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Forgetting is natural, but scientists say you can do this to slow it down

The researchers also warn against common learning misconceptions, such as that learning has to feel easy in order to work.

A new study shows how learning can slow forgetting.

According to Shana Carpenter, a psychology professor at Iowa State, combining two strategies — distance and retrieval exercises — is the key to success, whether you’re trying to pass an exam or picking up a new pastime.

Carpenter is the lead author of a study examining more than a century of learning research recently published in Nature Reports Psychology.

“The benefits of spacing and retrieval exercises have been validated time and time again in studies in laboratories, classrooms and the workplace, but the reason we are presenting this research is because these two techniques have not fully caught on. If they were used all the time, we would see dramatic increases in learning,” Carpenter said.

In their research, Carpenter and her co-authors describe distance as a method of incremental learning over time. It’s the opposite of studying the night before an exam. In one study, medical students who received repeated surgery training for three weeks outperformed those who received the same training all at once in terms of performance on exams two weeks and one year later.

Shana Carpenter, Cassidy Whitehead and Kaelyn Nichols

Psychology professor Shana Carpenter works with Cassidy Whitehead (left) and Kaelyn Nichols, two senior psychology majors at Iowa State. Credit: Shana Carpenter/Iowa State University

According to Carpenter, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how much time should elapse between workouts. However, research shows that it is beneficial to revisit information after you have forgotten some (but not all) of it.

Retrieval practice is an approach that involves remembering past learning. It can be in a variety of formats, e.g. B. flashcards, practice exams and open-ended writing prompts, and it helps students to identify their knowledge gaps. The authors of the article emphasize that those who check their answers for errors or receive instant feedback learn even better.

More than 200 studies show that people with retrieval exercises generally retain more information for longer periods of time than with strategies that do not involve retrieval (eg, rereading a textbook).

The authors argue that people who combine distance and retrieval exercises have the best chance of remembering information.

“Forgetting is a natural thing; You can’t stop forgetting even if you try, but you can slow forgetting by using recall practice and spacing,” Carpenter said.

Highlighters and illusions of learning

Carpenter says misconceptions about learning are part of the reason retrieval exercises and spacing aren’t used more often.

“Probably the biggest misconception is that learning has to feel easy in order to work, and that’s not true at all. You will learn more consistently and effectively when you persevere and overcome these challenges than if it felt easy all along,” Carpenter said.

It feels easier to just highlight or re-read a textbook than writing answers to practice questions. But without the knowledge check that comes with trying to recall learned information, there’s a greater risk of lulling yourself into what the authors call an “illusion of learning.”

Carpenter acknowledges that many people don’t like making mistakes or realizing they don’t understand the material as well as they thought they did. It may evoke insecurities, fear of failure, or other emotions they wish to avoid. But there’s a good chance they’ll eventually have to face what they don’t know when the stakes are higher, like during an exam or a presentation at work.

bring to class

Carpenter says she uses digital tools (such as online practice quizzes and clicker questions) to incorporate retrieval practice and social distancing into her university courses, but there are other ways to bring these strategies into the classroom.

She gives the example of an elementary school math teacher whose techniques were highlighted at a recent conference. A few days after a lesson on fractions, the teacher asked her students to tell everything they could remember about fractions. It was an open and collaborative activity.

“The more they talked, the more they started to remember, and these kids were excited to talk about fractures,” Carpenter said.

She tells a different story of a middle school teacher who routinely projects practice questions from previous lessons onto a screen. The students write down the answers on slips of paper and then check them individually or discuss them in the group.

Carpenter points out that in both examples, the teachers did not grade the activities. Rather, they provided no-stakes and low-stakes practice opportunities to help students learn and recognize mistakes as an important part of the process, which benefits students beyond the classroom.

“Learning how to learn ensures that wherever you go after the formal years of education, you know how to learn and succeed,” she said.

Reference: “The Science of Effective Learning with Distance and Retrieval Practice” by Shana K. Carpenter, Steven C. Pan and Andrew C. Butler, August 2, 2022 Nature Reports Psychology.
DOI: 10.1038/s44159-022-00089-1

#Forgetting #natural #scientists #slow

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