Learning to Learn… How?

“Learning to Learn,” is one of the life skills identified on 4-H’s Targeting Life Skills Wheel.  It makes sense to include it as an identified skill we want youth to develop.  How else does a person “get by” in this world if they can’t continuously process and learn things?

But really… how does one learn?

This weekend I read Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.  This book promotes the research behind successful learning, which is in many ways contrary to popular belief (example:  if you are repeatedly re-reading materials you are probably wasting your time).  I won’t spoil the book for you but some highlights include:

  •  Interleaving–  Often when we try to learn something new, we dive in head first, and focus on little else.  We believe this focus will help us learn material faster.  Instead, we should focus on interleaving materials/abilities to be learned.  Read or practice something for a little while, then move on to something else, and then return to the initial item to be learned.  It feels as though it takes longer to learn this way, but this is the manner in which learning sticks.  This is also why cramming may allow you to learn something rapidly, but you soon find out you retain little of that information.
    Examples to use:  Let’s say you are conducting a 3-part series of 4-H public speaking trainings.  Rather than spending one day on speech writing, one on oral communication, and a third on non-verbal communication, present all three each day going a little deeper into the content each time.
  • Active Learning–  I joke a lot that I much prefer to just sit in a lecture hall and have someone dump information into my head than to engage in learning activities.  However, the authors of this book suggest that there really is something to this experiential learning thing we discuss so frequently!  They maintain that reflection and integration (building new knowledge onto previously known facts) is important for long-term learning.  Specifically they discuss a process called generative learning.  Read more about generative learning here.
    Examples to use:  Present problems to students before giving them the tools to solve, allow them to attempt, share the information needed to solve the problem, reflect on what is learned and apply to previous knowledge.  WAIT!  This sounds a lot like experiential learning!
  • Low-stakes/ High-frequency testing–  Students typically don’t like to be tested.  However, it is the practice of recalling information learn that makes it stick.
    Examples to use:  How often do you stop where you are in a workshop and issue a pop quiz?  Next time start with a pre-test (heck- maybe you even use this for evaluation purposes), stop multiple times during the session to quiz the audience (check out these Response White Boards) and then issue a final test at the end of your workshop.

To read the author’s other ideas and the research behind them, check out:  Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning


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