January 03, 2020

Photo Credit: Neven Krcmarek (gettyimages) 

*This piece was originally published on January 4th, 2019*

You’ve probably experienced this: it’s high school, the night before an exam, and you’ve got a 500-page textbook in your left hand and highlighters in your right hand. You have highlighted all the important information in the book, and there isn’t a whole lot of white space left. Unfortunately, you’re not sure that you’ve absorbed any of the material in a meaningful way.

Turns out, there is little evidence that highlighting and underlining material in books is a good strategy for successful learning, according to Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and the author of the book “Learn Better.” Boser talks to us about the science of learning, and how we can absorb information more effectively.  

Three Takeaways:

  • Boser says that the idea that people have different learning styles, such as visual learning or verbal learning, has little scientific evidence to support it.
  • According to Boser, teachers and parents should praise their kids’ ability and effort, instead of telling them they’re smart. “When we tell people they are smart, we give them... a ‘fixed mindset,’” says Boser. 
  • If you are learning piano - or anything, really - the best way to learn is to practice different composers’ work. “Mixing up your practices is far more effective,” says Boser.

More Reading:

  • Researcher John Dunlosky and his colleagues noted that passively highlighting information while reading doesn't boost learning.
  • Learn more from researcher Carol Dweck on the best way to talk to children about their progress and why to avoid calling them “smart.”
  • Researcher Bennett Schwartz explains how he used a learning strategy - retrieval practice - to improve his memory and develop his Scrabble skills.
  • Another researcher says there is little evidence that learning styles make a difference to learning.

Ulrich Boser, Education, Learning, learn better

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