As a technology immigrant, I originally learned to study with notes and book in-hand, over time integrating electronics as scaffolding support. Having grown up in the Digital Age, our kids are technology natives who often tend to use electronics as their base, which is effective, but more difficult to harness. That’s why they need parent help now more than ever navigating the road to learning.
As a mom, clinical psychologist, and a professor at California State University Channel Islands, I have witnessed technology’s profound impact on the academic landscape in the last 30 years. And from my view, it’s magnificent. When I’m researching and developing a lecture or writing my book, I gratefully and gleefully shift back and forth between no fewer than four electronic gadgets.
This useful technology toolbox is light years from my early days of sweating at the copier for hours at a time in the dusty bowels of UCLA libraries. With my iPhone, iPad, MacbookAir and 27” iMac, I have the world at my fingertips. Technology makes my work extremely efficient, easy, and fun. However, it doesn’t do my learning for me and can be distracting when I get tangled in the 21st century learning space of the World Wide Web.
The role of educational science is to determine the best methods to facilitate successful learning. Encouraging student metacognition is among a teacher’s (and parent’s) most important and challenging tasks. Metacognition refers to student knowledge about his cognitive processes and ability to organize, monitor, and modify these processes as a function of learning. In other words, metacognition is “thinking about thinking.”
DR. BENNETT’S ROAD MAP FOR LEARNING
1. Learn from the get-go.
Be an active learner the minute you come into contact with the material. Actively engage while you read and highlight the text and while you take notes in class. Participating in class helps deep processing of the material as well!
2. Learn while you format study materials.
Outline the text and rewrite and highlight your notes. Attend to and connect the main concepts. Leave out illustrative details so you have only essential material (fewer pages) to memorize.
3. Set the stage to study.
Block out sufficient study time over several days. Prepare yourself and your study space to optimize learning. Make sure you are comfortable and fit (fed, hydrated, rested) with a positive attitude about studying. Find a comfortable, non-distracting study location. Turn off your phone and commit to studying only, no social media or Internet surfing.
4. Engage with content, don’t kill and drill.
In order for a student to learn effectively, she must engage with the content and integrate it into a meaningful framework. Students often make the mistake of mindlessly rehearsing isolated facts, thinking time spent is evidence of learning. Kill and drill is a waste of time and mind-numbingly punishing. Deeply processing information is the most efficient way to learn.
5. Create learning pathways.
Each time we encode a fact into the hippocampal area of our brain, we create a learning pathway that can later be traveled for retrieval (i.e., at test time). Increasing the number of pathways to that encoded fact is the process of effective learning. In items 2 and 3 of this list, you already paved initial pathways! Examples include when you first heard the material presented in lecture, wrote notes, read the textbook, answered the teacher’s question, and formatted study materials. To pave additional pathways to test content, find creative ways to further engage with and elaborate on the material while you study. The more emotionally and cognitively meaningful the material is for you, the easier it will be to learn. For example, use the Internet to view the study material in a variety of vivid formats, such as illustrative maps, diagrams, pictures, speeches, or videos. Link the information to emotionally meaningful memories or associated topics. Study from a variety of locations. Form a study group and talk with others about the content.
6. Rehearse the information and practice retrieving it and applying it just like you would at test time.
If the test is multiple-choice, make up questions that would lead to memorized facts. If the test is essay, practice outlining and writing essays on that material.
7. Study small chunks of material at a time over several days, eventually linking the chunks together.
Don’t cram at the last minute. Your brain needs time to deeply process newly learned material. It will even process when you’re not actively studying. Even in your sleep! That means it’s best to learn and rehearse chunks of material over several days. By test time, the chunks will come together for easy, A+ retrieval.
Voila!! This is the recipe for excellent learning. By my junior year at UCLA, I had mastered these skills. This allowed me to get excellent grades with relatively few hours of non-punishing study. As a university professor, I now witness how the A students successfully apply these techniques.
View my free video, “How to Study Effectively: Metacognition in Action” below which further illustrates my ROAD MAP FOR LEARNING.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty