Re-How to remember everything you learn

Last week’s column, ”How to remember everything you learn” drew a lot of reactions from readers. Of course, that should be expected, after all, the method we discussed, retrieval practice,  is the best learning technique ever invented. Yet, I was a bit surprised at how much people found it more relatable this time – the same can’t be said of my treatment of the topic  in the past.

Indeed some authors have used the method in combination with technology to make learning fun and get learners addicted to studying.

Mark Myers, for example, has done that through his books on programming. He simplifies coding concepts by providing very short chapters (some chapters are only two pages long) and then nudges the reader into retrieval practice by providing a link for online practice. While doing the online practice, the student receives immediate feedback such as ”well done!” this encourages the student to continue.

In the introduction of his Python book, he wrote:

”If you embrace this method of learning, you’ll get the hang of Python in less time than you might expect. And the knowledge will stick. You’ll catch onto concepts quickly. You’ll be less bored, and might even be excited. You’ll certainly be motivated. You’ll feel confident instead of frustrated. You’ll remember the lessons long after you close the book.

Is all this too much for a book to promise? Yes, it is. Yet I can make these promises and keep them, because this isn’t just a book. It’s a book plus almost a thousand interactive online exercises. You’re going to learn by doing. You’ll read a chapter, then practice with the exercises. That way, the knowledge gets embedded in your memory so you don’t forget it. Instant feedback corrects your mistakes like a one-on-one teacher.

I’ve done my best to write each chapter so it’s easy for anyone to understand, but it’s the exercises that are going to turn you into a real Python coder.”

But upon what does he base his research?

”Cognitive research shows that reading alone doesn’t buy you much long- term retention, ” Mark Myers continued.

”Even if you read a book a second or even a third time, things won’t improve much, according to research.

And forget highlighting or underlining. Marking up a book gives us the illusion that we’re engaging with the material, but studies show that it’s an exercise in self-deception. It doesn’t matter how much yellow you paint on the pages, or how many times you review the highlighted material. By the time you get to Chapter 50, you’ll have forgotten most of what you highlighted in Chapter 1.  This all changes if you read less and do more-if you read a short passage and then immediately put it into practice. Washington University researchers say that being asked to retrieve information increases long-term retention by four hundred per cent. That may seem implausible, but by the time you finish this book, I think you’ll believe it. Practice also makes learning more interesting.  Trying to absorb long passages of technical material puts you to sleep and kills your motivation. Ten minutes of reading followed by fifteen minutes of challenging practice keeps you awake and spurs you on.

And it keeps you honest.”

Wouldn’t it be a great achievement for mankind if we can fashion a way to get our students hooked to learning the way they do football, computer games and TV? That would be a great day indeed; it may be closer than you think. It is the area of research I am looking into.

Following are some of the comments from my readers.

Beautiful one sir. Allah qara ilimi and wisdom.

Khadija Ado Muhammad

Thank you sir, for boosting our confidence.

Engr Usman

I did an online course on edx called think-101 in which John Dunlosky was a resource person. I used his learning technique during Msc and I find it very useful. Well done Prof!

Engr Ibrahim Yayaji

Thank you Sir.  This really helps me during undergraduate.

Abdullahi Yusuf Bawan Allah

This makes me feel like going to school again.


Well Done my Doctor!

Since when I read  your fantastic article I found it very interesting because for the past six years I have been looking for a theory that would help me my students to develop reading, writing, understanding and memorizing accordingly.  I have read the article almost five times with outmost attention and later start applying same to my students. Some students were sampled, the methods were found very effective….. I will apply the same method to the rest of my students. We are thanking you always Sir. SABO Jamilu Sa’idu  ABU Zaria.

I am a final year medical student . just started using it and to my surprise studying has become much more easier for me than before.its highly effective prof.

 Abdulmalik Ibrahim Ayya

600level MBBS Bayero University Kano

I used the retrieval practice extensively in my undergraduate & post graduate days. Like most students I found that there were concepts I needed to cram & those that I needed to read and understand. So I would read like a page or two and close my book and try to recall the facts. I would do this continually until I master the particular topic or concept. Interestingly, I never knew the retrieval practice is a concept that scholars have worked on. I just felt I needed to test myself one way or the other to know if I have gained from my reading or not.It is indeed a very effective learning method

Rasheed Babatunde Adekunle

The retrieval method really works. When I’m not being lazy, I use it to read, and it’s always been more beneficial than outright reading only. That thing about teaching making what you know stick better is very true. We still practice it in postgraduate studies.

Dr. Habiba

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