How good are these techniques?

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:

Dunlosky et al (2013) published a brilliant paper that looked at a number of techniques that are used to learn material in an academic setting. They tested the various techniques, and produced a pretty good assessment on just how good the techniques were. The techniques ranged from the testing effect (very good technique) to highlighting what you want to remember (poor technique for learning). I have reproduced their table below for you to have a look at.

I think they might be mistaken in their rankings. This feeling is based on anecdotal experience and how often each of these techniques are used in the learning process. I think re-reading and highlighting are by far the most useful for learning – based on how often they are used as the principle method of learning :-)

The entire concept of the Scholarship of learning is based on just how wrong we are about…

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Learning for Understanding

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:

The goal of learning to simply pass exams is a fairly recent phenomenon – historically, the goal of learning was so that the learners were prepared to use their knowledge in a post-learning environment to help solve problems and contribute to society. Since the need to contribute anything to society has greatly diminished, and the most pressing need to is enhance career and financial prospects, learning for performance activities (exams and assessments) has become the end goal for most learners. Earlier this week, I wrote about the performance enhancing strategy of capitalizing on state dependent learning.

However, there was a time when learning was primarily to understand the world.

When a person is learning for understanding, different strategies are needed. I often hear students bemoaning the idea that they are engaged in education for the institution to teach them to simply do something. They talk about their hate for the…

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State Dependent Learning

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:

I remember how fascinating I thought the whole idea of state dependent learning was when I first heard of it as a second year undergraduate in a Cognitive Psychology class. For those of you who haven’t taken Cognitive Psychology, state dependent learning is the principle that you will remember much better if your state of recall is closely matched to your state of encoding. The example given was the memory tests given in scuba gear. When the divers learned something at the bottom of the university swimming pool, they could recall it much easier if they were tested on the information at the bottom of the pool than if they were tested on the information in a classroom sitting at desks. The take home message (at least for me as a student at the time) is that you need to study for your exams in a state as close to…

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Striving for Mediocracy

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Originally posted on Scholarship of Learning:

I was reflecting this morning on an exchange I had at a recent event I was at (teaching mini-conference at a prominent business school). I was the keynote speaker. During my talk, I asked the group if their graduates were being prepared to change the world, and the response (amidst some laughs) was along the lines of “they can barely get through their exams “.
As is usual when I speak, I talked about the quality of lectures as learning events (poorest type of learning event available). During the questions after my talk, one of the participants noted that all the other business schools she was aware of lecture exactly the same way they did at their school.
As I thought about this today, I thought, “I’ll bet that is one thought that has never entered the head of anyone who has awakened in the morning with the intention of…

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Thought and Power

September 23, 2014 Leave a comment

In July, I wrote about learning thresholds, and how we could use technology to define and attain learning thresholds. I was reading Diane  Halpern’s “Thought and Knowledge” yesterday, and came across a passage that explains my thinking about learning thresholds, memorization, and critical thinking. It reads:

…thought is powerful only when it can utilize a large and accurate base of knowledge (page 5).

The preceding part of that line is also important in the context of learning in today’s world “…knowledge is powerful only when it is applied appropriately”.

Never before has the world had a greater need of people who can use critical thinking skills, and never before have we had a greater paucity of critical thinking skills – when compared to the total number of ‘educated’ individuals.

The large and accurate base of knowledge has taken precedence over everything else. And, as the sheer amount of information continues to increase to amounts truly unimaginable at a human scale, the obsession with the large and accurate knowledge base threatens to overwhelm, us with multitudes of memorizers who have no concept of thinking.

My problem is not with ‘a’ large and accurate knowledge base, but with ‘the’ large and accurate knowledge base. Those charged with the preparation of the next generation of thinkers have often spent years, if not decades, accumulating and conceptualizing their sliver of the world, and are rightly called experts in their fields. However, that expertise, in no way, prepares them to teach novices how to think. And the current state of affairs in higher education doesn’t allow for subject experts to become learning experts. These experts who focus on more and more information,with more and more classes, programmes, degree schemes, areas of study focus so intently on their field of study (as they are rewarded to do) that they have no conception of what the problem is. Except that they know that their students are not becoming the experts they think they are training them to be.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the recent findings that over 95% of university leaders thought their graduates were well prepared for the world of work, while about than 10% of business leaders agreed (see below). We are so out of touch with reality, we are rapidly losing the credibility that we are banking on to carry us through the disruptive innovation digitization has landed us in.

We can, and need to do better.

I found the evidence – and here it is:

“…(in) Inside Higher Ed‘s 2014 survey of chief academic officers, ninety-six percent said they were doing a good job – but… in a new survey by Gallup measuring how business leaders and the American public view the state and value of higher education, just 14 percent of Americans – and only 11 percent of business leaders – strongly agreed that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace.”

Metacognitive Monitoring

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Metacognitive monitoring is the ability of people to discriminate between what they know and what they don’t know. Monitoring is considered the foundational metacognitive skill, with other components of metacognition (e.g. metacognitive awareness or metacognitive strategies) being built on the basic, do you know what you know and what you don’t know.

What we have found from numerous studies, is that participants are normally very poor at judging if they know something or not. In numerous studies done in my lab, we found that incoming university students were often performing at levels just above chance when it comes to discriminating between whether they knew the information or whether they were guessing. In other words, they were very poor at their metacognitive monitoring skills (not surprising, given the memorise and regurgitate nature of standardised testing that is the core of education today).

Based on the work around the “feeling of knowing (FOK)”, we reversed the FOK paradigm, and asked people to indicate their confidence in their answers to questions after they had already answered (normal FOK asks subjects to predict how well they can recall information in the future). The question we asked was simply, how sure are you that your answer that you just gave, is correct. We took their predictions, and married them to their actual performance, and were able to devise an accurate measure of their metacognitive monitoring ability – something we have called a metacognitive index (MI).

Although many of the subjects started out with very low MI scores (often, only slightly better than chance). we wanted to know if practise with the paradigm would improve their MI scores. Through the use of reinforcement schedules for adapting their behaviour, we managed to dramatically improve their MI scores after just a few weeks (30 minutes/week for six weeks). In follow up studies, we found that this made a significant difference in their studies, as you would expect given that metacognitive monitoring is the foundational metacognitive skill.

Armed with these results, we built an app for mobile devices  (Cognaware) that both measures and develops a user’s metacognitive monitoring ability. My hope is for large numbers of people engage with the app, and to improve their metacognitive monitoring ability. Research has shown that irrational decision making is linked to metacognition, not intelligence – effecting businesses and politics in a big way. The phenomenon of politicians being able to make the same promises every few years (and then breaking them) is because of the poor metacognitive monitoring ability in the general population. If we could, somehow improve individual’s monitoring discrimination ability (MI), I believe (based on research and expertise) that it would positively effect students, business people, and democracy as a form of government (and we certainly need the last one).

Help me spread the word about Cognaware by trying out the app, sharing your experience, and talking to people about what it can do for them.

Cognaware is based on years of research exploring ways to accurately measure and develop metacognitive monitoring. Help me make a difference in other’s lives.

Question base

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

The first requirement for the system I’ve been putting together as a thought experiment that would accredit memorisation (see my three previous posts for some background) would be an infinite set of well tagged questions.

I think this is the easiest part of the system to put in place. We are all aware of the success of crowdsourcing as a way to provide content (think wikipedia). So why don’t we put together an open source question base?

Since this learning system is simply about fluency of recall, all we need are questions about stuff. And lots of them.

It isn’t simply about the questions. in order to make this a memorisation/learning environment, the questions have to be tagged – well tagged. This is necessary so that users can focus on their own learning desires.

The kind of tagging that would make this system useful has three varieties of tags: content domain, source, and event.

The content domain tags are the most obvious. Libraries have spent centuries (literally) organising knowledge into content domains. There are wonderful hierarchal systems that allow users to find learning resources (books, articles, papers, websites, posts, pictures, videos – and who knows what else) within a specific content domain. We haven’t been all that great at tagging these resources, but there’s no reason we can’t start. Within the new question base, an easy to use content domain tagging system is a must.

The second set of tags ahas to do with sources. Knowledge is found somewhere, and if questions can be tagged with a specific source, that makes them all the more powerful. Specific books, journal articles, or web-articles (think wikipedia) would allow users (both learners and contributors) to specify exactly where the information comes from that needs to be memorised to a fluent level. Teachers (face to face or virtual) could then specify both content domain and source, along with the required level of proficiency, for an event (discussion, seminar series etc.) required for the learner to be able to participate  fluently.

Finally, event tags could be included so that learners could prepare themselves for the kind of events specified above. They could even be specified for traditional assessment events (mid-term or final exams).

Properly tagged, an infinite number of questions embedded in a threshold learning system, could provide learners and educators with an invaluable tool for the foundational learning we call memorisation.


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