Oct 012011

Improve Learning: 3 Ways To Improve Learning

Improve Learning: September 27, 2011 by Lawrence Pilch

The deteriorating educational system in America has prompted new research into how people learn. Recently researchers in the new field of Mind, Brain, and Education have taken their theories out of the lab and implemented them in the classroom with successful results. Here are three techniques that have been found to have a positive impact on learning. What’s neat about this is that these techniques apply to anyone who wants to communicate anything that gets understood and remembered.

Spaced Repetition
Rather than absorbing a lot of information at once on a specific topic and then moving on to the next chunk it’s more effective to encounter smaller chunks of the same information, repeatedly, over a longer period of time. It is thought that this works better because memories are fleeting at first. Through repeated exposure to the information the neuronal connections in our brains are strengthened.

Retrieval Practice
The use of quizzes as a way to reinforce what people know rather than to assess it actually makes our memories more permanent. It is the specific act of retrieving information that reinforces its permanence. Reading or making outlines does not have this effect.

It sounds counter-intuitive but easy to understand information is harder to remember. When information is harder to understand, it is recalled better. In the context of learning it helps when the problems they encounter are not all grouped together by type but different types of problems and situations are mixed together. When you don’t know in advance what kind of question is next your brain must work a little harder thus improving memory.

None of these methods is magical, but the results certainly are. By simply using a different way to communicate, retention rates improved 1.5-2.4X. The studies I looked at were with grade school children, but I’d wager that they’d help brains of any age.

At PollStream, I have always felt that Polls and QuizPolls are better ways to communicate information than simply reading. Now I have a scientific understanding of why this is.

Polls are the perfect tool for spaced repetition. People enjoy the experience of doing polls so you can offer them multiple opportunities over time to re-expose your audience to the same information. I’ve seen many examples of “Retrieval Practice” using QuizPolls to drive home different elements of a company’s culture, history and products. Last, delivering one question at a time with a mixture of different question types uses the technique of interleaving.

Not only are polls more engaging than any other rich media, they work in a way that helps people learn. Welcome to the elusive free lunch.



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