Techniques For Better Learning Equal Practice a Lot

From Science Daily is a digest of some research by John Dunlosky and Amanda Lipko of Kent State on techniques for evaluating your learning. Generally speaking, people aren't good at this. Two techniques mentioned are:

rereading or summarizing text can improve people's ability to accurately evaluate how well they are learning those texts.

In addition, techniques that focus people's attention on just the most important details of a text also help them to evaluate their learning.

How to use this information in the classroom?

On focusing people's attention for evaluation, the article said,

if a text includes several key ideas, attempting to recall these ideas from memory and then explicitly comparing the recall with the correct answers improves people's ability to accurately evaluate how well they are learning the ideas.

In other words, it's a way to test your memory or recall. If you don't do well, then you need to read some more.

With respect to re-reading, for me, that means repetition, repetition means practice, and the more practice, the better. Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, writes, "Practice makes perfect: but only if you practice beyond the point of perfection".

Exactly when to engage students in practice, through what method, and for what duration are educational decisions that teachers will need to make on a regular basis. But, that students will only remember what they have extensively practiced--and that they will only remember for the long term that which they have practiced in a sustained way over many years--are realities that can’t be bypassed.

Practice is related to competence, which is related to the ability to evaluate how well you can do something. Seven years ago, Erica Goode (New York Times) in Incompetent People Really Have No Clue reported on research conducted by David Dunning, professor of psychology at Cornell, and Justin Kruger, now associate professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business:

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence. 

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper  appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social  Psychology. 

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate  choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning. 

So, in essence we're back to the fact that there are no shortcuts in learning (see Anderson & Schunn's article "The implications of the ACT-R learning theory: no magic bullets" (pdf)). Learning and being able to evaluate your learning depend primarily on lots of practice--or time on task--and mastery depends on practicing past the point of perfection.

Related posts:
Reading: A Case for Practice and Examples
IQ vs. Self-Discipline
Forget IQ: Just Work Hard!
The Expert Mind