from reasoning and memory tests that are commonly used to gauge brain function in patients with brain injury or dementia. All three study groups showed marginal — and identical — improvement on these benchmark exams.
But the improvement had nothing to do with the interim brain-training, says study co-author Jessica Grahn of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Grahn says the results confirm what she and other neuroscientists have long suspected: people who practice a certain mental task — for instance, remembering a series of numbers in sequence, a popular brain-teaser used by many video games — improve dramatically on that task, but the improvement does not carry over to cognitive function in general. (Indeed, all the study participants improved in the tasks they were given; even the control group got better at looking up answers to obscure questions.) The “practice makes perfect” phenomenon probably explains why the study participants improved on the benchmark exams, says Grahn — they had all had taken it once before. “People who practiced a certain test improved at that test, but improvement does not translate beyond anything other than that specific test,” she says.
The authors believe the study, which was run in conjuction with a BBC television program called “Bang Goes the Theory,” undermines the sometimes outlandish claims of many brain-boosting websites and digital games. According to a past TIME.com article by Anita Hamilton, HAPPYneuron, an example not cited by Grahn, is a $100 Web-based brain-training site that invites visitors to “give the gift of brain fitness” and claims its users saw “16%+ improvement” through exercises such as learning to associate a bird’s song with its species and shooting basketballs through virtual hoops. Hamilton also notes Nintendo’s best-selling Brain Age game, which promises to “give your brain the workout it needs” through exercises like solving math problems and playing rock, paper, scissors on the handheld DS. “The widely held belief that commercially available computerized brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population lacks empirical support,” the paper concludes.
Not all neuroscientists agree with that conclusion, however. In 2005, Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, used brain imaging to show that brain-training can alter the number of dopamine receptors in the brain — dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in learning and other important cognitive functions. Other studies have suggested that brain-training can help improve cognitive function in elderly patients and those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but the literature is contradictory.
Klingberg has developed a brain-training program called Cogmed Working Memory Training, and owns shares in the company that distributes it. He tells TIME that the Nature study “draws a large conclusion from a single negative finding” and that it is “incorrect to generalize from one specific training study to cognitive training in general.” He also criticizes the design of the study and points to two factors that may have skewed the results.
On average the study volunteers completed 24 training sessions, each about 10 minutes long — for a total of three hours spent on different tasks over six weeks. “The amount of training was low,” says Klingberg. “Ours and others’ research suggests that 8 to 12 hours of training on one specific test is needed to get a [general improvement in cognition].”
Second, he notes that the participants were asked to complete their training by logging onto the BBC Lab UK website from home. “There was no quality control. Asking subjects to sit at home and do tests online, perhaps with the TV on or other distractions around, is likely to result in bad quality of the training and unreliable outcome measures. Noisy data often gives negative findings,” Klingberg says.
Brain-training research has received generous funding in recent years — and not just from computer game companies — as a result of the proven effect of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to remodel its nerve connections after experience. The stakes are high. If humans could control that process and bolster cognition, it could have a transformative effect on society, says Nick Bostrom of Oxford University‘s Future of Humanity Institute. “Even a small enhancement in human cognition could have a profound effect,” he says. “There are approximately 10 million scientists in the world. If you could improve their cognition by 1%, the gain would hardly be noticeable in a single individual. But it could be equivalent to instantly creating 100,000 new scientists.”
For now, there is no nifty computer game that will turn you into Einstein, Grahn says. But there are other proven ways to improve cognition, albeit only by small margins. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep, exercising vigorously, eating right and maintaining healthy social activity have all been shown to help maximize a brain’s potential over the long term.
What’s more, says Grahn, neuroscientists and psychologists have yet to even agree on what constitutes high mental aptitude. Some experts argue that physical skill, which stems from neural pathways, should be considered a form of intelligence — so, masterful ballet dancers and basketball players would be considered geniuses.
Jason Allaire, co-director of the Games through Gaming lab at North Carolina State University says the Nature study makes sense; rather than finding a silver bullet for brain enhancement, he says, “it’s really time for researchers to think about a broad or holistic approach that exercises or trains the mind in general in order to start to improve cognition more broadly.”
Or, as Grahn puts it, when it comes to mental fitness, “there are no shortcuts.”
Related articles by Zemanta
Multitasking: New Study Challenges Previous Cognitive Theory But Shows That Only A Few “Supertaskers” Can Drive And Phone
A new study from University of Utah psychologists found a small group of people with an extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can safely drive while chatting on a cell phone.
These individuals – described by the researchers as “supertaskers” – constitute only 2.5 percent of the population. They are so named for their ability to successfully do two things at once: in this case, talk on a cell phone while operating a driving simulator without noticeable impairment.
The study, conducted by psychologists Jason Watson and David Strayer, is now in press for publication later this year in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.
This finding is important not because it shows people can drive well while on the phone – the study confirms that the vast majority cannot – but because it challenges current theories of multitasking. Further research may lead eventually to new understanding of regions of the brain that are responsible for supertaskers’ extraordinary performance.
“According to cognitive theory, these individuals ought not to exist,” says Watson. “Yet, clearly they do, so we use the supertasker term as a convenient way to describe their exceptional multitasking ability. Given the number of individuals who routinely talk on the phone while driving, one would have hoped that there would be a greater percentage of supertaskers. And while we’d probably all like to think we are the exception to the rule, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. In fact, the odds of being a supertasker are about as good as your chances of flipping a coin and getting five heads in a row.”
The researchers assessed the performance of 200 participants over a single task (simulated freeway driving), and again with a second demanding activity added (a cell phone conversation that involved memorizing words and solving math problems). Performance was then measured in four areas—braking reaction time, following distance, memory, and math execution.
As expected, results showed that for the group, performance suffered across the board while driving and talking on a hands-free cell phone.
For those who were not supertaskers and who talked on a cell phone while driving the simulators, it took 20 percent longer to hit the brakes when needed and following distances increased 30 percent as the drivers failed to keep pace with simulated traffic while driving. Memory performance declined 11 percent, and the ability to do math problems fell 3 percent.
However, when supertaskers talked while driving, they displayed no change in their normal braking times, following distances or math ability, and their memory abilities actually improved 3 percent.
The results are in line with Strayer’s prior studies showing that driving performance routinely declines under “dual-task conditions” – namely talking on a cell phone while driving – and is comparable to the impairment seen in drunken drivers.
Yet contrary to current understanding in this area, the small number of supertaskers showed no impairment on the measurements of either driving or cell conversation when in combination. Further, researchers found that these individuals’ performance even on the single tasks was markedly better than the control group.
“There is clearly something special about the supertaskers,” says Strayer. “Why can they do something that most of us cannot? Psychologists may need to rethink what they know about multitasking in light of this new evidence. We may learn from these very rare individuals that the multitasking regions of the brain are different and that there may be a genetic basis for this difference. That is very exciting. Stay tuned.”
Watson and Strayer are now studying expert fighter pilots under the assumption that those who can pilot a jet aircraft are also likely to have extraordinary multitasking ability.
The current value society puts on multitasking is relatively new, note the authors. As technology expands throughout our environment and daily lives, it may be that everyone – perhaps even supertaskers – eventually will reach the limits of their ability to divide attention across several tasks.
“As technology spreads, it will be very useful to better understand the brain’s processing capabilities, and perhaps to isolate potential markers that predict extraordinary ability, especially for high-performance professions,” Watson concludes.
Information from University of Utah
ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2010) — Finding it hard to get over a failed love interest? Just can’t get details of a bad financial move out of your head.
A new study from the Rotman School of Management suggests you might want to stick something related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel better. In four separate experiments researchers found that the physical act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection about it, improved people’s negative feelings towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials unrelated to the experience did not work as well.
“If you tell people, ‘You’ve got to move on,’ that doesn’t work,” said Dilip Soman, who holds the Corus Chair in Communication Strategy at the Rotman School and is also a professor of marketing, who co-wrote the paper with colleagues Xiuping Li from the National University of Singapore and Liyuan Wei from City University of Hong Kong. “What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions.”
While the market implications might not be immediately obvious, Prof. Soman believes the findings point to new angles on such things as fast pick-up courier services and pre-paid mortgage deals that relieve people’s sense of debt burden. If people realize that the memory of past events or tasks can be distracting, perhaps there is a market for products and services that can enclose or take away memories of that task.
The paper is to be published in Psychological Science.