Thursday, 28 July 2016

Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel - Key Points

Make it Stick is a book about effective learning strategies, It is based on the latest findings of various research studies into how Cognitive Psychology can best be applied to Education and is written by experts in this field.
The central thesis of this book is that the most effective learning strategies are simple but often counter-intuitive. The key points can be summarised as follows:
  1. Learning requires effort: some kinds of difficulties ("desirable difficulties") during learning help to make the learning stronger and better remembered;  When learning is easy, it is often superficial and soon forgotten. Don't confuse fluency/familiarity with learning
  2. Learning is better when you wrestle with new problems before being given the solution, rather than the other way round.
  3. Retrival practice (= self-quizzing) - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory - makes learning stick. This can be best done by regular testing as part of the learning process either in class or individually. Thus testing is formative - a means to the end - which is learning. 
  4. Practice that is spaced out, interleaved with other learning and varied produces better mastery, longer retention and greater versatility. Cramming and chunking are NOT effective learning methods.
  5. Mastery moves from knowledge to know-how. When learning, distill the underlying principles, look for patterns, make connections. "Knowledge is not know-how until you understanding the underlying principles at work and can fit them together into a structure larger than the sum of the parts." (p.158)
Interestingly, the authors criticise pandering to individual learning styles:
"We acknowledge that everyone has learning preferences, but we are not persuaded that you learn better when the manner of instruction fits those preferences." (p.132)
Departing from the main theme of the book, there is an interesting chapter (7) on how to 'Increase your Abilities', which explains neuroplasticity and how IQ can be improved, before launching into a number of memory techniques.
The final chapter (8) distills out the book's principles with tip for different user groups: students, life-longer learners, teachers and trainers.
Make it Stick is an important book for students (of all ages) and teachers alike (particularly in the secondary and tertiary age phases). It challenges many traditional methods of learning and does so with a weight of research behind it. Schools would do well to take on board its central points. Teachers might like to review their schemes of work considering how they will incorporate more testing, spaced interleaved and varied learning into their programmes.
For more information go to, where there is an chapter by chapter summary of the book.

I must say that I found the book's (somewhat apologetic/defensive) tone and style intensely irritating throughout. It was a dry read and it was repetitive - I can only think that the authors decided to model the concept of "desirable difficulty" and "spaced learning"! 

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