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Education Science

UCLA Professor Says Conventional Wisdom on Study Habits Is All Washed Up 329

Posted by timothy
from the my-insomnesia-got-me-through-school dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Taking notes during class? Topic-focused study? A consistent learning environment? According to Robert Bjork, director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab, distinguished professor of psychology, and massively renowned expert on packing things in your brain in a way that keeps them from leaking out, all are three are exactly opposite the best strategies for learning."
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UCLA Professor Says Conventional Wisdom on Study Habits Is All Washed Up

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  • Do Not Want (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @06:50PM (#38860121)
    I do not want to hear about experts in learning from someone who non-ironically refers to one of them as a "massively renowned expert."
    • Re:Do Not Want (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 29, 2012 @06:58PM (#38860151)

      Welcome to academia. If you don't tell people you are important, they won't know and won't care. There is a saying that a PhD is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. An academic career is 10% inspiration, 40% perspiration and 50% marketing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's Common Law modesty. PhDs in most subjects are still quite hard and you have to be reasonably clever to get one.

        • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Interesting)

          by solidraven (1633185) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:12AM (#38862481)
          PhDs in psychology aren't hard to get. Actually, psychology is what we commonly call the trash can of higher education. If you want to get a degree and are useless for everything else then you're ready for studying psychology. His methods all sound nice, "don't take notes!". Well, he should go and try that in engineering. Lets see how long he'll last.
          • Re:Do Not Want (Score:5, Insightful)

            by wagnerrp (1305589) on Monday January 30, 2012 @06:15AM (#38863165)

            His methods all sound nice, "don't take notes!". Well, he should go and try that in engineering. Lets see how long he'll last.

            Sounds reasonable to me. Your engineering textbooks contain all the equations, formula, and methodologies you need to learn to get a degree, so why do you go to class? The classes teach you the background of why those methods are used, and when is the proper occasion to use them. When you take extensive notes, half your attention is spent recording the lecture verbatim, and you're not actually taking an active part in learning it.

            He's saying don't do that. Pay attention. Think about what is actually being said. At some point in the short term after the class, while all that stuff is still fresh in your mind, replay through the class and write as much of it as you can down. The forced recollection will leave a far better imprint. If there are things you missed, ask a classmate, review the text, go meet the teacher in their office. You've got more than one chance to acquire all this information.

            • by pugugly (152978)

              I confess, the only class I ever (consistently) took notes in was my World History in college. Math/Science/Programming were always so easy I never needed notes, but history had a lot of information that I needed to access, and I took copious notes.

              I'm not sure I ever studied the notes afterward - there is something about going in via the ear and flowing out the hand that recorded it in a denser format than just listening in class did, but I never actually studied the notes afterward, and I aced both semest

            • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Monday January 30, 2012 @11:07AM (#38864757)

              Sounds reasonable to me. Your engineering textbooks contain all the equations, formula, and methodologies you need to learn to get a degree, so why do you go to class?

              This may be a surprise, but not all professors teach from a book. In fact, some professors teach information so new that isn't in very many books at all, even Wikipedia.

              Further, taking notes shouldn't be just about learning material for an exam. Good notes will serve you well past the final of the course. I still reference some of my notes from my physics undergraduate because they are more clear an concise than any textbook I've found on the subject. And of course they should be, since they were written by me for my understanding.

              Some people say all you get when you leave college is a piece of paper. They're doing it wrong. I left with volumes (at least 40 books) of detailed notes on topics from philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, psychology, chemistry, computer engineering, etc.

              He's saying don't do that. Pay attention. Think about what is actually being said. At some point in the short term after the class, while all that stuff is still fresh in your mind, replay through the class and write as much of it as you can down. The forced recollection will leave a far better imprint. If there are things you missed, ask a classmate, review the text, go meet the teacher in their office. You've got more than one chance to acquire all this information.

              Wast that exponent -b*k_j,i or -b*k_i,j? Can't tell you how many times I've had to remember something so minuscule with so great an impact. And if all of my friends follow this advise, no one will be taking notes and no one will have a definitive answer. And then 40+ people are visiting the professor to clarify stupid mistakes. After answering the same question 40 times eventually he'll just say "you should have been taking notes."

            • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Insightful)

              by ChrisMaple (607946) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:55PM (#38868403)

              Your engineering textbooks contain all the equations, formula, and methodologies you need to learn to get a degree

              I vividly remember my acoustics professor pointing out errors in the textbook. If I hadn't taken notes, I wouldn't have been able to identify the particular error later on; If I relied on the textbook I would have been screwed.

              Math texts don't always provide derivations, which have to be obtained by taking notes on the lecture. Then study those notes to learn the derivation and pass the test. Unless you're as smart as the guy who did the derivation the first time, possibly after weeks or months or years of struggling, don't expect to be able to do it yourself.

          • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Interesting)

            by ukemike (956477) on Monday January 30, 2012 @10:46AM (#38864493) Homepage

            His methods all sound nice, "don't take notes!". Well, he should go and try that in engineering. Lets see how long he'll last.

            I have a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. I was inducted as a member of Pi Tau Sigma (the ME Honor Society) I rarely took notes. I found that taking notes forced me to concentrate on writing down what the lecturer said. Listening let me focus on understanding what he said. There were exceptions of course, and I wouldn't presume to tell others that my study methods are for them, but they worked for me.

      • Re:Do Not Want (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:37PM (#38860599)
        I can't speak to how true that is generally, but it's not true here. As a grad student in psychology and cognitive science, I can tell you that Bob Bjork is sufficiently well-established in the field that he doesn't need to tell anyone else he's important - they know it already. I was fortunate enough to hear him give a talk on this topic a couple of weeks ago, and he cited a number of his studies in the memory and learning literature that I'd heard of before without remembering that he was a coauthor on all of them. (It was a bit like that moment where you suddenly realize that a bunch of songs you like are all written by the same band.) In this case, at least, his renown is attributable primarily to the hard work he's put in over the last several decades.
        • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Interesting)

          by t4ng* (1092951) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @11:50PM (#38861593)

          Since you seem to know Dr. Bjork.... TFA mentions using interleaving for learning physical skills like tennis and ballroom dancing. As a former dance instructor I have witnessed numerous students trying to do too much at once (taking classes with multiple teachers, working on numerous skills at the same time). Dance students trying to learn this way become hopelessly confused, suck horribly, and usually quit in frustration. On the other hand, dance students that take the time to master fundamental skills before moving on to more complex ones find it much easier to master new skills. In fact, they eventually reach a level where they can analyze a movement by another dancer, figure it out on their own without an instructor, and master it with some practice.

          I would assert that any complex physical skill like dancing, tennis, martial arts, etc. is a learning process, you can not interleave. The student must become proficient at the fundamental physical skills before moving on to more complex ones. There are no shortcuts. In fact, in dance instruction, the instructors claiming to have shortcuts to becoming a great dancer - fast, are the unscrupulous ones that have no clue what they are doing and produce horrible dancers. I suspect the same is true of the field of martial arts based on stories from friends who have studied martial arts for decades.

          • Re:Do Not Want (Score:5, Informative)

            by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:08AM (#38861829)

            The article says to avoid learning disparate skills like dancing and tennis at the same time.

            it says something like "learn several moves of a dance style interleaved... that way you will integrate the different moves and learn the dance faster overall".

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by FunkyLich (2533348)
            I agree with the physical skills subject. Having done martial arts for 8 years, I can say that if you want to really learn, at first you need to learn the very basic moves, and repeat them till your mind explodes from boredom. In the meanwhile your also learn from the instructor the philosophy, the logic why it makes sense, some story behind each move, and so on. As time goes by, repetition-till-boredom has actually produced some conditioned instincts for the basic moves which now can just happen without yo
            • by tehcyder (746570) on Monday January 30, 2012 @12:42PM (#38865961) Journal

              I can say that if you want to really learn, at first you need to learn the very basic moves, and repeat them till your mind explodes from boredom. In the meanwhile your also learn from the instructor the philosophy, the logic why it makes sense, some story behind each move, and so on.

              I skipped all the "yes grasshopper" king fu bollocks and just bought a spetnatz DVD showing you how to slice someone's head in half with an entrenching tool at twenty yards.

          • Re:Do Not Want (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Rhywden (1940872) on Monday January 30, 2012 @05:45AM (#38863059)

            You misunderstood what he was saying.
            Of course you have to train the basics. Just not one move/method/topic exclusively.

            Let's take ballroom dancing as an example: Interleaving for a beginner would mean that he trained the basic steps of Disco Fox, the basic steps of Rumba, the basic steps of Tango... - and not exclusively the basic steps of Disco Fox until he mastered them, only then moving on to the next dance.

        • I did not read TFA to its end; part way through it I realized that I had not re-enabled my browser protections (Noscript, etc) after disabling them while diagnosing a connectivity problem yesterday. And with the protections working, I cannot get that link to load. Go figure.

          But I got far enough into the article to see that he was using psychomotor learning as an example. And while clearly playing tennis or riding a bicycle requires developing a whole lot of different motor skills simultaneously such that

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:07PM (#38860199) Journal

      I gotta concede that Professor Bjork's brain is much better than mine.

      Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during â" forcing yourself to recall a lectureâ(TM)s information is more effective than simply copying it from a blackboard

      That might work for him because his brain has the capacity to recall all the stuffs _after_ the class is over. Not me.

      If I waited till the class is over and _then_ started to write down the notes based on what I recall, I probably can recall 15% to 20% of the total thing.

      Granted, not every single word from the lecturer mouth is useful, but still, about 30% of the stuffs an average lecturer taught in an average college level class is relevant in _someway_ to the subject in hand.

      My own ability to recall only 15% to 20% means that there will be essential stuffs that I would have missed.

      • by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <tw.norseman@gmail. c o m> on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:15PM (#38860233)

        That might work for him because his brain has the capacity to recall all the stuffs _after_ the class is over. Not me.

        If I waited till the class is over and _then_ started to write down the notes based on what I recall, I probably can recall 15% to 20% of the total thing.

        That might be true, right now. How about after a little bit of practice? You might be surprised to find out that it won't take too long for you to be able to improve your after-class recall ability.

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

          That might work for him because his brain has the capacity to recall all the stuffs _after_ the class is over. Not me.

          If I waited till the class is over and _then_ started to write down the notes based on what I recall, I probably can recall 15% to 20% of the total thing.

          That might be true, right now. How about after a little bit of practice? You might be surprised to find out that it won't take too long for you to be able to improve your after-class recall ability.

          What you said makes sense for some subjects but not all.

          If the subject at hand is math, or programming, or laying bricks, for example, practicing what I just heard from the class do tend to re-enforce what I recall

          But what if the subject in hand is quantum mechanics, or nuclear physics, or subjects that are more conceptual than practical?

          • When I was learning those topics (all the ones you listed save for laying bricks) I didn't take any notes in class. Maybe I'm just the target subject, but if I forgot something in QM then I can still remember enough to look it up in my text or even online.

            Instead of QM and nuclear physics, I would have used literature analysis or the like, because there you specifically want the professor's insights rather than verifiable points of fact.

            • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @09:20PM (#38860831) Homepage

              When I was learning those topics (all the ones you listed save for laying bricks) I didn't take any notes in class. Maybe I'm just the target subject, but if I forgot something in QM then I can still remember enough to look it up in my text or even online.

              Instead of QM and nuclear physics, I would have used literature analysis or the like, because there you specifically want the professor's insights rather than verifiable points of fact.

              My intro quantum professor had very chaotic notes. They were non-linear, jumping around from board to board. I took notes, but I think the notes were more pointers or reminders of points made in class. The professor had a way of referring to material in many other courses, both taken and to be taken by most of the students. And yet it all made sense in a deep way. Going to his lectures was like going on a journey. By the time the lecture was over, you felt as if you had been transported somewhere else.

              When I hear educational theorists pronouncing with dogmatic certainty that lectures are an ineffective method of instruction I think back to that course, and find that I am skeptical of their dogma. Lectures are no doubt ineffective in many cases, but I think that such masterful lecturers are the exceptions that disprove their axiomatic claims.

              • My intro quantum professor had very chaotic notes. They were non-linear, jumping around from board to board.[...] And yet it all made sense in a deep way.

                I don't know if you meant this on purpose, but doesn't that seem extremely fitting for a course on quantum mechanics?

          • But what if the subject in hand is quantum mechanics, or nuclear physics, or subjects that are more conceptual than practical?

            Good example. My personal experience has been, however, that I'm not too concerned with taking precise notes in those kinds of situations; for me, it'd be too distracting for me to be busily trying to take notes and be distracted enough to miss the nuances of more in-depth subjects.

          • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @09:07PM (#38860753) Homepage

            But what if the subject in hand is quantum mechanics, or nuclear physics, or subjects that are more conceptual than practical?

            I remember learning quantum mechanics. I remember reading a particular paragraph in a textbook over and over, because I knew it was important. I remember that in reading that paragraph, something eventually clicked, and the entire course became more clear. It seemed to happen in a moment. Suddenly, everything before and after in the course made sense in a deeper way. It was exhilarating. I don't use the material so much now, but I suspect that if I went back and re-read it, I would understand it at a much deeper and more lasting level than I did then. I find this has been so with many other topics in my university education.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 29, 2012 @09:45PM (#38860971)

              I went through the Navy Nuclear training pipeline about 15 years ago. The nuclear power school portion was not easy for me. It was in a classroom environment day after day and I spent 14-16 hours 6 days a week for 6 straight months in those classrooms. Not even leaving the building for lunch or dinner. It was not until about 3/4 of the way through and on the verge of failing out that it finally started to "click". Everything suddenly made complete sense and I was able to tie everything past and present that we were learning together and just started to make sense. I ended up doing very well on the final (even better then most in my class that had much higher GPA there than I did. I went on to the next school which was 90% hands on at a nuclear reactor plant and then to a submarine as an operator. The rest of my nuclear training and work was a breeze from that point where it clicked and I made rank and qualified all of my nuclear watch positions very fast. I learn by understanding, strict memorization without understanding does not work for me. I can rattle off neutron life cycle and reactivity equations and give you detailed explanations of theory and power plant operational characteristics but ask me to learn a list of the US Presidents and I will fail miserably.

      • Mod parent up! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by khasim (1285)

        Trying to recall the material AFTER the class means that you WILL forget things.

        But it gets a bit worse. From TFA:

        Note that thereâ(TM)s a trick implied by âoeprovided the retrieval succeedsâ: You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable.

        And how are you supposed to accomplish that? I'm sure that it really does work in the tests they've performed. But how would you implement that on your own?

        How do you know that yo

        • Re:Mod parent up! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:48PM (#38860389) Journal

          Note that thereÃ(TM)s a trick implied by Ãoeprovided the retrieval succeedsÃ: You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable.

          And how are you supposed to accomplish that? I'm sure that it really does work in the tests they've performed. But how would you implement that on your own?

          What Professor Bjork proposed does work, but only to some degree, based on my own experience

          For me, the learning process is a bit like digesting food

          My puny little brain just can't process all the new info/ideas/concepts that it has just received, and a lot of those new info ended up somehow cramped up in some secret compartments somewhere

          As time goes by, my brain (and this puny little semi-retarded brain of my does not stop working even when I'm asleep) digests the stored information, bit by bit - often without me knowing what's going on

          But those bit-by-bit info-digestion do add up, and they contribute to moments of "insights" or "enlightenment" when I encouter some sets of similar but un-related information

          Take language --- I am not an English native speaker.

          The first time I learned English it took me literary years to comprehend the basics

          But when I encounter Spanish, French, Italian, Portugese, Latin in later years I found that I can get along with these language much faster than I first encounter English

          It might be that the digestive-process of the English Language in my mind that took decades somehow contributed in my enhance ability to match words (similar but not exact match) and that helped a lot

          How do you know that you're about to forget something if you don't recall it within the next 24 hours? Without recalling that you recall it right now?

          All I can say is that while our brains may be similar they are still different

          Maybe Professor Bjork's brain is much better than mine that's why he could master things that I can't.

          And maybe there are people with brains that are much superior than the one in between the ears of Professor Bjork, and they can get instant recall to _every_single_thing, without effort.

        • Re:Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by swalve (1980968) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:00PM (#38860429)

          Again as with the initial "notes after class". How do you KNOW that you have NOT forgotten something?

          Because instead of being a stenographer, you were paying attention and learning. If you listen to the lecture knowing that you will have to summarize it right after, you will remember what needs to be remembered. It's the difference between learning something and memorizing something.

      • by Fzz (153115) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:26PM (#38860305)
        I've always found that I can take notes, or understand, but I can't do both. Back when I was a student, i generally taken almost no notes - just perhaps half a page to a page in an hours lecture - just the key points and nothing else to act as reminders later. It always worked well for me - I seemed to be the only person who actually understood stuff.

        Of course, revision for exams was interesting, but it really was revision, because I didn't have enough notes to attempt to learn anything during revision. Probably fits with the article - remembering during revision was hard, but once I had remembered, I really knew it well.

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:36PM (#38860339) Journal
          One of my father's lecturers said that information was transferred from him to his students notes without going through their brains. I never took notes in lectures when I went to university and I generally did better than people who did. If you don't understand something, go and read a book about it after the lecture. Distracting yourself from the lecturer while you're trying to understand what he's saying isn't going to help.
        • I took pages and pages and pages of notes - not everything said but what I felt was a distillation of the important things.

          Then... I never looked at my notes again. I didn't need to. If I had trouble with something, I could picture writing it down and usually work out which part of what page it was one, and then picture what I'd written with enough clarity to recall the gist.

          Eventually I figured out that the act of processing lecture into key points to document was the way I learned, and now I take notes

      • by gstrickler (920733) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:17PM (#38860489)

        If you're taking many notes, you're not really listening. If you're really listening, you'll remember much more at the end of class and you'll be able to fill in a lot of notes.

        Here's what I've found works for most people if they're willing to try it. Listen to the lecture and make very short notes about the most important points and/or details that you want to remember. Then, fill in additional notes at the end of class (or at the next break). Discuss them with other students if needed to fill in what you may have missed. How do you know what you missed? It if seemed important, you should have a brief note about it. Also, in discussing it with other students you'll hear what they noted as "important" and can add that to your notes if necessary.

        If you're a touch typist, it's less distracting to type notes, writing requires more attention. That might not apply on touchscreen devices.

        Another option is to record the session on a voice recorder to help fill in the gaps you can't remember at the end of class. Of course, it can take extra time to listen again, but for a few people, that might be the most effective method.

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:26PM (#38860547) Journal

          Here's what I've found works for most people if they're willing to try it. Listen to the lecture and make very short notes about the most important points and/or details that you want to remember.

          Hence lie several dilemma:

          1. When I take notes, even very very short notes, I have to "switch" my focus from "listening to / looking at the lecturer" to focus on "looking at the stuffs I write on the paper / screen"

          In other words, the time I use to write / type in the very very short note is the very time I can't focus on the lecturer

          2. How do I judge which information are of "more importance"? Take take judgment call, and in order to make a judgment call, I need to scan the info that are already inside my brain and pick out what's more important

          And in doing that, I loose focus on the lecturer and what he/she is telling me at that point in time

          Then, fill in additional notes at the end of class (or at the next break). Discuss them with other students if needed to fill in what you may have missed.

          Yes, I do find that very rewarding, especially if I can find classmates that have the ability to look at the same subject from a different point of view, and we can exchange our different POV on the same subject and we all learn together

          • If you're having to switch your focus, you're either writing too much, or you need more practice at listening. Again, if you're a touch typist, you shouldn't have to change focus at all, just type.

      • by hey! (33014) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:20PM (#38860507) Homepage Journal

        I always had a very good memory for lecture material. I typically took notes, then never had to look at them again. Nor do I pay *any* attention to notes while I am taking them. I just scribble along, focused on the instructor, or sometimes jotting thoughts that are provoked. In fact I think worrying about structuring your notes as you take them just distracts you from the material you're supposed to be learning. My study time tends to be spent on *reasoning* about the material, or working practice problems, not driving facts into my skull long hoping they'll stay there long enough for me to use them on the test.

        So if I never refer to my notes, why take them at all? Because when I didn't take notes, the magic didn't work. It's possible taking notes ensured I was paying attention, but I think there' s more to it than that. I'm reasonably certain that physical activity that's tied to the visual and auditory information did something to fix the material in my memory.

        If that is true, why it should be so is beyond me. The brain is complicated, ad hoc hunk of goo that evolved to keep us alive and procreating on the African savanna. It's got its own way of doing things, and doesn't have to play by the rules set by our theories of education or psychology. But to this day I never go to an important meeting without a stack of paper and pencils.

        • Well said. As for why taking notes helps, the memory is associative, so the more senses that are stimulated in ways that reinforce the material, the stronger the association. Writing, seeing it as you write it, and hearing it give you three different accesses to the material. The act of writing down key words and seeing that key word shortly after having heard the material reinforces the association. It's the reason multi-media learning is so effective (when the content is good quality and engaging), and wh

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Indeed. I remember "Electromagnetics II" course and some of the work we did in there. The professor would lead us through some contrived problem which is intended to demonstrate the principles we'd been taught. Trying to do that from memory would be impossible - the man went through 8 chalkboards to solve the problem, including one memorable equation that crossed, from left to right, 10 meters of mathematical expression. So after class... was that integral from 0 to 2*pi, or -pi to +pi, or... ah, let me

      • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:30PM (#38860561) Homepage

        I always found the key to taking notes was to only jot out very quick ideas that strike you as important, that you might not be able to remember later. Don't try to capture everything, just capture an outline of the most important things that you won't remember on your own.

        Then after that, after class, immediately go somewhere and type up your notes. Flesh them out a bit-- give more detail of what you can remember, explain to yourself why you thought the things you wrote down were important. This after-class session gives you a chance to reorganize your notes and add to them while things are still fresh in your mind. It also will help you remember things later. Even write yourself a little report afterwards if that helps.

        I've watched too many people takes notes where they seem intent on copying down all the information being presented. This is a bad idea. You get so focused on capturing it all that you aren't paying attention and aren't thinking about what is being presented. If you really need all the information for later, then see if you can record the lecture. However, it generally shouldn't be necessary. Along with everything else, when you take so many notes, they're basically useless later. There's too much. It's much better to keep your notes to the bare essentials.

      • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:31PM (#38860575) Journal

        I looked over half the thread of comments and glanced at the summary, and it seems that everyone is still missing the way I used to study.

        1. Diagram/Map/Lay out the book chapter(s) before the class.

        2. In class, just put little dots or something that's a repeat of the book.

        3. Then when the Prof. goes off into some other topic, then take real notes, sometimes in a different color. A lot of times those notes are the ones that show up on exams when you get a mean Prof. who prides themselves on making exams "that you had to be in class to pass".

        Even better, *Record* the lectures! What's with all this "try to recall it later?" On the couple times I tried it, I did better listening to the lecture *three times* and mapping that out on paper next to the book notes.

        It was enough to get me B's and B+'s. (I didn't get A's because I'd always miss something, but overall, I didn't mind the half-grade slide once I left college.)

      • "That might work for him because his brain has the capacity to recall all the stuffs _after_ the class is over. Not me."

        I think you have a point there.

        Probably not every brain will work the same at that level. And not only because the brain itself but because of what have you accustomed yourself and the environment you are forced to live with.

        Another poster noted that you shouldn't take notes during the class but right after it. Well, right after the class I usually had... another class. What then?

        Others

      • Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during

        That's nice in theory, and totally useless in practice. In reality, full time students have many lectures during the day, and they often follow each other with just enough time to walk from one room into another. So there's no time to actually write up notes from memory until lunch (when you're tired and hungry) or after the day is over (when you're also tired and hungry, and have assignments to think about). And if you wait until the

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @06:54PM (#38860135)
    Thanks to the old system, it was easy.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:12PM (#38860219)

      Thanks to the old system, it was easy.

      Not to me.

      Endless rote memorization: writing, flash cards, drills, ugh!

      Humans naturally want to learn. It's innate in our being and yet, we get to school and hate it - at least 90% of us do. (The other 10% are the A students. )

      When we're left to our own devices and learning something that we're interested in, do we learn like we do in school? I don't. It's all one big discovery. And the wonderful thing about the internet, it makes following curiosities even easier - until you tired and head over to Fark.

      • by causality (777677) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:28PM (#38860315)

        Thanks to the old system, it was easy.

        Not to me.

        Endless rote memorization: writing, flash cards, drills, ugh!

        Humans naturally want to learn. It's innate in our being and yet, we get to school and hate it - at least 90% of us do. (The other 10% are the A students. )

        When we're left to our own devices and learning something that we're interested in, do we learn like we do in school? I don't. It's all one big discovery. And the wonderful thing about the internet, it makes following curiosities even easier - until you tired and head over to Fark.

        This is easily the most insightful yet commonsense comment in the entire discussion. Modern schooling sucks the life and soul out of learning and produces factory-style people who have forgotten what curiosity and the joy of discovery is all about.

        I believe that's by design. It results in people who can't or won't educate themselves, who were raised to believe that education is something another person must give to you. They're simply easier to rule, especially when propaganda (particularly framing) and soundbites are your major tools.

  • by davesque (1911272) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @06:54PM (#38860141)
    I majored in music in college. Throughout my life, I've gone through various phases of being out of practice, getting back into the practicing groove, falling out of it, getting back into it again, and so on. I've noticed every time I return to the instrument after having taken a long break, there is a short period of difficulty followed by a burst of learning and progress. Sounds just like what the prof is talking about.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @06:57PM (#38860147) Homepage

    Bjork should stick to making creepy pop music and leave education to the professionals.

  • Yes College CS is like serves, synchronized swimming, European capitals, and programming in Java. where they mix in lot's of use less skills and stuff that is very far what you want learn.

    Now for IT tech work CS is loaded with stuff that is far off from what is the basic of IT some stuff you can only pick up by doing real work.

    Take CS and tech school.

    Tech school Let's say you take a windows sever / desktop cores line they may Interleaving some cisco, some VB.

    But CS has Lot's of theory with SOME (way less th

    • by ALeavitt (636946)
      To be honest, if on-the-job training results in an inability to write legible English, I'll stick with college.
      • I was about to post the same thing.

        Maybe English isn't Joe_Dragon's first language, to which I would give him a pass. However, his mistakes look more like someone who learned it poorly as a first language. There are lots (not lot's) of examples of that on the web, while there are lots of examples of people learning English as a second, third or fourth language who can read and write it perfectly.

        *sighs*

    • by digitig (1056110)
      CS teaches the stuff you need for CS work, but there's not much of that around. The stuff you describe is IT work, which is a different thing altogether, and for which I agree that a CS qualification is of limited use. Somebody needs to be devising new algorithms for challenging tasks and calculating their efficiency, but you don't want them to be doing that when you're waiting for them to get the network running again.
      • Tell that to HR and the PHB boss who has no idea on that and tell him that the network is down do him not signing off on the funds to get new hardware and get backup / add Redundancy to the hardware setup.

        If it works don't fix it does not = keeping useing old stuff right up to it dieing / saying we don't need Redundancy.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      If you want a job in IT, you don't take a CS degree. It's as simple as that and I still can't fathom why people can't get it through their bloody heads.

      I am in a computer science degree at university. The goal of the degree is NOT to make you a good programmer or sysadmin or whatever. It's about making you a scientist (you know, the S after C?). Research, learning, development, touching a little of everything... so you can take a Master's degree in whichever direction you'd prefer. You're getting groomed up

  • ... the taking notes just after a lecture idea does seem a really rather good idea.

    • Re:I have to say (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rherbert (565206) <slashdot.orgNO@SPAMryan.xar.us> on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:05PM (#38860193) Homepage
      ... unless you have another class right afterwards, or you forget one of the 10 points he outlined in class. Helping memory recall is a secondary reason to take notes. The primary is to have a complete reference for when you forget.
      • Re:I have to say (Score:4, Interesting)

        by adamdoyle (1665063) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:11PM (#38860211)

        ... unless you have another class right afterwards, or you forget one of the 10 points he outlined in class.

        Helping memory recall is a secondary reason to take notes. The primary is to have a complete reference for when you forget.

        That's what I was thinking, as well. Some teachers will post notes after class, though, and that's where his advice would be relevant. In those classes, focus on the material and how you're going to remember it. Then try and reproduce it all after class, on paper. Then compare it against the actual notes that were posted online and pay extra time learning the stuff that you forgot.

      • by mosb1000 (710161)

        Then you should be sure to only take classes where the teacher is organized enough to provide you with complete notes in the first place. In fact, you should probably do that anyway. What's that? Your school doesn't give you a choice? That's strange. . .

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        you could just record your class. another way to do it would be to take notes during class and take another set afterwards after class without looking at your originals. this would be effective due to an effect called the "testing effect."

        • by Osgeld (1900440)

          ding ding ding we have a winner! record your classes, its not like all but the absolute cheapest of cellphones dont record voice and or video, even then we have these things called micro cassettes that seem to have worked for the last 30 or so years for millions of students

          I always found taking notes during very distracting, hm how the hell do you spell that? oh shit what did he say dammit now I am missing 2 parts!

      • by swalve (1980968)
        No, the book is the reference.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      It might seem like a good idea, but it doesn't work very well in a lot of subjects. Tell me how well that works out when you have a professor that can spew out a 700 page lawbook worth of knowledge in a 1.5hr period and expect you to have it more or less memorized for the following week for the spot test. Especially when that type of information is required to be at the top of your head at all times.

  • by NoSleepDemon (1521253) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:22PM (#38860269)
    yet teachers got it wrong so frequently at my school. I have never been able to learn 'by rote'. I always had massive difficulty in school packing in equations and bite sized tid bits of crap without ever seeing the real picture, while everyone around me seemed to be perfectly happy with it but ended up never applying anything that they learnt. Case in point - math, which I hated at school and was notoriously bad at is now one of my strongest skills and something I really enjoy, and it's because I learnt it, properly, at University where I actually had to *apply* my skills through programming algorithms instead of just figuring out the 2nd order differential of yet another curve. It was through the use of what I had learnt and the application of every skill I had that finally made me 'get' math, and that happened over the course of a few months instead of 10 years suffering a horrendously bad curriculum. I can only hope that teachers continue to 'discover' the obvious so that one day entire cohorts of children won't be turned off 'hard' subjects like Math, and that the notion that Math is hard in the first place, and that it is therefore o.k. to suck at it to the point of not being able to use it for every day tasks, will be laid to rest.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:30PM (#38860321)
    Damn... I was studying how to wash things.
  • by tbird81 (946205) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:41PM (#38860359)

    I'm sure I was the only one in lecture theatres of 180 people.

    Nearly every lecture gave handouts, so that was my material for revision. If the lecturer said something else, I'd probably remember it because I was thinking about what was said instead of writing down information that's already in any textbook. Even if I didn't, the exams came from the notes not what the lecturer said - they don't want to have some undergrad whining that the exam had something not taught in class, so making the exam from the lecture handouts is good defensive education.

    I understand other subjects are different, but for all undergrad science classes, I'd advise not taking notes. Everything you learn will be in textbooks and handouts, (or the Khan Academy) and you're better off sitting there listening, than you are exercising your hand and wasting paper. (Leave the hand exercises and paper wastage to some other time, a crowded lecture theatre isn't the place.)

  • by Spodi (2259976) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:43PM (#38860365)
    I have had sub-par memory for as long as I can remember. I'm only 23 and things will probably only get worse in the future, so I spend a few minutes every day doing some memorization using Mnemosyne [mnemosyne-proj.org] (free), which uses the SuperMemo [wikipedia.org] algorithm, which seems to be similar to the concepts mention in TFA. It is quite amazing for remembering flash-card style items long-term, and a great memory exercise. Anyone interested in improving their own memory, I recommend checking this out.
    • by wrook (134116) on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:20AM (#38862719) Homepage

      TFA is actually a little light on details, so I'll add a few more. But I am not a psychology researcher, so take my explanation with a sack of salt.

      There are basically 3 separate issues that they are looking at with respect to learning.

      One is spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is the idea that you forget things over time. The longer you go without recalling something, the higher the odds are that you will not be able to remember it when you try. However, if you remember something, the association will be stronger and the speed at which you forget it is lower (i.e., the drop from 90% recall to 80% recall will take more time). That speed is called the "forgetting curve". The shallower the curve, the less often you have to review something to rememer it. Software like Mnemosyne, Anki and SuperMemo try to time when you are likely to forget something so that you don't waste your time reviewing something that you aren't going to forget.

      Another concept is spaced learning. This is different from spaced repetition. It turns out that the space between reviews is actually necessary for long term memory. If you memorize something and then wait for a long time, even if you forget it, you will make a stronger connection the *second* time you learn it. Spaced learning intentionally puts spaces between reviews with the intent that it creates a stronger memory (makes the forgetting curve shallower) the *next* time you learn it. In other words, you intentionally make it difficult to remember the second time around (as opposed to choosing a time when you are likely to remember it). The distinction between spaced repetition and spaced learning is fine but important, I think.

      Finally there is interleaved learning. It turns out that time is not the only thing that causes you to forget. As you learn new things, the ability to recall old things gets worse. So if you learn A and that's all, you will forget it slower than if you learn A and then B. Learning B makes it difficult to recall A. You can use this to your advantage. Remember that with spaced learning, if you forget something, it is retained *better* the second time around. So if you learn A and B, and then return to A, you will remember A better than if you spent twice as long on A and then did B.

      Basically spaced repetition programs that use SM2 algorithm are implementing spaced repetion. I will argue that they aren't making use of spaced learning, at least intentionally. When you initially try to remember something, you should space repetitions so that it is difficult to remember the item. One of the weaknesses of SM2 is that it doesn't really have any strategy for first learning the item (on the other hand, you are free to adopt your own strategies within the framework of the software). Specifically, there's no concept of getting an item correct and then waiting a short time and reviewing it again. It goes ahead and schedules it for a day or so later. Also, when you get an item wrong, you are back to square one, with the "difficulty" set at the same level it was at before you got it wrong. Spaced learning would suggest that at least the item will get less difficult every time you forget it. So I think there is considerable room for improvement.

      SM2 also specifically does not implement interleaving. When learning new material (or even items that you forgot in the review) it would be rather interesting to have it introduce one new fact from 4 or 5 different quizes at a time. It would accellerate the speed at which you forget the item and provide opportunities for spaced learning faster (presuming there was support for spaced learning).

      I'm actually the author of another spaced repetition program for studying Japanese, called JLDrill. I use a different algorithm, which I describe here: http://jldrill.rubyforge.org/Strategy.html [rubyforge.org] I'm going to try to implement some of these other ideas in the near future.

  • I don't know what is changing us, but , I feel dumber by the days passing.

  • by loteck (533317) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:47PM (#38860383) Homepage

    The problem with this approach is that it assumes students are in class to learn.

    But that's not the system we live in.

    Increasingly, students are in class to memorize material so that they can quickly recall it on one of many tests.

    Tests. Memory. That's what we're teaching to these days. Not learning. Key difference.

    • by Solandri (704621)

      Increasingly, students are in class to memorize material so that they can quickly recall it on one of many tests.

      I know that's a popular meme these days, but it's not entirely accurate.

      The point, at least in technical courses like math and science, isn't to force students to memorize material. It's to give them so much material that it becomes easier to understand it rather than memorize it. You can memorize the multiplication table, or you can understand the concept of multiplication so you know how

    • Exactly - at the university level, I never studied to learn - I studied to pass exams.

      One week after the exam, there is no way I'd retain enough knowledge to sit and pass it again, but I didn't care.

      And that system of cramming worked well enough that I graduated with 1st class honours...
    • Increasingly, students are in class to memorize material so that they can quickly recall it on one of many tests.

      That is one of the by-products of the need to test students for competency. And that is something that needs to happen regardless of how the details of injecting the knowledge into students is going to happen.

      For me, a lot of what I got from college was the knowledge that different subjects existed, that I was competent in using the techniques in that class and what those techniques are. This way

  • by EdwinFreed (1084059) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @07:59PM (#38860427)
    As the newest math professor in the department, of course I was lowest of the low. I was informed that there was no classroom available in the classroom building and I had to choose between one in Animal Husbandry and Poultry Science. In a moment of true quantum stupidity I chose the one in Poultry Science because it was closer to my office.

    The classroom sat adjacent to a room that contained hundreds of chickens, maybe more. You had to smell it to believe it. Of course the students complained but there was nothing I could do.

    The class actually did quite well, that is, until the day of the final exam. When I got there to deliver the exam (which of course was being given at a different time) the door was locked and no key could be found. I was forced to walk the entire class over to the classroom building and give the exam in an empty classroom.

    Checking the scores against the midterm, I found there had been a significant drop for almost every student. To this day I am convinced that the context change and the lack of that awful smell was as or more responsible for the difference than all the chaos leading up to taking the exam.
    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      Could it be sensory deprivation (the lack of the smell of chicken shit) that caused the drop?

  • Derive on the fly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LeDopore (898286) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:05PM (#38860447) Homepage Journal

    There's a lot of talk as to what you should do while an after the prof is speaking, but so far very little has been said about what to do *before* the professor speaks it. During my Physics undergrad, I would challenge myself to try to derive results and formulas before the prof finished. I was often wrong, and I usually had to have my notes at least nudged along at least a few times per lecture, but trying to derive on the fly is an awesome way to learn something. There's nothing quite like figuring out a problem by yourself to have it really gel with your overall understanding.

    That's my advice: rather than just trying to learn, as much as possible *do your own thinking* in class and you'll be amazed at how little you have to work later to recall it.

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@justconnected . n et> on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:24PM (#38860535)

    As a current CS major at a school you've heard of, I don't take notes. Ever. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it helps, but I find that if I take notes, I lose the point of the lecture. Most of my professors were good enough that their lecture was a sort of a story, and if you paid attention and followed the story, you got more out of that than the the slides and the books. Of course, the books are usually quite helpful, more or less depending on the class, and most-to-all of my professors have posted slides online.

    But the biggest help has been lecture recordings that they've started to do. You can watch the slideshow, synchronized with the lecture, and it's a huge help. If you miss something during lecture, you can go and watch that section with the book or reference materials open, pause, rewind, etc. It removes the time constraint, and seems to be making a big difference.

  • by bgoffe (1501287) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:24PM (#38860539)
    For a more general set of suggestions on study skills based on cognitive science, see "How to Get the Most Out of Studying Video Series" [youtube.com]. This is by Steve Chew, who was recently named a "U.S. Professor of the Year" for his teaching ability. For something printed, but not as detailed, see his "Improving Classroom Performance by Challenging Student Misconceptions About Learning" [psychologicalscience.org]. I recommend the video to all my students (I'm a college economics professor).
  • by hey! (33014) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:42PM (#38860615) Homepage Journal

    of the value of interleaving at least when it comes to learning an athletic skill like serving a tennis ball.

    Suppose on Monday only had time to practice your serve twenty times. You'd put all your mental and physical resources into each attempt. Now suppose on Tuesday you had plenty of time, so you set out to do a *thousand* serves. Would your first twenty serves on Tuesday look anything like the twenty you did on Monday? Of course not. You know darn well you've got 980 more to go, so you *hold back*.

    The net result of over-practicing any skill this way is that you end up drilling in lazy and sloppy habits. It always feel virtuous to put in a long session at something, but that's easy virtue that everybody can demonstrate under pressure. Consistent practice of moderate duration and extremely high quality has no substitute.

    Interleaving a series of drills works better because you exploit fresh muscles and balance repetition with mental stimulation, which is also critical to learning.

    Consistency is a virtue in academic study as well, although if you are being genuinely productive it doesn't hurt to keep working as long as it last. But being in the zone is nothing like forcing yourself to cram at the last minute. One is about exploiting an opportunity, another is about making up for lost opportunities.

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @08:50PM (#38860661)

    When I teach, I prepare a set of lecture notes, mostly an outline with key details. I leave room for notes. Then I give the students a copy of those at the start of the class. That way, they can listen and focus on understanding the information during the lecture. If they need to make some additional notes, they can add to the pre-printed lecture notes I handed out, but since the key points and details are already there, they don't need to add many notes. My experience is that students who spend too much time taking notes don't understand the material and don't remember it, so I make is easy for them to not spend time taking notes.

    My classroom time is spent expanding upon the material, having discussions with the students, making sure the students understand it and how to apply it, doing hands on or thought experiments as appropriate, and refining my notes for the next class.

  • by pruss (246395) on Sunday January 29, 2012 @09:25PM (#38860847) Homepage

    If you don't take any notes, you'll be in trouble if there something detail-oriented that's not in the book, unless you're really smart.

    I wonder if the recommendations depend on how detail-oriented and textbook-centered a course is. I teach philosophy. It certainly happen when I teach more advanced classes that I come up with new arguments and proofs right on the spot. They aren't in the assigned books, they aren't in the assigned articles, and because I came up with them on the spot (e.g., in response to a student question), there is no handout with it. But few students will correctly remember an eight step metaphysics argument or a hard logic proof without notes, or at least without taking a photo of the board.

  • Really? (Score:4, Informative)

    by cowtamer (311087) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:57AM (#38862127) Journal

    “Because humans have unlimited storage capacity, having total recall would be a mess,” says Bjork.

    In that case, using only 10% of it shouldn't be a problem! :)

    Joking aside, most of the suggestions in the article make sense.

    After years and years of classes, some years off, and going back to taking classes (and doing much better in them), this is the advice I have. It is not free -- you are required to give me $5 if you ever find me in real life:

    0) Understand the material. Keep a laptop connected to the Internet open during class. Google whatever you don't understand immediately, fill the gaps in your knowledge, and get back to the lecture. Bookmark or transcribe the info down if necessary (this helps me with definitions, acronyms, etc.). This will keep you from getting bored, since boredom generally results from not understanding. If you understand the material and the instructor is truly being boring, the tangential information you discover during this process may be more useful than the class itself!

    1) Understand the material! I mean really -- even if you're behind. Do reading before class if you can. Check Wikipedia. Consult the Khan Academy. Do the homework, and spread it over multiple days, making sure you get some sleep in between the days. All-nighters, while they make for great stories, are not as helpful as you think. (My record was 36 hours straight -- I got the A -- but I wouldn't do it again if I had the chance!)

    2) Avoid early morning classes, if possible. Unless you're a morning person -- in which case you probably don't need the advice.

    3) Take notes during class. On paper, with indelible pen, in a bound notebook, writing/drawing only the points which seem relevant to you. The point of doing this is to help you focus and summarize, not to record the lecturers words for posterity. I've found that typing, while faster and more legible, does not aid my recall as well. Recording the lecture may be helpful if it's an exam review, but is pointless if you're not paying attention while there.

    4) Teach someone the material right afterward, if you can. Tutor someone, or bore your significant other to tears...

    5) Find a way to extend what you learned. Right down your ideas. Implement them if practical. Post them on Halfbakery [halfbakery.com] if not...

  • I am the exception! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by supercrisp (936036) on Monday January 30, 2012 @09:04AM (#38863811)
    I see already a pattern familiar from when I taught in learning labs as a graduate student. I taught writing. I would diagnose a troubled student, using what I'd learned in classes in which we studied composition researchers. I would then tell the student, "What you're doing is a partially effective strategy. But, as you've noticed, it has these negative side-effects. If you do ______, you'll struggle at first, until you get used to it, and then writing will become much easier." The student with then reply, "Oh, no, I've heard about that/tried that, I'm an exception to the rule. I only write well when ________." And the blank would be "it's the night before," "music is blaring," "I've waited until the pressure motivates me," "I do it all in one inspired go," or something like that. What Bjork is talking about is old, old news. Like the article says, most of this stuff has been around since Ebbinghaus. It's very unlikely that anyone who is reading that advice is an exception to these well-studied facts about how human adults learn. But most people who read the advice will go on doing what they do, each assuming that he/she is exceptional. I'd suggest that instead that people who still study (and all technical/professional people should) give interleaving and delayed review a shot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @09:26AM (#38863913)

    It's a well-known fact, that schools are not designed for learning. Bismarck specifically requested a "military-like" system for children, when our current system was invented. Because back then, sitting still and obeying was seen as the ideal.
    They are designed to train as much stuff into you by heart as possible. It is very wrong to call this "learning", since the pupils don't actually understand the concepts. They can perfectly recite the formulas, rules and textbook paragraphs, and follow them like a computer. But they could never come up with a new way based on the core concepts of an idea. They become mere drones. NPCs.

    If you observe, how animals learn naturally, you see that with smart animals, it is always through playing. Dogs, raven, dolphins, primates... they all show this behavior. This playing is a simulation of real-life situations. In a non-dangerous and at the start easier environment.
    This is the root of games. True games. Not that EA shit. Not Crap of Duty.
    See, games are what you get, when you combine storytelling, art, learning and sports. They are the mother of them all. (Yes, the discussion about if games are art is very very silly. Art itself is only a mere subset of games.)
    And there even is a indicator for how good that learning is: Fun! (And inspiration.)
    Yes. That's the purpose of fun. To show us that. Every good game designer, who studied the psychology behind this, knows this.
    Plus, fun is the key motivator.

    So any sane person would go and let our kids play games. Good games. Games that give us all the useful experiences and knowledge we need in life. Games that are insanely fun.
    Notice how children naturally want this? They think they hate learning, but actually, it's the thing they love the most. It's just that the word "learning" is tainted by that torturous drill we call "schools".

    So this whole pseudo-intelligent discussion is mere "oil lamp improvement", and as silly as questioning whether games are art.
    Let's make some games! Now!

    (I'm already on it. What about you?)

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