If You Are Going to Study…

How People Learn coverI’m rereading How People Learn II  as I prepare to use it with some students (who are teachers). The authors have provided clear and concise reviews of some of the recent findings in the cognitive and learning sciences. Perhaps most useful is the section in which the authors summarize what we know about studying. (Wise teachers will see this as advice on how to organize their courses.) Students who want to retain what they have learned and be able to use it in other situations should:

  • Study (interact with the material and practice retrieving if from memory);
  • Study over time (time here should be days or weeks);
  • Study over time and vary:
    • How you study (read, write, listen, draw, watch, alone and with a partner or group);
    • Where you study (study at home, school, in the library, different chairs, etc.);
    • Mix up the topics you study (called interleaving, this finds learners studying different chapters of the text in different order, for example)

As you decide what to do to study, you may also want to include strategies that help you understand rather than simply remember what you are studying. Example of these strategies include:

  • Summarizing the ideas into your own words and that are more than simply restating. Compose general statements that apply to what you are studying.
  • Develop explanations. Introduce causal or relational words into your summaries. “Because,” “so,” “as a result…” are all examples of words that cause learners to see relationships between the ideas and concepts they are studying.

It is interesting that these are all strategies teachers have been recommending for decades. At least we are beginning to find these strategies are supported by research.