Good is better than perfect
The value we put on the benefit of the learning will have a massive influence on what exactly we learn and retain. If you buy a guitar, the probability of making an effort to learn some tunes increases. If you see a module in college as really interesting, you will make an effort to learn and it will be easier to retain.
Modern Box Ticking, False "Learning" - When education fails
One of the problems I feel with the typical approach and feel of learning is there is now so much box ticking and so much "learning" and "testing" in the world. It's seen as necessary that we are so sick of "learning" as it's so hard we jack it in as soon as we finish that Masters. It's seen as a means to an end. This is a tragic waste of interest and ability.
Another major issue with learning across many areas is the search for perfection. Perfection is the enemy of good.
The Leaving Cert in Ireland has become one of the most bizarre, illogical and damaging pursuits and exams not only in Ireland - but anywhere. Very few countries come anywhere close to the ridiculousness of our Final State exams. You cannot get into multiple 3rd level courses like Medicine now without 6 A1's or even more for some specific subjects.
What this has led to is a systematic approach to getting through it, very little actual learning and a heap of unnecessary stress.
If you want to do well at your leaving cert, forget about learning anything much. In other countries at least, there are openings for people who may be suited to a subject to make a side door or backdoor entry to the field. They just need to show competency in related subjects, and not just state exams.
This box ticking approach hurts Ireland as a country as we get so many "Professionals" who are not that particularly passionate about their job and are in it for money and/or status.
Unfortunately this type of thinking infiltrates our arts & sports pursuits as well, turning many, children in particular, off. Something that's fun is more easily learned, and stuck at.
Desirable Difficulties returned
In the last article we spoke about desirable difficulties and some unusual difficulties. Some that seem like an annoyance at one level can actually be of benefit, a positive interference so to say. For instance, when text on a page is in a font that's blurry or we are not familiar with and we have to look a little harder, we retain the information in the text better. How about that for interference!!
Another clever learning trick that some teachers have been at for years is to jump around the chapters and not deliver the curriculum in the chapter by chapter way. This approach has also been shown to help academic retainment. It won't make your Netflix binging more enjoyable though, so do that in a linear fashion!
In sport we now have coach education which is a linear - learn this technique first and then we will let you play the game - kind of approach. Any bit of depth of thought here, though, makes us realise kids don't pick up sports in a linear fashion. And then there is the interference of other sport and home life.
Each individual is learning in a different way because of all their own environmental differences - like having siblings. Maybe they play Frisbee in the big park they live beside, so overhead catching may come easier from them compared to the kid who lives rurally and has less interactions and practices alone with a lot of striking.
These are all learning interferences so as coaches we need to go in with an open mind and observe before we jump in because we don't know what's needed yet.
Generative learning is another interesting, but in ways familiar to us, form of learning. Essentially, this is us putting some new material with a bunch of old stuff we already know. That linking process helps create signposts for ourselves for the future. Slowly but surely, the more we are around the new information, in the journey so to say, the less we need those signposts.
That might be one reason analogies and cuing can be so helpful in motor skills. Generative learning helps us learn with understanding. If we can associate it to something we already know then it puts us at ease and we will open our brains to taking more on, and in a smoother way.
Another element of generative learning is finding incorrect answers to solutions. Basically trial and error. Sticking to the task and having the determination to find an answer helps greatly. This makes sense to us as we can all agree nothing worth learning comes easy, if it's easy we would already have it, and so would everyone else. But unsuccessful attempts at finding answers leads to a deeper embedding of the right result when we finally get there.
Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes good learning .
While we will go into a bit deeper in later weeks, the practice of reflection is a powerful tool. Reflecting on a new chapter in a book, on a lecture you did at college, on your performance at Hockey training - they all help deeper our appreciation of the recent activity and allow for deeper learning. in some cases. Especially with new stuff. But reflection and generative learning have important connections and work well together.
Somewhat related to our faulty education systems, allied to an actual attempt at "errorless learning" from the 60's. The idea of errorless learning is a very narrow and dangerous approach. One thing it is based on is taking very small bites of a subject, reading/practicing them, and then testing them straight away.
It would be like taking 7 days of driving lessons twice a day, with assessments as you go, doing the State test on Day 8, passing, and then thinking you were ready for the road.
There is this purveying belief that if we allow learners make mistakes, it's the mistakes that they will retain. This has led to people attempting perfect practice in sports. Even writing this, and you need no research for this, it sounds insane. And it is. But it's real and it exists.
If we give supportive feedback, and allow further exploration, the learner will not only finding better solutions, the learning will be deeper.
Again, research around this tells us that asking someone to solve something without any possible solution-giving first, leads to better learning and retention. Much like my well worn approach to coaching children sports now - let the game be the teacher, and we can support from afar then.
Also another important aspect of all this is, is framing. If we can frame for the learners that the difficulty is part of the fun and process, then not only will the learning of that task be deeper - we are supporting a learning for life and embracing difficulties as a human.
A social example we may all understand - Have you ever winced and bit your tongue when a new mother repeatedly goes over and helps a toddler with absolutely everything? In that case she is reducing that child's ability to learn for themselves and take on challenges possibly for LIFE.
Think about that for a second, and the potential impact of helicopter parenting for instance.
So this stuff is real, it's important and it will help us every day.
So that's it for this week, next week's topic will be "Optimal Learning Conditions."
Have a great week.