Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning how...

When does the dawn light?

 As a teacher and a learner myself, I am very interested in just how people learn.  When does the light dawn on how to do something?  How can you get there from here?  How can I help myself and others to get there?  Just about anything you want to do that's a bit more involved than making a cup of tea (though alas many can't make a decent cup of tea!!)  requires some learning, some teaching..either of oneself or others.

 So I've been fascinated by the work of Robert Bjork (he has a LOT of you-tubes you can watch and listen to).  He started a learning and forgetting laboratory at UCLA to investigate learning.  It turns out that many of the ways we have been taught to learn in fact are not very effective!  What's even more surprising is that even if you give people a chance to learn something in an effective way versus an ineffective way, they will usually choose the latter.  Why?  Because the old ways are familiar, they are comfortable, they are easy to set up for both the teacher and the learner...and countless books and learning materials are based on them!  Oh here come the flat-earthers once again!! it's not only (whisper) the science about climate change that is being hotly denied, but the science about many more things...including learning.

A very common way of having somebody learn something is to require them to repeat it many times.
This is called blocking.  It's very evident in many skills including athletic ones (e.g. throwing skills) or learning strings of facts (people read the same chapters over and over again), or craft skills like calligraphy.   And of course it's used by manufacturers in areas like producing clothes:  one worker sews the first seam, another the next seam.  Nobody sews the whole garment.  Nobody could. The manufacturer has control of the learning.

But if you teach something in repetitive focussed blocked practice,  a few days later, if you test people on these skills, the ones who have learned by blocking do not do as well as those who have learned by interleaving (mixing up everything they have to learn) - and several weeks later the interleaving group's superiority will be even more marked.

Bjork has several other points to make:
 - that it's better to space out your learning, lots and lots of random attempts instead of a whole day spent on a specific task, that when it's more of a rote memory task
 - learning by testing yourself (e.g. with flash cards) is more effective than rereading the material - EVEN if you get the answers wrong!
- also that for skills like piano playing, it's better to learn on a variety of pianos, in a variety of settings and at different times of day. can we apply this to becoming more creative?  (and I don't think that Bjork or his associates have experimented with creative skills like designing art quilts!! or painting).
One thing that occurs to me is to not limit one's creativity to one place, one type of work, one setting - you might get less done initially...but in the long run you'll be overall a more creative person.
so for example in one of my design classes (like the abstract art for quiltmakers class just coming up at the academy of quilting), 
you would probably become more creative if you tried a lot of different exercises and created a lot of different designs using different drawing material, painting materials, collage materials.  Choosing different times of day, sitting in different place!  Like right now I am in our local library on the second floor which looks out over a school playground...lots of different things to see!! and not where I usually sit to write a blog.

Do read or listen to something of  Bjork says, and think about how you could apply it to your own learning journey - and write me a comment about it!!!  I'd love to find more ways to apply his discoveries to my own learning.
If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth


Janet W said...

My daughter, who has several learning difficulties, was taught to read by a wonderful teacher who engaged all the children's senses in learning. They felt sandpaper letters, sang songs about phonics, built words from clay, etc. She still uses this multisensory approach when she is learning something new and applies it evey day in her job as a fifth-grade teacher.

Elizabeth Barton said...

It's the best way to learn! we have all these options open to us...we should use them!
But it does take more time and effort from the teacher.....