Learn fast by pursuing skills, challenges, and rapid feedback

Four girls learn fast on computer together.

Learn fast by building skills

…determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what that student should know. It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.

The objectives should be skills, not knowledge. …understand as much as possible about the mental representations that experts use, and teach the skill so as to help students develop similar mental representations.

…you don’t build mental representations by thinking about something; you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over.

Learn fast by taking on challenges

This will involve teaching the skill step by step, with each step designed to keep students out of their comfort zone but not so far out that they cannot master that step.

To help… physics students… develop… mental representations, Wieman and his coworkers developed sets of clicker questions and learning tasks…

The clicker questions and tasks were chosen to trigger discussions that would lead the students to grapple with and apply the concepts they were learning and, ultimately, to those concepts to answer the questions and solve the tasks.

The questions and tasks were also designed to push the students outside their comfort zones—to ask them questions whose answers they’d have to struggle for—but not so far outside their comfort zones that they wouldn’t know how to start answering them.

Wieman and his colleagues pretested the clicker questions and learning tasks on a couple of student volunteers who were enrolled in the course. They gave these students the questions and the learning and then had them think aloud as they reasoned their way toward the answers.

Based on what the researchers heard during the think-aloud sessions. they modified the questions and tasks, with a specific emphasis on avoiding misunderstandings and questions that were too difficult for the students to deal with. Then they went through a second round of testing with another volunteer, sharpening the questions and learning tasks even more.

Learn fast by pursuing rapid feedback

…the classes were structured so that the students would have the opportunity to deal with the various concepts over and over again, getting feedback that identified their mistakes and showed how to correct them. Some of the feedback came from fellow students in the discussion groups and some from the instructors, but the important thing was that the students were getting immediate responses that told them when they were doing something wrong and how to fix it.

…the regular cycle of try, fail, get feedback, try again, and so on is how the students… build their mental representations.[2]

  1. “Clickers in the science classroom (and you don’t even need the clickers).” blog.scientix.eu, 22 Jan. 2015, blog.scientix.eu/2015/01/22/clickers-in-the-science-classroom-and-you-dont-even-need-the-clickers/. Accessed 21 Dec. 2016.
  2. Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, pp. 250-253. See also:
    Deslauriers, Louis, Ellen Schelew, and Carl Wieman. “Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class.” Science 332.6031 (2011): 862-864.

Leave a Reply