This post is part of the Working/Learning blog carnival for April, 2008, hosted this month by Manish Mohan, who blogs at Life, the Universe, and Everything about eLearning and Content Development. It’s the second run of the carnival; the first was in March 2008.
I’ve been reading John Medina’s Brain Rules. I’m also trying to relate them to learning and to things that affect my work. In other words, using his rules as a framework, what can I do with them?
I’ve decided to start with rule six, “remember to repeat.” Why this one? Because last Wednesday was the 262nd anniversary of the Battle of Culloden.
‘Twas love of our prince drove us on to Drumossie
But in scarcely the time that it takes me to tell
The flower of our country lay scorched by an army
As ruthless and red as the embers of hell…
Although I don’t weep over the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie, neither do I let April 16 pass unnoticed. Why is that?
Medina writes about how we move information from short-term to long-term memory. Nothing much new: repetition and restatement. One of the principles that we know (but don’t always capitalize on) is spacing out the input. Or as I like to call it, three times 20 is more than 60.
If you’ve got a a given amount of time to learn something, you’ll almost certainly learned better and more thoroughly by spacing out your exposure. Instead of cramming for two hours, try four sessions of 30 minutes each. As the descendant of Scottish Highlanders, I’ve certainly spaced out my exposure to stories of the Jacobite rebellions and songs about “The ’45.”
Medina also says that when information is retrieved from long-term memory, it’s not fixed as if it were a book pulled from a library shelf. It’s almost a repetition of the initial learning — the information is once again labile, malleable, something we can re-work.
That means when it’s re-stored, it’s been changed. Not always leading to greater accuracy.
Which brings in my great uncle. Actually, Gillies Mhor MacBain is my great-great-great-great-great-great-grand-uncle, if I can trust a genealogical history called The Mabou Pioneers. Gillies fought for Prince Charlie and died at Culloden.
Google his name, and you’ll find dozens of accounts saying that he was 6 foot 4, that he killed at least 13 redcoats, and that an English officer tried in vain to have Gillies spared because of his bravery.
Who knows what really happened? The story of Gillies MacBain has been told and retold. Details were lost on the battlefield and over the years; without a doubt, new details have been supplied. They’ve altered the cultural memory the way recall and reconsolidation can alter your personal memory.
Over time new information in the brain reshapes what’s already there. We can “remember” things that never happened.
That suggests things we can do, in the world of learning at work, to increase the value of that reworking and reconsolidation. Focus the learning on what’s important to the job, for example. Create support and structures to ease recall and increase accuracy.
Think hard about questions like:
- What’s our rationale for a three day workshop?
- Does it make sense to firehose information this way?
- If we must have one, how do we design for spaced input?
- Can we break up topics and interweave them?
- Are we focusing on tasks rather than on content?
- Even (or especially) for concepts and principles, can we provide opportunities to work with them, apply them in job-relevant contexts?
- How do we design, create, or organize information externally to make it easy to retrieve and apply as needed?
I spent more time than expected thinking through this post as I was writing it. While I don’t see Medina’s brain rules as the fulcrum of all knowledge, I like the idea of trying to apply them to the blog carnival themes of “work at learning; learning at work.” So I think this post will be a first in a series based on Medina’s rules. Feel free to chime in.