What do you know about learning? A quick quiz

If you’re reading this blog you’re either a learning professional or someone with an interest in learning and therefore, probably, know more about learning than the general public. How about a quick quiz to test what you know? Then I’d like to prompt some thoughts about why, what we know, about how we learn, matters? The answers are at the end but please don’t cheat.

1. Does learning in your preferred learning style help you learn more easily? Yes/ No **

2. Which of these techniques helps you to learn best from reading materials
• Reading and re-reading the material
• Highlighting key points in the material
• Doing regular quizzes to explore your knowledge as you read

3. What’s better for creating long term memories for what you learn?
• To learn in chunks; first about one topic, then another eg. LLLTTTMMM (massed learning)
• Or to learn one topic after another and then repeat eg. LTMLTMLTM? (spaced learning)

** If you just said ‘Why are you even asking this question?’ then please keep reading – I promise I’m not promoting ‘Learning Styles’.  You can check your answers at the end of the blog.

How did you do?
Whether you personally got all the questions right, or not, the evidence shows most people harbour numerous misconceptions about learning that may be preventing them from optimal learning. In a study by Ulrich Boser in 2017 he asked the general public a series of similar questions to this quiz to explore how people believed they learn.

One key finding was, a bit like driving skills, most people overestimate their learning skills; rating themselves as above average when clearly most people cannot be above average.

The other finding was very few people actually know how they learn. This includes most of the people you work with so what’s the impact of this lack of accurate knowledge about learning on performance in your organisation? It may mean valuable opportunities to learn are being lost or wasted every day because people think they’re doing the right things to learn when they’re not, and they believe they’re better at it than they actually are, so may not be open to improvement.

To question 1 about Learning Styles, about 90% of the people in Ulrich’s study said ”Yes – they found it useful to learn in their preferred learning style.” Despite the fact there is absolutely no evidence at all for learning styles improving learning, and some evidence that they may even be detrimental if over relied on.

Question 2. Most people also thought that reading and re-reading and highlighting were of more value than regular quizzes – 60 percent argued that informal tests are not an effective approach to gaining new skills and knowledge. Whereas the evidence suggests short quizzes are a far better active learning method than passive learning through reading or highlighting materials.

For question 3, most people believe massed learning is a more effective learning strategy whereas overwhelming research evidence suggests the opposite. Spaced learning leads retention of more information for longer.

In trying to create a learning culture organisations are investing huge amounts of money in learning systems, digital and e-l

earning, courses, face to face and online programmes, coaching, mentoring, and even books, and yet they rarely invest in giving the users of all this technology (I’m including courses and books here in this very broad category) sufficient skills to use them properly. We wouldn’t ask machine operators to operate machinery without training, so why do we ask learners to operate ‘learning tools’ without appropriate skills?

There is so much work out there revealing how we really learn, so why are we sticking with methodologies we may have learned at school or university that often don’t work? Is it because they feel familiar, because we’re too lazy to change or we simply don’t invest in the time to learn?
This year, we’re working on a project to improve this situation and we’d like your help. We’re looking for partners who want to build and develop the learning skills of their people by becoming guinea pigs, sponsors and supporters in our project. We want to do some research with people in organisations to see how much more effective learning can be when the end user is empowered to use the tools properly.

Please give us a call or drop us an email if you’re interested to find out more.

Research by Ulrich Boser – https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2017/03/14/427984/people-know-excellent-teaching-learning/

Q1: No – there is no evidence to suggest that ‘Learning styles’ have any beneficial impact on learning at all
Q2: Doing regular quizzes to test your knowledge is active and will improve your learning more than passive activities such as reading, rereading or highlighting.
Q3: Spaced learning is far better than massed learning as a way to remember information and store it in long term memory (LTM).