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Richard Walker

Evidence Makes us Smart and Stronger

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How do we learn?

Of course it makes a difference *what* we are learning. But evidence suggests that in most fields we will learn better if we structure the new learning.

This is not really a surprise. If we look at informal learning, even in adult life, we see that people fit new information into the matrix of what they already know. Of course they don't know they do this, it's just how they instinctively try make sense of the world. Formal learning often disrupts this process, because it offers fragments  learners can't easily fit in.

Back in the 80s Richard Skemp put forward the notion of a "Schema", which is just another word for a framework really. He was interested in mathematical learning, but I think his message applies in any academic sphere. If you want people to learn, make it possible for them to assimilate new information into an ongoing conceptual structure. Otherwise they'll find it hard to learn, hard to retain what they have learned, and at best the learning is likely to be shallow.

What reminded me of all this was that when looking for evidence of what works well if you are preparing for an exam, I wondered what the latest research pointed to.

I found [1] and from there [2]. I think in many ways this is saying what has been said all those years back, but maybe if we can bring the evidence base together better now these ideas will have more effect.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jan/08/five-secrets-of-successful-revising

[2] http://mindhacks.com/2011/10/24/make-study-more-effective-the-easy-way/

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