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New Research about Study Habits and Learning

by Nat on September 10th, 2010

A quick link that I found in the excellent neuroscience/AI blog neurodudes:

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits (New York Times)

This article discusses some unorthodox (and perhaps counterintuitive) ways in which studiers can improve their recall, such as varying the environment in which you study material and not focusing on a single topic at a time.

I’m very interested in how learning/educational software can be optimized to improve data retention for humans who use it, so I find stuff like this very cool. I wonder if it would be possible to use findings like this in more interesting ways, like, for example, varying the UI (the fonts/background/general user experience) in a learning application every time the user uses it, so as to put the learning in a different context and let it build more neural pathways, rather than just running down the exact same ones as the last time the studying took place.

The article also discusses how frequent testing can help reinforce knowledge–a fact which surely hadn’t escaped the professors of several of my courses in college, which had daily quizzes on material covered the class before. But I wonder if there’s a way to make testing less intrusive, and thus more enjoyable for students? Or is it the very fact that testing itself can be stressful–thus inducing a mental state that is more likely to remember things, kind of like an extremely mild trauma–that makes it so effective for improving recall? (The article suggests as much, and I may have to agree.)

As advanced multimedia applications provide better and better capabilities for us to easily vary the environment in which and methods by which students (whether in school or out of it) learn, I think it’s important for us to keep trying new methods and adapting how we interface with the human brain in order to maximize retention. What do you think?

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