Retrieval testing may help train the brain

Retrieval testing may help train the brain

All forms of learning are supposed to help train the brain, but some work better than others. I have always liked looking at a test (or accepting a challenge), seeing what I don’t know, and then filling in the gaps. I think starting classes with structured ways of challenge people’s knowledge, and then guiding them through the knowledge, would prove powerful in many learning situations.

Unfortunately, the latest research, reported in Science, has its own conceptual flaws. It looks at three methods of learning: studying harder, concept mapping and retrieval tests. Retrieval “practice” tests proved the best method for independently recalling facts over short periods of time. I don’t doubt that, but this is still very industrial age, as it is looking at the best method for studying in order to eventually recall facts to pass a more traditional assessment. I would like to have seen concept mapping combined with retrieval, where learning is added to the map over longer periods of time, perhaps even years. I think the two would prove very complementary based on my own experience. What’s more, retrieval tests aren’t meant to be perpetual learning devices…in other words, weeks, months or years later, what you learned for a test, may not be so retrievable. Concept maps, or mind maps, create artifacts that can later be retrieved as memory aids.

We spend so much time working on problems in isolation, when we should be looking at learning holistically. Computers and other devices aren’t going away, nor are paper and pencils. We should be looking at how tools augment our learning experiences, building upon what our brains can do, not just understand what they do to the brain in the moment.

Regardless, I think this is interesting research, and I hope they take it to the next level.

For more see:

Science. Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping, Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt

New York Times. To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.


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