On Learning

As a new semester approaches, I recognize that there are a number of things that I like to tell students, or, if lucky, remind them, that have to do with being effective learners.

1. **Take notes by hand**.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The most recent reason comes from a [study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer] that concluded that students who took notes by hand learned more. There’s a couple of reasons for this, one of which is simply that taking notes by hand is slower, more cumbersome, and thus forces students to consider more carefully what it is they are righting down.

Another study, one which I can’t recall, focused on the pathways that are activated when we write, versus those when we type. (This always reminds me of the work psychologists have done working with individuals, often older children or teenagers, who are facing some cognitive processing difficulties, who turn out not to have crawled as infants: they make them crawl. In my memory, it works.)

Finally, if you are not a completely verbal thinker, and research suggests that a good chunk of us are not, typing notes limits you to words. No way to draw, no room for arrows, nor doodles.

2. **Interact.**

This seems simple, and yet many students forget to work, effectively, with others to learn materials. Good study groups, or partners, are essential. They give you the chance to explain ideas, concepts, facts, anything to each other, which benefits not only the person receiving the explanation but also the person providing it. This idea goes by [a number of names][] (Harkness, exosphere), but they all boil down to the same idea: work with others.

[study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer]: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/
[a number of names]: http://www.quora.com/How-do-I-learn-without-memorising

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