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Learning, Forgetting, and Relearning

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Thanks

Dave Moursund

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I am pleased to announce that my recently revised and expanded IAE-pedia entry on Brain Science is proving to be quite popular. I have just added an additional brain science topic to this entry: Learning, Forgetting, and Relearning. This new topic is also the focus of this IAE Blog entry.

In brief summary, we know that students forget much of what they "learn" in a course. This occurs through disuse of the materials, the "rote memory, regurgitate for the test, and forget" studying approach that many students use, teaching methods that are not as good as they can be in facilitating "deep learning with understanding,” and so on.

Many years ago I started using the phrase, “learning for forgetting.” This was based on my observation that my students forgot much of what I taught in class. So, I decided that I should teach in a manner that facilitates relearning after one has learned and mostly forgotten a set of materials. My approaches were rather haphazzard, as I was just beginning the process of studying the Education research literature. Some of the ideas that I learned by trial and error are discusedOne approach to this problem is discussed in the University of Waterloo excerpt quoted below.

My 7/14/2014 Google search of the quoted phrase “learning for forgetting” produced only 134 hits. But, the search also suggested the related topics “learning and forgetting lab” and “learning and forgetting curve.” My 7/14/2014 Google search of the expression “learning and forgetting” produced over 10 million hits.

The UCLA Bjork Learning & Forgetting Lab

The Research section of Bjork Learning & Forgetting Lab site contains an extensive introduction to and overview of learning and forgetting. It also has a number of short video presentations by Bjork. The first of these provides research-based recommendations to teachers and students. Quoting from the Lab's website:

The primary goal of this research, which is funded by the James S. McDonnell foundation, is to promote learning and memory performance within educational contexts through the investigation of principles in cognitive psychology.

This line of work is also directed toward understanding the mechanisms behind metacognitive awareness of learning. Most people are inaccurate in measuring their own knowledge, through judgments of learning, because they mistakenly rely on the immediate access to knowledge in order to determine the long-term memory retention and the transfer of such knowledge to different contexts. The goal of these studies is to determine the type of instructions and study conditions that will foster accurate judgments of learning, which can lead to better predictions of future performance and optimal self-initiated study practices.

The site contains five sections:

1.  Retrieval as a memory modifier. “A much underappreciated fact is that retrieval itself can affect our memories.”

2.  How we learn versus how we think we learn: Desirable difficulties in theory and practice. “There are, in fact, certain training conditions that are difficult and appear to impede performance during training but that yield greater long-term benefits than their easier training counterparts.”

3.  Learning categories and concepts (inductive learning). “We are constantly faced with the challenge of categorizing and organizing the world into meaningful units of information.”

4.  Goal-directed forgetting. “Much work conducted in the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab has focused on goal-directed forgetting, that is, situations in which forgetting serves some implicit or explicit personal need.”

5.  Metacognition. “Accurate metamemory can be crucial for a student in determining the success of his or her own study program.”

University of Waterloo

The Study Skills Program at the University of Waterloo, Canada, presents an overview of the “learning/forgetting curve.” Quoting from this site:

On Day 1, at the beginning of the lecture, you go in knowing nothing, or 0%, (where the curve starts at the baseline). At the end of the lecture you know 100% of what you know, however well you know it (where the curve rises to its highest point).

By Day 2, if you have done nothing with the information you learned in that lecture, didn't think about it again, read it again, etc. you will have lost 50%-80% of what you learned. Our brains are constantly recording information on a temporary basis: scraps of conversation heard on the sidewalk, what the person in front of you is wearing. Because the information isn't necessary, and it doesn't come up again, our brains dump it all off, along with what was learned in the lecture that you actually do want to hold on to!

By Day 7, we remember even less, and by Day 30, we retain about 2%-3% of the original hour! This nicely coincides with midterm exams, and may account for feeling as if you've never seen this before in your life when you're studying for exams - you may need to actually re-learn it from scratch.

Here's the formula, and the case for making time to review material: Within 24 hours of getting the information—spend 10 minutes reviewing and you will raise the curve almost to 100% again. A week later (Day 7), it only takes 5 minutes to "reactivate" the same material, and again raise the curve. By Day 30, your brain will only need 2-4 minutes to give you the feedback, "Yup, I know that. Got it."

Learning that Lasts

The following article provides some recommendations to teachers:

Griffin, T.J. (7/14/2014). Learning that Lasts: Helping Students Remember and Use What You Teach. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 7/15/2014 from http://ww1.facultyfocus.com/eletter/profile/1/76.html.

Quoting from Griffin:

Consider the many and varied responsibilities of a student's brain. In addition to regulating the physical operations of the body, it has to process large amounts of sensory input and determine what to forget and what to remember. It is therefore understandable that most of what they see and hear gets quickly forgotten. There are three factors that determine the strength of an item in memory:

• Recency—How long has it been since last exposure?

• Frequency—How many times have they experienced it?

• Potency—What kind of impact did it have?

With all the sensory input our students experience, it should not surprise us that they quickly forget most of what is presented in our class. Rather than being frustrated with this process of forgetting, we can leverage it to help them learn and make that learning last.

Final Remarks

The information given above just barely touches the surface of the research on learning and forgetting. There are many additional general principles that can be used to enhance learning and long-term retention. Both students and their teachers can benefit from studying and practicing these principles.

What You Can Do

Pick one of the disciplines you teach. Do a Web search on learning and forgetting in that specific discipline. Read several of the entries, and think carefully about how they are related to your teaching strategies and your students. Discuss your insights with your students.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (2014). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.

Moursund, D. (April, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 4: Mastery learning and authentic assessment. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-135.html.

Moursund, D. (4/26/2014). Brain disorders and learning. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/cognitive-reserve.html.

Moursund, D. (4/24/2014). Does brain training work? IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/does-brain-training-work.html.

Moursund, D. (1/28/2014). Good learners. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/good-learners.html.

Moursund, D. (2013). Self-assessment. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Self_Assessment.

Moursund, D. (10/23/2013). Transfer of learning. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/14/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/transfer-of-learning.html.

(http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/10-ways-improve-transfer-learning/) i

 

 

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Comments

Guest - Hal Sadofsky on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 18:05
In many situations much of the learning is outside the classroom

The Waterloo quote caught my eye as a mathematician. It really isn't how math instruction should work.

After the lecture you understand _something_, but then you have to go away and do some problems. After doing a few mathematics problems, reviewing the lecture, rereading the textbook, _that_ is the moment when the curve measuring understanding to be gained from the lecture reaches its highest point.

Although most experienced math teachers understand this intuitively, we often haven't done a good enough job communicating this to our students. The Waterloo summary is misleading, at least for math students, as it reinforces the incorrect idea that you are going to reach a maximum of understanding by watching someone else do math in a lecture rather than by following up by doing the math yourself.

The Waterloo quote caught my eye as a mathematician. It really isn't how math instruction should work. After the lecture you understand _something_, but then you have to go away and do some problems. After doing a few mathematics problems, reviewing the lecture, rereading the textbook, _that_ is the moment when the curve measuring understanding to be gained from the lecture reaches its highest point. Although most experienced math teachers understand this intuitively, we often haven't done a good enough job communicating this to our students. The Waterloo summary is misleading, at least for math students, as it reinforces the incorrect idea that you are going to reach a maximum of understanding by watching someone else do math in a lecture rather than by following up by doing the math yourself.
David Moursund (website) on Saturday, 19 July 2014 20:08
Consciousness

There are many topics related to the topic of learning, forgetting, and relearning. Consciousness is one important example. Here are references that I have found useful:

Chalmers, D. (3/19/2014). The hard problem of consciousness: David Chalmers at TED2014. (18:37 video.) Retrieved 7/19/2014 from http://blog.ted.com/2014/03/19/the-hard-problem-of-consciousness-david-chalmers-at-ted2014/.

Dehaene, S. (2014). Consciousness and the brain: Deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. New York: Penguin.

Kaku, M. (2014). The future of the mind: The scientific quest to understand, enhance, and empower the mind. New York: Doubleday. See a video interview of Kaku discussing his book at http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/6zj4ki/michio-kaku. Kaku discusses consciousness and the importance of forgetting.

There are many topics related to the topic of learning, forgetting, and relearning. Consciousness is one important example. Here are references that I have found useful: Chalmers, D. (3/19/2014). The hard problem of consciousness: David Chalmers at TED2014. (18:37 video.) Retrieved 7/19/2014 from http://blog.ted.com/2014/03/19/the-hard-problem-of-consciousness-david-chalmers-at-ted2014/. Dehaene, S. (2014). Consciousness and the brain: Deciphering how the brain codes our thoughts. New York: Penguin. Kaku, M. (2014). The future of the mind: The scientific quest to understand, enhance, and empower the mind. New York: Doubleday. See a video interview of Kaku discussing his book at http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/6zj4ki/michio-kaku. Kaku discusses consciousness and the importance of forgetting.
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