Ep 40: Learning and Study Strategies
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Ulrich Boser, author of “Learn Better” and “The Leap“, discusses the latest research on the science of learning strategies and reveals how you can help your teen to adopt proven study techniques for accelerating academic performance with less effort.
Full Show Notes
For millions of teenagers who wish they could get better grades (or wish they could get the same grades with less effort) the answer might be as simple as adopting some new learning strategies and study techniques.
Over the past few decades, a lot of research has been conducted about which learning strategies work best and the results reveal that you can significantly improve your academic performance without increasing the amount of time you spend studying.
This week, I spoke with Ulrich Boser, the author of the book Learn Better, to find out what the best study techniques are for teenagers and what parents can do to introduce these new learning strategies to their teens.
How to Teach Learning Strategies
Let’s face it, teenagers don’t want to learn about study techniques from their parents. Your teen wants to discover their own learning strategies.
The problem is that there really are some strategies that are scientifically proven to work better than others.
In fact, as Ulrich told me during our interview, the idea that people have different “learning styles” and that different study techniques work best for different people is actually a myth that isn’t backed up by modern research.
He emphasized that one of the best things parents can do to teach teens learning strategies is to use them yourself. Pick something you want to learn and model proper study techniques for your teenager.
Also, you want to help your teen adopt an attitude of experimenting with learning strategies. When they don’t do well on a test or in a class, you want to encourage them to think about how they could use different study techniques next time rather than thinking they just must not be very smart.
The Best (and Worst) Study Techniques
So what does research suggest are the best learning strategies your teen should be using?
Ulrich mentioned a few during our interview that have been proven to enhance performance over and over again.
For instance, imagine that two people study for the exact same amount of time but one person distributes that studying over the course of a couple weeks, doing a little per day, while the other person does all of their studying in a single sitting. Research shows that the person who distributes the studying over time will perform much better on a test that the one who does it all at once.
Scientists refer to this study technique as “distributed practice” or the “spacing effect”.
A learning strategy that many high school students use is highlighting important passages in their textbook while reading. However, Ulrich told me that research shows this doesn’t improve performance at all. Neither does reviewing your notes.
Quizzing yourself in a way that forces you to generate the information each time, however, has been proven to work very well. Doing practice problems without having the answers in front of you is one way to achieve this. Or making note cards with questions on one side and the answers on the other could be effective as well.
In this episode, Ulrich covers all of these ideas and more in depth. He breaks down the science of learning strategies and reveals exactly what parents can do to help teens learn better.
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Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen
1. Instill a value of learning in your teen:
“Every family has values and learning is something that we value as a family. This is what I’m doing right now. I’m really struggling to learn how to do my taxes. What are you struggling to learn?”
2. Get your teen thinking about learning strategies:
3. Reinforce a family value of learning:
Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Teach Your Teen How to Learn:
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your teenager’s future academic success is to help them develop the mindset that they can learn better if they find better strategies. And the best way to do this, Ulrich told me, is to model the attitude yourself. This means you need to be learning something. Choose a new thing you want to learn, like an instrument, or a language, or calculus, or Taoist philosophy. Get enrolled in a class or club or lessons immediately and start learning! Now you can legitimately talk with your teen about learning strategies without sounding like a hypocrite. Plus, as Ulrich put it, teens learn very strongly through social learning and modeling. So when you experiment with learning strategies yourself it rubs off on your teen. Write the subject you’ve chosen on the line below, and then circle 5 learning strategies you can use in learning it.
- Quizzing yourself
- Spacing your learning out over time
- Mental rehearsal
- Talking to yourself
- Using your hands/body
- Making strong mental images
- Setting specific learning goals
- Drawing knowledge webs
- Using concrete examples
- Discussing the concepts with others
2. Start a Weekly “Goal Session” with Your Teen:
About Ulrich Boser
Founder of The Learning Agency and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Ulrich Boser is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He wrote a book on the science of learning titled Learn Better, which has been featured in Wired, Slate, Vox, Fast Company, and The Atlantic. Amazon called it simply “the best science book of the year.”
Boser’s work has appeared in a variety of outlets ranging from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to the front page of USA Today and he has served as an adviser to many institutions including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Reboot Foundation, and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
His writings have appeared in a variety of publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, Smithsonian, and many other publications. Boser’s examination of brain training was featured on the front page of the Outlook section of The Washington Post.
Earlier in his career, Ulrich wrote The Leap: The Science of Trust and Why It Matters, which Forbes called “recommended reading” and Talking Points Memo described as “both comprehensive and engaging.” He is also the author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, which became a national best-seller and was optioned for film.