Want To Learn Better? Make Things Hard On Yourself
My pick for this week’s best learning video features UCLA psychologist Robert Bjork talking about the surprising way our minds work:
“In terms of the un-intuitive aspects of how human learning and memory work, and the fact that there is this set of conditions that make people improve very rapidly (making conditions predictable, constant cues, massing practice—there’s a whole variety of conditions that make people improve very rapidly)—well, the converse of those things is if you introduce variability, if you introduce spacing, if you use testing instead of re-studying, if you interleave the separate things to be learned—those all slow down the apparent learning, but under most circumstances help long-term retention and help you transfer knowledge to new situations. These things I labeled years ago as desirable difficulties.” Watch the rest of the video here.
This is, as Bjork notes, a very counter-intuitive concept, but it means that if we arrange conditions to make learning feel very swift and easy, we won’t remember or apply that knowledge later on as well as if we made the learning process more difficult and effortful. Strange, but true: another example of why we need science to guide us past notions that are intuitive but mistaken.