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How We Learn, Benedict Carey DGC Book Review

Do Distractions and Interruptions Improve How We Learn?

For those of you who don’t know, I am an avid reader. Reading is such an important part of my life that I made it one of my yearly goals.

Most of what I read is non-fiction, autobiographies, self-help, educational, or parenting in nature. Almost every book I read, has been given to me by a friend or business associate. So friends, if you want me to read and review a book, send it to me. hehe

Under that premise, I am starting a new weekly category called iRead. Hopefully, you can join me on our never-ending quest for learning. – Fred

“How We Learn” by Benedict Carey

Publisher: Random House 2015, 10 Chapters, 256 pages

Overview: Why do some kids do great, barely studying between breaks of Facebook and Minecraft, and sometimes out perform those dedicated to quiet predictable study routine? Is there any special way the brain works for long-term memory other than pure repetitive dull factual memorization?

Benedict Carey, an award-winning science reporter from The New York Times, takes us through an updated history of how we learn. He explains, through a dozen studies of quirky strategies, that our learning and retention techniques need altering. Distraction actually aids learning, and napping does too. Learning to quit before finishing and taking a pre-test on unseen material, greatly aids long-term memory. After reading this book, you’ll never approach learning quite the same way.

How We Learn: Learning Without Thinking

Favorite Chapter: Chapter 9, “Learning Without Thinking: Harnessing Perceptual Discrimination”

“What’s a good eye?” Carey explores research called PLM – perceptual learning module. In a case study, students were quickly exposed to brief introduction in nine sessions of an image and then asked to make a selection. The right answer was shown and the process repeated–quickly. He showed how this concept improved new pilot skills in 1/1000th of the time over traditional studies.

Carey further tried PLM on himself, identifying landscape art classification in a single sitting. The PLM concept is revolutionary for learning or classifying things that look the same to the untrained eye, but are not. I personally blown away by this technique and can’t wait to try it out personally.

How We Learn: Quotes from the Book

  • Distractions can aid learning. Napping does too. Quitting before a project is done… Taking a test on a subject before you know anything about it improves subsequent learning.
  • If the brain is a learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one. And it performs best when its quirks are exploited.
  • Yet we work more effectively, scientists have found, when we continually alter our study routines and abandon any “dedicated space” in favor of varied locations.
  • Studies find that the brain picks up patterns more efficiently when presented with a mixed bag of related tasks than when it’s force-fed just one.
  • Forgetting is critical to the learning of new skills and to the preservation and reacquisition of old ones.
  • Of those who studied and tested in the same condition, the silence-silence group did the worst. They recalled, on average, about half the words that the jazz-jazz or classical-classical group did (eleven versus twenty).
  • Distributed learning, in certain situations, can double the amount we remember later on.
  • Studying a new concept right after you learn it doesn’t deepen the memory much, if at all; studying it an hour later, or a day later, does.
  • On average, participants remembered 90 percent more of the interrupted and unfinished assignments than the ones they’d completed.
  • We should start work on large projects as soon as possible and stop when we get stuck.
  • Skills improve quickly and then plateau. Varied practice produces a slower apparent rate of improvement in each single session but a greater accumulation of skill and learning over time.
  • The Night Shift Theory: sleep has benefits too–precisely for sorting through and consolidating what we’re just been studying or practicing.

How We Learn: My Concluding Takeaways & Call-to-Actions

What I have learned from this book is my concept of traditional learning needs to be updated. New techniques and skills can be applied to my life to aid in retention of facts. So far this year, this book has had the highest impact in regards to my call-to-action…

  • I will add daily naps to my work day, when possible, but not more than 90 minutes.
  • I will break big projects in to random weekly spacing.
  • I will start to play different types of music when I blog, write code, or work on projects.
  • I will stop, abandon and change task when I get stuck.
  • I will implement a PLM style of learning for language and factual memorization.
  • I will change the way I study to include a mix bag of new skills.

In short, I think this book could be revolutionary as an educator or a parent who wants to improve the learning styles of our children or ourselves. Five stars and two thumbs up. Oh wait, we interrupt this blog post–for a nap!

What non-conventional learning or study techniques have you discovered?

Book image from Amazon.

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Fred Campos, Top Geek, blogs about everything from House of Cards to Subway. In addition to blogging, he is a public speaker and humorist in child custody, social media, web development and parenting. He is married to one @SuperParentMom, and raising three world changers. For more details on his custody course visit, www.DaddyGotCustody.com/course. Like this post? Make sure you subscribe to this blog.

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