The fields of neuroscience and cognitive psychology have now established very clear understandings of effective study habits. It turns out that widely used, passive techniques like highlighting and rereading a text (or re-watching a lecture video) are actually counterproductive. They may increase your familiarity, but do not improve your ability to apply the material. The common thread linking successful strategies for long-term learning is active engagement with the material. Active engagement requires effort on your part.
Your career success depends on how well you are able to retain and apply what you have learned. Doesn't it make sense to benefit from the latest insights on the science of learning and put in the effort required to learn deeply? This short 11 minute video gives you an overview of principles that enable you to obtain the maximum benefit from the time you invest learning. After the video I explain how to apply these principles at AllSignalProcessing.com.
These principles apply to any learning situation. Before you go on, take this short quiz to help you retain what you just heard.
Quiz1. Learning involves changing your brain.
2. Which of the following strategies are effective at creating long-lasting understanding? Select all that apply.
a) Sitting in a lecture
b) Quizzing yourself on a recent lecture
c) Rereading a text
d) Working problems
e) Explaining concepts to a classmate
3. If you are learning new concepts, then you will not experience setbacks.
4. Your intelligence is fixed – some people are smart and others not so smart.
5. Which behaviors will help you learn best? Select all that apply.
a) Space out your practice over time
b) Spend the vast majority of your study time the night before the exam
c) Focus exclusively on one concept until you understand it well
d) Regularly evaluate how well you are learning the material
Now here are my specific suggestions for how you can maximize the benefit of your effort at AllSignalProcessing.com.
Briefly note what you expect to learn prior to watching each video.
This initial effort prompts your brain to be more receptive to and alert for the concepts presented in the video
Write out the key ideas in each video in your own words, and look for analogies or metaphors that relate to the concepts.
I recommend sketching out the key ideas before you look at the Key Concepts document. The goal of an analogy or metaphor is to relate new information to things you already understand. An example of an analogy is comparing electricity to water flow: conductors are like hoses, electric current is like the volume of water flow, voltage is like water pressure, and so on.
1. Recalling ideas and organizing them in your own words always strengthens memory
2. Analogies and metaphors give additional layers of meaning to new material, connecting it to concepts you already understand. This strengthens your grasp and helps you better remember it later
Work problems as far as you can before seeking help, checking answers, or consulting solutions.
If you get stuck, only look at the information that will help you overcome that hurdle. Then go back to working the rest of the problem
1. Active recall always strengthens your memory
2. Wrestling with a problem embeds the solution more deeply in memory
Write out legible, detailed solutions as you work quizzes, exercises, and problems.
1. It is important to psychologically commit to an answer before checking if it is correct
2. Organizing your thoughts in a systematic manner strengthens them in memory
3. Recording your work step-by-step makes it easy to find errors
4. A detailed solution is a great reference if you later want to revisit a particular problem
5. Checking your work against the solution allows you to accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses
Interleave practice of different types of problems.
Although interleaving is not intuitive - the tendency is to focus on one concept until we master it - studies have consistently shown that interleaving produces stronger learning
Practice your skills regularly.
1. Our brain naturally prunes memories that have not been accessed recently
2. Revisiting concepts spaced out over multiple days strengthens them in memory
3. Cramming or massed practice does not lead to effective long-term retention
Learning does require effort. After all, learning involves changing your brain. Focus your effort on proven approaches to maximize understanding and retention. Then your efforts will have a long-term impact on your skills and career.
P.C. Brown, H.L. Roediger III, and M.A. McDaniel, "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning," Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2014.
This is an outstanding book for both instructors and students interested in the latest scientific findings on learning. They provide evidence-based learning strategies along with illustrative stories of various individuals applying those techniques in their studies.