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Developing A Learning Framework (12/04/2022)

We've covered various learning methods before, many of which were drawn from personal experience. I wanted to share a useful framework that I recently came across that ties many things together...

One month ago, the YouTube channel Python Programmer shared an interesting scientific paper entitled, "Teaching the Science of Learning" by Yana Weinstein, Christopher Madan, and Megan Sumeracki. [It is freely available at the previous link, both in HTML and as a downloadable PDF. It is packed with examples that are worth looking at if you have the time.]

Within it, the authors share "six key learning strategies" that are often missing when subjects are taught, but which are quite effective according to research into Cognitive Psychology (i.e.: the study of how the mind works). To paraphrase the first table within the document, these six learning strategies are:

Strategy Description
Elaboration Asking and explaining why and how things work
Concrete Examples When studying abstract concepts, illustrating them with specific examples
Dual Coding Combining words with visuals
Interleaving Switching between [related] topics while studying
Spaced Practice Creating a study schedule that spreads study activities out over time
Retrieval Practice Bringing learned information to mind from long-term memory

I have put them in an order different from how they are presented within the paper in an attempt to show how they build upon one another. Notice that some of them have to do with the nature of the study material itself (e.g.: Concrete Examples), while others have to do with how that material is approached during study (e.g.: Interleaving). When I say "study material", I am not only referring to the resources that we are learning from, but also the notes and other multimedia that we produce as a result of interacting with it. What we "take with us" is useful for periodic review (i.e.: Spaced Practice).

There are a few ideas that I would like to emphasize...

• We must take some time to get clear on motivations, both in the sense of our purpose for learning a topic and how it relates to other skills. Whenever possible, connect each new piece of information to what is already known without making misleading assumptions about it (i.e.: Elaboration). Start with facts that can be readily observed and then knit them together with models that try to explain them (i.e.: Concrete Examples).

Dual Coding might seem trivial. Do not underestimate the explanatory value of a well-constructed visualization. In general, what principles constitute "good" Information Design? We should seek them out as much as possible within our study material.

• What is most vital to our understanding may not be apparent when we are first starting a subject. This is especially the case with compound skills, like trying to tackle how to play an instrument and all of the Music Theory behind it simultaneously. This process is comprised of many interlocking components that depend upon one another in various ways. Therefore, try to find the links between the different aspects as you cycle through them (i.e.: Interleaving).

• When studying things like language, it quickly becomes apparent that repetition of a phrase that one has heard is different from the creation of a phrase that expresses one's intention. In other words, being able to recall something is not the same as being able to apply it dynamically. If circumstances change from the practice examples, can we use still use the information effectively? Try to build something constructive with it, a project that you and other people can enjoy together!

Personal experience plays an important role when it comes to Retrieval Practice. For example, how well do you remember the events of your own life in comparison to the contents of the books that you have read? If we develop a vivid imagination, this experience can be leveraged to aid our memory.

The Spiral Curriculum implements many of these strategies and more can be easily adapted to its structure.

We hope that this has been helpful. Happy studying!

Some music:
Happy The Man - Service With A Smile [The entire Crafty Hands album is great.]

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