Taking knowledge from education to life changing application

Education and learning and often used as descriptors interchangeably for the process by which humans learn about a topic, concept or skill. However, there is a difference. Education could be seen as a process of delivery of content. Learning is an outcome of behaviour change to a more informed and ideal state, as we define it for ourselves. One could be seen as something done to us. The other could be seen as something we do to ourselves. And the transition from education to learning is enabled by effective methods designed to improve our understanding of new ideas and their applicability to our lives.

Based on the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors (Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel) outline the science behind learning techniques most effective in supporting knowledge retention and application, for students of all ages, based on brain science. They key ideas they share debunk common learning methods such as bulk retention, learning until you remember, then moving on, and the idea of re-reading content to refresh memories in preparation for tests. Using case studies and research, Make It Stick outlines the flaws with these methods and why their seductive nature has lured many learners into a false sense of capacity for learning.

Enter the following – Generation, Reflection, Elaboration and Retrieval. These approaches to learning as outlined in this book get us to think differently about the design and delivery of curriculum so that the learner achieves a higher state of awareness and understanding in the content, that is more accessible for longer and is more likely to lead to changes in behaviour and views as a result of the learning.

Generation is the concept of the learner being given the chance to generate the idea, or fill in the blank, in the learning before they are provided the correct information. They then compare their own ideas with the correct information and make necessary adjustments to their understanding to bridge the gap between the two.

Reflection is the act of considering past events, learning, experiences and content, and sense-making to form and deepen understanding of the content. It is an opportunity for learners to consider what this new knowledge and content means for them in the context of their current situation. This reflection process creates the opportunity for higher-order thinking to take place.

Elaboration is an extension of the ideas, concepts, and content being learned, being actively built upon by the learner as they draw on other ideas, concepts and theories from previous learning experiences. In some respects, it is active, present-tense refection as the learner considers the content, elaborates its meaning and application to arrive at a deeper understanding for themselves.

Retrieval is a process of considered recall of information. This isn’t the act of memorising and retaining for later recall. It is the act of constant testing (self and formal processes) to ascertain how much of the content has been learned over time, and to practice the learner’s ability to recall those pieces of information that are relevant for circumstances at that time. The retrieval process also asks learners to recall and reapply the learning in various combinations, thus creating a deeper understanding and likelihood the learning will remain in the minds of the learner.

The authors position these ideas (plus others) as ways to approach learning that, whilst it may seem counter-intuitive, do in fact provide some tangible ways for learners of all ages to have greater success in understanding what they are learning and using more of it in their study/career.

Apply it

As interesting as these ideas might be, they are best experienced for yourself. I suggest you take a book, or other content you are attempting to learn (such as a language, a sport, a subject, a process, etc) and one or more of these ideas and apply the approach for a month and see what impact it has with your learning. For instance, if you are learning a language, practice writing or saying a sentence with the words you think should be used, and then check yourself against your text books and learning materials for accuracy (generation). Or, spend time each week reflecting on your effort in learning a sport or hobby, and think about the techniques you have been able to master more than others, and what has been the elements contributing to this mastery  - i.e. was it the environment, the time you gave to it, the learning process before trialling it, etc (reflection).

Read it

If you are curious about these concepts and want to listen or read the book for yourself, in particular how the authors provoke your thinking about learning styles, or the apparent lack of them, check it out here:

Discuss it

Have a thought or comment? Feel free to use the form below. Your comments, once approved, will appear here. I would be keen to hear of other similar books or materials that have explored great learning strategies for all children as well as adults.

Posted in Learning, Resource Reviews and tagged , , , , , .