The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division
to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much
of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught
For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply
alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does
studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather
than focusing intensely on a single thing.
“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that
schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and
error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we
walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that
are mistaken.” –NYTimes
It’s no news that simply being engaging is not the same as being effective, but this article offers plenty of food for thought.
While this article challenges some important received wisdom about teaching, I was glad to see some support for something I had noticed myself — that studying in different environments can improve retention. Just the other day, I suggested to my students that, if they find their attention span lagging, they do their reading or their writing on a different device or software program. The different interface, the different setting, having the computer read text to you, using a text-to-speech program, anything that de-familiarizes the action that’s about to become tedious.
Of course, if you spend too much time looking for engaging new settings or tools, you’ll just be procrastinating.