TYPE: Non-fiction (science, philosophy), practical.
SYNTHESIS: Tools, strategies and stories to help students, teachers and trainers learn more effectively based on 10 years of collaboration between 11 cognitive psychologists – collected and synthesised by author Peter Brown and psychology researchers Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel.
IN A NUTSHELL: “The responsibility for learning rests with individual [and] the techniques for highly effective learning outlined in this book can be used right now everywhere learners, teachers and trainers are at work. They come at no cost, they require no structural reform, and the benefits they promise are both real and long-lasting.”
NOTE: Learning is an acquired skill and innate ability is only a small part of the story. In fact, both learning and learning-how-to-learn change your brain and make you more intelligent. What’s more, both lie entirely in your control (you can make yourself smarter). And though it’s a challenging, life-long journey, we’ve learned much about how that process works.
And yet, myths, outdated theories and ineffective techniques are still common and hold many of us back. Instead, it’s important to realise that:
- Mindless repetition does not build memory – quality, type and timing of repetition are each as important as quantity;
- Fluency is not the same as understanding – just because you can repeat something, it doesn’t mean you get it; and
- Creativity and knowledge are not either/or – creativity requires a foundation of knowledge, and knowledge must be memorised.
Dispelling myths and laying out an alternative, immediately practical path for better learning is Make It Stick‘s purpose.
First, chapter 1 (Learning is Misunderstood) introduces the book’s key ideas:
- Rereading and massed practice are popular but ineffective.
- Instead, good learning is active learning…
- Active learning means working smart and hard…
- And working smart and hard is difficult and requires effort
Then, chapters 2 – 7 lay out the evidence and implications of recent discoveries:
- To Learn, Retrieve – Effortful retrieval is a highly effective way to learn. See tests as learning tools and find ways to constantly quiz yourself as you go.
- Mix Up Your Practice – Mix up topics and problems, vary practice conditions and space your practice over time to improve retention and generalise learning.
- Embrace Difficulties – Learning (encoding, consolidation and retrieval) is active and grounded in mistakes; accept that both are difficult and effortful.
- Avoid Illusions of Knowing – Don’t mistake fluency for knowledge. Use testing and teaching as tools to keep you honest about what you do and don’t know.
- Get Beyond Learning Styles – Use a wide range of active learning strategies. Discover underlying principles by breaking down your topic and combining the two creatively.
- Increase Your Abilities – Effortful learning changes the brain, it needs a growth mindset, self-discipline, grit and persistence.
While, chapter 8 (Make it Stick) summarises a practical, new approach to learning:
- Incorporate the following 3 main strategies into any learning project:
- Active retrieval
- Don’t blindly re-read or repeat and hope to learn by osmosis.
- Instead, self-test as you learn (key ideas, new terms, relation to other ideas).
- Do the practice questions at the end of each chapter or generate your own.
- Make time weekly to quiz yourself on the current and prior weeks of work.
- Check your answers to make sure you’re not fooling yourself.
- Study and correct your mistakes to fill in areas of weak mastery.
- Spaced repetition
- Establish a regular, low-stakes, self-quizzing schedule.
- Adjust gaps from a few minutes, to a few days, to once a month.
- Interleave topics in your quizzing to continually refresh your mind.
- Study more than one type of problem within a topic at a time.
- Scatter new problem types throughout your practice schedule.
- Active retrieval
- Additionally, always look for ways to:
- Synthesise ideas in your own words.
- Teach them to someone else.
- Make them concrete and personal (e.g., with examples from your own life).
- Like them to a wider context (e.g., using metaphors).
- Attempt to solve a problem before being shown the solution.
- If you don’t know the answer, give your best guess – then correct.
- Reflect (on your learning experiences)
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- What does the experience remind you of?
- What opportunities can you think of to make next time better?
- Use e.g., tests to objectively and periodically gauge your level and progress.
- Treat calibrations like actual tests, do them – don’t skate over them.
- Use mnemonics
- Find or create mnemonic devices to learn information.
- Learn mnemonic systems to greatly increase your ability to memorise new things.
- And finally, adopt a learning mindset – be:
- Forgive – everyone starts out awkward and clumsy;
- Be optimistic – learning needs striving, striving leads to setbacks and set-backs lead to learning;
- Experiment – try new things, take time to reflect on results and then try again; and
- Persist – learning takes (biological) time, stick with it and trust in the process.