Learning Experience Leader

Book Review - Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning with Dr. Bryan Tanner

November 02, 2021 Greg Williams
Learning Experience Leader
Book Review - Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning with Dr. Bryan Tanner
Show Notes Transcript

Today I’m joined with Bryan Tanner, a recent PhD graduate from BYU’s Instructional Psychology and Technology department. He has a professional background in K-12, higher ed, and corporate instruction. Bryan is an avid reader of biographies and business nonfiction and our discussion today is all about this book. 

From the book description: "To most of us, learning something "the hard way" implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe, should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make It Stick turns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners."

In summarizing and reflecting on the book we cover topics such as: 

  • Learning myths and tactics to overcome them
  • 8 principles from the book that will change how you approach learning
  • And a bunch of examples from the book and our own lives of these principles in practice

Resources

Credits

Introduction music, “For Mimi” by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license

Support the show
Greg Williams:

From the beautiful state of Utah in the United States Hello and welcome. I'm Greg Williams, and you're listening to the learning experience leader podcast, a project devoted to design leadership and the psychology of learning. This is a book review episode. Every once in a while I read a book with a fellow designer or leader, and we reflect on it together in a podcast episode. Today, I'm joined with Brian Tanner, a recent PhD graduate from BYU, instructional psychology and Technology Department. He has a professional background in K 12, higher ed and corporate instruction. Brian is an avid reader of biographies, and business nonfiction, and our discussion today is all about the book make it stick from the book description. To most of us learning something the hard way implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students, and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make it Stick turns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines. The authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners. In summarizing, reflecting on the book, Brian and I cover topics such as learning myths and tactics to overcome them eight principles from the book that will change how you approach learning and learning design, and a bunch of examples from the book and our own lives of these principles in practice, check out the resources, I definitely encourage you to check out the book and enjoy the episode. Brian, I'm really excited to talk about this book, make it stick with you today. Thanks for being on the show.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

My pleasure.

Greg Williams:

So we're definitely going to dive into the book and spend a lot of time talking through some of the principles. And but before we do want to give listeners a brief understanding a little bit of your curiosity in this book, I know this, I don't think this was the first time that you'd read it as we prepared for this. But can you tell me a little bit of kind of the background of Brian and Make It Stick?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Certainly. I love reading. And I found this book from a friend on Goodreads. He's also an instructional designer, and highly recommended it. This was back in 2018, I think, okay, and I started reading it. And the author Peter C. Brown captivated me, just in the preface. He He laid down some myths about learning. And I was like, Yes, this is totally a thing. And then she totally spoke my academic love language and threw down like all of these studies and examples. Not just, you know, anecdotal. My cousin did this, but like double blind, you know, experiments and all that was like, these are the facts about how people remember things. And I said, Oh, my gosh, I completely believe you. How can we apply this to the field of instructional design? So I have been thinking about it ever since?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, it's really got a lot of stuff in it. And practice what it preaches. You know, we were talking about before we we started recording the call, it's broken up into different chapters, but the principles that are in it, are interleaved throughout the whole thing. And so I want to get into a little bit then we talk about it from, from your perspective, as you think about the book itself. Is there a general purpose that you see emerging that the authors are aiming for? I believe they stated a little bit in the beginning kind of the goal, but there's, there's a few different audiences. That could be for the book, but um, yeah, what are your thoughts about that?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Well, Greg, I think this book is written for anyone who is trying to educate, and anyone who's trying to learn. There are a lot of myths floating around there. And I feel like the thesis of the purpose behind this story, the problem they're trying to solve, is to try to erase some of these myths. There's a quote that stands out Peter Brown says many teachers believe that if they can make learning easier and faster, the learning will be better. Much research turns this belief on its head, when learning is harder, gets stronger and last longer. It's widely believed by teachers, trainers and coaches, that the most effective way to master a new skill is to give it dog ID single minded focus, practice practicing over over and over until you've got it down. Our faith in this runs deep, because most of us see fast gains during the learning phase of massed practice. What's apparent from the research is that gains achieved during massed practice are transitory and melt away quick And that sets up the entire rest of the book for teachings, different techniques for deepening.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I definitely got the sense I had read her, I listened to it. It's been maybe two years ago. And then in preparation for this conversation, I was really excited to listen to it again, because it's been a while. And honestly, the whole time I was listening to is like, I really need to buy this book and actually put some of these principles to practice because just I essentially mass practiced before this conversation by listening to act quickly. And it's not gonna stick with me as much as if I bought it and, you know, broke the principles down, like you've done, you know, will reference a blog post that you did that summarizes a lot of the principles that we talked about, I'll include that in the show notes. It's a really good summary. But yeah, the the purpose really, for me seem to be let's break down some myths that for whatever reason, have stuck around for a long time, both for, like you said, on the teaching end, or the instructing side. And then for learners, whether you're learning in a higher education environment, or K 12, or corporate environment, like these types of myths can be detrimental. Um, and if resolved properly, can be helpful across any number of industry or group. Now, there is a lot of stories kind of throughout these different chapters. I wouldn't say it's like full blown pop psychology, where pretty much it's mostly stories with a few tidbits. It seems to be more like with lead with a story to be interesting. And then it would break down a lot of research findings. I don't know, what did you make of the stories that were throughout the book? Are they helpful, and in particular ones stick out to you?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah, so you're right. It wasn't all hard science. There were some engaging stories. One that stood out to me was principal in I think it's interleaving. They use this principle where of the baseball batters? Oh, yeah, I think it was a college school. That didn't experiment. They broke their batters. Really, or maybe it was a professional team, or minor league. They broke their their batters were already excellent at what they do into two groups. And they threw 45 pitches 15 fastballs 15 curveballs and 15. Other and in the second group, they broke the the, the interleaved the different kinds of pitches. And it turns out those that weren't sure which pitch was coming, ended up having better batting averages. That season. That is kind of an experiment. Sorry, you asked for more of a pop.

Greg Williams:

Well, it's funny is a lot of this, a lot of the research does have a story sort of feeling about it. Because you're saying that like oh, yeah, I remember two other studies that were related interleaving you know, there's the hockey example of like, let's do a bunch of, you know, slap shots, and then do a bunch of Pass, pass and then shoot. And then the other was like, let's instead of doing that the same way, every time, you know, drilling the same movement, they were mixing it up. And same with the kids like tossing beanbags. I don't know if you remember that one. Like there's kids. Like one group of kids with toss the team that beanbags, I think, like six feet away. And then the ones that had been mixed up all the time, or had never actually started from that same distance, they had done it the different sides, they did better in the end, at the like designated distance, but hon studies, there are memorable studies that it helps, you know, that's one of the mnemonics I think, is in terms of just like story and emotion that help you remember stuff. But yeah, I remember there was like an airplane story of how to avoid, you know, a crash, because they were able to use certain things that could remember but, um, lots of lots of good stories in here that help bring bring to life some of the principles and I think, probably the most helpful for listeners who haven't checked this book out yet. I'm thinking what we could do is march through the eight principles you have listed in your blog post as kind of a summary and it doesn't follow perfectly the chapters. We were talking, we were talking about in the call is the chapter is kind of mentioned all of these different things in each chapter, but they emphasize different parts in different ways. So that can either be frustrating because -

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

you don't have like a nice book summary chapter by chapter to the end of End of Chapter Summary, right that you can go back and say, Okay, here's what we're building upon. Now, we're leaving this and we're never coming back to it. Okay, locked away. Got it.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, but instead it's like, yeah, they keep coming back to it and it's Yeah, It just kind of cycles through it. And I signed in Goodreads, some people really hated that. They're like, waste of time. Just read the last chapter. And you'll be good, right? But it's like, but you don't get the same value if you just grab, you know, the, the Cliff Notes, right?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Some learners get frustrated when the learning is too hard. I think I've seen that more in corporate, I'll create some kind of learning activity, and my purpose is mastery, right? Get them to be able to do this thing, or know this thing. And so I'll make this rigorous, you know, assessment and practice and activities. And like, this is hard, I'm not getting into my first try, right, and get feedback and whatever, and they get really mad and frustrated. And so I recognize that people equate, just like, you know, the author, Peter Brown says, easiness, with, with learning, right, if I'm getting it quickly, that means I'm learning. But it's, it's totally the opposite. It's when we struggle, it's when we fail, it's when we forget, and we have to retrieve and we have to practice and keep grooving those that gray matter that that deep and long lasting actually happens.

Greg Williams:

Well, I can't remember if this is in the principles, which we will get to. But the Yeah, I think they call that fluency. And it's that false feeling that, you know, when you reread the chapter before the tests are like, yeah, I totally got this, right. And you're like, you read the chapter and you go into the test, you're like, this is yeah, I could, I can recite back everything in this chapter. But in reality, you can't, it's just because you've read it so much, you feel like you know it. And that's the fluency that they talked about, which is so dangerous. And then you've given the test. And then, as they were describing, like, this is me, you start blaming the test, or the teacher is trying to trick you, like, there's some evil against you. And it's like, I had this I use this

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

study guide, I knew this.

Greg Williams:

Yeah. tricked me. Yeah, it's like, and I never would take responsibility. They also taught fixed and growth mindset. So lots of fixed mindset of like, what the heck, I studied this, I read the chapter as confident, when in reality, you're falling into this fluency trap. And our learners can get in that trap the same. I've seen this with the video a lot, right? Especially in the corporate world. It's like, oh, yeah, I watched the one minute video, I should now be able to do this thing. It gives you this fluency that you know how to do it, but you haven't actually committed it to long term memory. You haven't actually practiced it and gotten feedback. And so it's not sticking, it's just flowing over you. So I love that they put a name to that, because that, that describes basically my whole formal educational experience. And why I apologize to all my math teachers that I railed against. And I thought they were like, banding together to destroy my life. But in reality, I just had a fixed mindset and was falling susceptible to fluency. So anyway. So yeah, let's talk about these eight techniques. They're all kind of connected in different ways. And so just like the book will probably come and go on these different things. But let's start out with the first one, which you have listed is generation. So this isn't like, next generation Star Trek or generation, you know, many generations ago, a different kind of generation. Can you talk through a little bit of what that is?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Sure. Yeah. Basically, generation is trial and error. It's taken a whack at something, you know, before you actually have been taught how to do it. And this is really helpful in activating learning. For learners actually activating readiness, but also it helps develop a foundation for schema for all those schema theorists out there. helps people say, Okay, I have this problem, what in my background can I draw upon to help me solve this problem, and when you sink those roots into those former memories, you're able to then recall the similar issues and problems to be solved in the future. Back to pakhtuns experience. So this is something that's overlooked a lot in education.

Greg Williams:

I'm pretty sure that there's related this is the concept they talked about, which is desirable difficulty. And it's that idea that something is desirably difficult when if you work harder at it, you you can make progress, where generation or desirable difficulty fails if you don't have The base are foundational pieces, or components to begin to even approach the topic. So I think a safe example would be alright, I want you to start trying to solve this calculus problem. But you only know very, very basic arithmetic. It's like thinking of the zone of proximal development with what's his name? Vygotsky. It's so far out of my comfort zone, it's so far out of my, my schema, I have no mental model to make any connection to this. That's not desirably difficult. That's painfully difficult,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

right? That's outside the flow, right?

Greg Williams:

Yeah. But if you've got enough little pieces, I think what they're describing with this generation is just by sort of struggling a little bit first, and then, you know, having a demonstration or then getting some clues or an answer, that leads to better learning, even if those errors are made in the attempt. It's painful, though.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah. This, this also speaks to you know, I rarely see this in corporate training, right? This, this is very much constructivist, and not behaviorist. because it encourages experiential learning, encourages creative thinking, it's not, here are the five steps that you must know to do this, this is, maybe there's another way to do this, maybe you can be the new Einstein or Newton, right, and come up with some novel ways of solving this problem. And I think it's really important in some job roles to be able to think creatively like this. But it's very much not necessary in other settings.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, and I think there's a lot of ways that you could approach this. So even if you were, let's say, your, so I can say this, I back in college days, I worked on the front line at Subway, right making people sandwiches. So unfortunately, subways called those folks, sandwich artists and artists usually have like very little, you know, guidance. I think they have constraints. But when you're a sandwich artist at Subway, you have a lot of guidance. In fact, you have a whole ton of guidelines, and actually very little deviance from freedom from that. But where I'm going with that is, if I was sitting down a new, a new employee who's going to be serving sandwiches, right, and we're going to talk about maybe dealing with an angry customer, or, you know, resolving a problem, like maybe a burn sandwich or something, which I actually loved because I got to eat the burnt sandwiches. Yeah, I remember Planica burn meatballs were awesome. You know, especially when someone would mess up the cookies, and I got to eat some of the cookies. But anyway, you know, a generation situation for this to teach, like how to deal with that situation, right? It's kind of a soft skills moment. You could say like, Alright, before I tell you what our policy or guidelines are, right? What, how do you think what do you think we should do in this situation? And chances are you already have some background of dealing with angry people, right, in your family or with your friends, or, like, there's something to start with? And like, even just asking that one simple question. And even if it only takes one minute, like, that's a simple way that I think they could integrate this principle, right of just like, before, we just tell you what to do, or give you the thing, like, bring some of your own thoughts and some of your own be a part of constructing what this looks like, like what you were saying,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

I love where you're going with this, Greg, you can take it to a, let's say, a sales training meeting for for your Salesforce. Right? Yeah. So. So often we're thinking, Okay, we've got 45 minutes to cram all of this knowledge into this, this one learning experience. When generation teaches us know, you can send out an email a week before the event and say, I want you to reflect on your past experiences. And just like you said, you know, like, if you're teaching some kind of soft skill to Salesforce, or or maybe you're with, you're saying we have this new product, like, I want you to come prepared, like reflect on like, What things have you been influenced by when faced with an opportunity to, to buy a new product and, and let them kind of generate ideas before the learning event? This is a great way to apply this principle.

Greg Williams:

The last thing I wanted to mention on this, if you have more we can stay on it longer. That's cool. But you mentioned this in your blog post that I'd forgotten to is it's that initial moment of struggle that really prepares them it's that priming for them to learn later. And it's most powerful for developing deep understanding Have a subject. But if you're just trying to like, you know, what year did the civil war end or whatever those like simple facts to recall aren't generation is might not be as as beneficial.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

I think that part Greg as placing bookmark in your mind, when you can have an event at the beginning of a learning experience that just ties you to an experience the topic or the subject emotionally, you're going to be able to recall it better.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, yeah, this is good. So interleavings the next one. And we've already sort of talked about a couple of the studies that we remembered from that. But we didn't actually talk about what it means or what it is so sorry, listeners, but we'll get to that now. Um, so you mentioned in your blog post, you were a little foggy on that, for sure, at least the technique. But as you got into it, it seemed like it began to make more sense. You want to talk about that?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah, yeah. So interleaving is a process that you do when you are learning something new. Instead, this is the opposite of interleaving is massed practice, meaning you cram all the study of a single idea into one group until you've nailed it, I think back to my piano days, right? It's like drill this four bars, right? until it's perfect, and then I can move on. Yeah, when in reality, what what the authors are teaching here is, you are going to remember this better if you play two measures here. And then two measures at the end of the song that's similar, right. But there might be a slight difference, and then you play something else, and then you come back to those those two or three parts. And by doing this, it has a couple of really great benefits, when you take a problem outside of its context. So instead of just saying, I already understand the kind of problem that I'm trying to solve here, you don't get as deep learning. But if you are up in the air, about exactly how to go about solving the problem, then you have to take a step back and learning process and think about the strategy you have to apply in order to do this thing. Maybe it's better to give an example.

Greg Williams:

Well, I remember one example, they shared that. So back to my you know, math teachers, and you know, all of my dark past associated with that, you know, they talk about how, unfortunately, the way math classes are all are often set up is you have, you know, alright, we're gonna do a unit on, you know, this part of geometry. And so every study guide, and every test essentially looks like the setup in the context, you understand, like, I know, I'm gonna need the Pythagorean theorem or whatever. And I know I'm gonna use that on these 15 problems, because we just learned that Right, right. And you do that and you pass the quiz or the new, you may be passed the unit test, and then you move on to the next, you know, the quadratic formula, or whatever. And you know, you're going to use that, and then you get to like the term midterm test. And suddenly, all those problems are interleaved or mixed up together, right. And you're like, I don't know what formula to use, because you've, that context has been sort of provided to you. Because you're, you're very organized massed practice of that thing. You didn't have to think about what strategy to pull from right. Whereas if you had mix those up every time you're learning how to actually read the problem and think more holistically about what tools do I need to solve this? What questions do I need to ask? And you don't actually do that until like, the last test of the class, sometimes. Grant example?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah. Yeah, it makes me think of, you know, in the corporate world, we send these people installing products and people's homes out there. And right, every home is different. And there's different approaches and different products that would need to that those installers would need to solve this this problem. And wouldn't it be nice if they could just go out and say, oh, yeah, these next five homes are all going to be like this in the next five homes are like that. And they can prepare for that? No, they have to be able to, you know, go back in their minds and access those trainings and say, Oh, what do I need to know in order to assess whether which which of these solutions can fit this, this customer's needs? So like you said, it's so essential to simulate practice, like the real world experience.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, interleaving, I think is a really important one. I know in a past role, we call it the happy path when trying to provide training to support agents, right? So it's like, someone calls in, and this is the problem, and you just follow these five steps and problem solved. Right? That's the happy path. Right? Yeah. But the happy path is actually not always. That's actually usually not how it goes down. They call in. Yeah, they have that problem. But they also have this one, that one and the other one, and they're really mad. And it's this like, combination of skills that you if you practice, like week one, happy path is what you learned in week two mad customers, week three? Well, maybe this is day one, day two, anyway, you get you get the idea, you're training on those different things.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

It's all one out of 100 in your study,

Greg Williams:

yeah, it's gonna be a weird a mishmash of all that stuff. So instead of creating your training curriculum, you know, let's do this skill. And then this one. It's like how this book is organized. Let's introduce this. And then let's bring up another thing. And then let's go back to that one thing and not skip over here. Let's jump over there. And over time you develop this well rounded sort of thing. I guess you exercise your biceps over and over again. And then you do your, your calf over and over again. You that doesn't create you like a strong you know, holistic super person you

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

go to the gym are gonna resonate with that. Greg, yeah, you know, I

Greg Williams:

wish I

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

you know, I gotta, I gotta say two things. Number one, people hate this this technique. Because it, you don't get the immediate happy feedback of getting ready all the time. Yeah, like you do when you when you complete a quick round of massed practice, right? Yes, you are the author's prepare the reader like you are not going to do as well if you practice this technique in the short run, right, but and here's here's a one of those pop psych stories that you asked for at the beginning, that one student, he just would get 95 to 99% on like, every single assignment and Quiz and test and the teacher reached out to me is like, what are you doing? That's right, to do this. And he's like, you know, I just follow these different techniques that are sharing the book. And then I trust the process. I know, even when I fail to get the answer, correct, like, as I'm, as I'm doing all these skills, I know that if I stick with it, I'm gonna get that, that that final grade that I want. And I was inspired by this, this principle, back in 2018, when I was the, the head tennis pro at the Riverside Country Club, I would use my tennis students as guinea pigs. And so instead of just committing entire day to Okay, today, we're going to work on Sir, we're just going to drill it right until you get it down. Students loved to drill because they would see immediate gains, right? And at the end of the day, like, Oh, that was money well spent, right? But then I said, Listen, if you want to really stick with this, and if you want to really improve, I'm going to teach you a technique that's going to improve you over the summer, not just today, are you do trust me? Like, are you with me, right. And then we would group the different kinds of strokes together. So any stroke that we would do over the head, or over the shoulder, I would group together in quick little five minute segments. So we would do serves, and then we would come in and do like overheads, and then we would come up closer to the net, and we do volleys. And we would just keep going back and forth. And I would be giving them feedback and different stuff like that. Sure enough, at the end of the summer, I did do a control group, right. One person one way and one person the other. Of course, it would be but it was a poor design because two people are different. But I definitely saw more progress from the student that I practice interleaving than I did with a student who maths practice.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I think tennis is a great example of how you could do that. Now that's and you do get that immediate feeling of I'm doing better on this with the maths piece. But the long game isn't there. So the next principle is spacing and forgetting there's there's quite a lot about this and there's been a lot of conversation and research about forgetting curve and and all that type of thing. So this is closely related to interleaving. But it's more about time than it is about, you know, the function of the learning activity itself. Right?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah. Yeah, so the whole concept behind this is the statistics. And this goes back to the, you know, then, Lady 1800s, where they discovered this forgetting curve, after 20 minutes, you're going to forget almost 40% of what you learned, after a day or two, you're going to lose 70%. And so the whole idea is like, stop the bleeding the if memory is blood, right? How do you stop the forgetting. And the solution is simply space out your study, don't maybe commit all the practice upfront? I know, in especially for K 12, teachers, time is their most precious commodity, right, they just don't have enough to cover all the material that is expected of them. So you just have to prioritize, teach less initially, and then make time to go back in these intervals to prevent forgetting.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, well, and I think something that the second time around listening to this was a good reminder is, you know, this is a very cognitivist heavy book, which is not a bad thing, it's just very focused on this idea of, you know, short term memory long term memory. And one of the principles we'll talk a little bit more near the end is the mnemonic devices. But you know, depending on what study you look at, or whatnot, we humans can hold, you know, what, pretty much three to four pieces of information in our working memory, you know, it's gonna short short term working memory, that's, you know, we've got our telephone numbers chunked into digits of three, which helps, right, and so we have those that chunking helps. But once you start to get, you know, upwards of seven or plus, right, that you find diminishing returns, diminishing returns when you try to commit stuff. And so you could cram for, for a test tomorrow, and you're gonna hold a ton of stuff in your working memory, and maybe, maybe do all right on that initial test. But then next week, you're kind of toast on on most of those things, unless you've, you've done a lot of other things. And I think understanding the difference of those two things helped me think more about that, that spacing element, one reason it's important is you're really giving time for that stuff to settle. And then when we talk about retrieval in a couple principles, you're basically building out the pathway to those things in the deep closet of your memory, and pulling it up again. And the more you do that, the deeper you build your path, right, and it's easier to go retrieve that from the long term memory. But if you never build the path, then it never really sticks as it goes in one ear and out the other in your working memory.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

That's true. And you know, this principle may not be for everyone. I'm thinking of some classroom teachers who might be listening to this and be like, No, I don't care about them remembering, I just want them to be able to, you know, spit it out in three days, when we have our unit test, and I'm going to be getting my bonus of all my students are, you know, I don't know how teachers are paid. But if that's you,

Greg Williams:

then I hope you can change jobs.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

I'm just making space for people who are remembering might not be their priority. There

Greg Williams:

might not be the goal is long term memory or something deep, deep learning. Right? Yeah, no, that's, that's good. And I. And that's a really good caveat for all of these principles, right? There's so many different contexts and goals for learning. But I think regardless, there's tools in here that could help.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

If you want to just keep hold on to some, I think in summary for this concept of spacing. If you want to hold on to knowledge for a long time, you've got to prevent forgetting. And you do that by recalling those initial learning moments.

Greg Williams:

Okay, the next one is what we are attempting to do right now in this podcast and what you did in your blog, and that's the principle of elaboration. And you talk a little bit about what elaboration means in the way that they talked about it in the book.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Sure, yeah. So elaboration, it's giving deeper meaning to an a new idea. So creating more layers, and you do that by explaining the material in your own words. It's like

Greg Williams:

we understand it in principle, but it's not actually super fun to do. Like, so I'm going to not do that right now. Just to get us a little bit more into like And then we can talk about it. But in the book, it describes elaboration as the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know, the more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to your prior knowledge, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be. And the more connections you create that will help you remember it later. So what I just did is not elaboration.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

You resided there.

Greg Williams:

I recite it. Exactly. Yeah. So

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

So Go Go ahead, Greg. Let's, let's give it a shot.

Greg Williams:

Yeah. So when I think of elaboration, right, it's what I try to do actually, with active listening, with my kids are in communication, that reminds me a lot of this principle in communication, I don't think it's the exact same thing. But like, when my son comes to me and says, you know, the Boko goblins in, you know, Breath of the Wild from Zelda did X, Y, and Z, I can go, Ah, ha ha ha, which is, unfortunately, what I do a lot, because like, he talks a lot about Breath of the Wild lately. But like, if I truly want to get what he's talking about, right, I want him to be valued and feel listened to. But also, if I actually want to learn the game, to elaborate, I could say, oh, so what you're saying is the Bokoblins, you know, die if you do this, that or the other? And then he'll say yes or no, it's an opportunity for me to take what he said and say it back to him in a way that is trying to fit it into the mental model. And in doing so, it'll highlight things I don't understand. That's when he's like, No, Dad. No, you don't understand. There's you know, this shrine gives us certain tool and this not in the other like, oh, okay, now highlights blind spots for me. Right, for sure.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

It connects with a later technique too, because calibration,

Greg Williams:

calibration, Oh, yeah. So this something in your blog post reminds me of something I saw in a different blog posts. So it's called the Fineman learning technique. And this is in a wonderful blog called Furnham. Street. It's a great podcast, too. So the great physicist Richard Feynman had a technique for learning that he, he used apparently, and he had some steps, which, in my mind, this is pure elaboration. So step number one was pretend to teach a concept you want to learn about to a student in the sixth grade, so maybe you just read something or you watch something, you consume some sort of information, pretend to teach that concept to to a sixth grader, right? In doing that, identify the gaps in your explanation. So it might be like, Okay, I was trying to explain, I was trying to explain, you know, the, the, the details behind the War of 1812. And I actually realized, I have no idea what I'm talking about. So you go back to the original material, you identify what it is you organize, you simplify yourself, and then you do it again. And you basically do that over and over. Right? And you're just taking time to check what the demonstrated, you know, or the instructor or material, say, process it connected to what you know, and teach it back. You can even pretend, you know, he suggested using a rubber duck as if it was the sixth grade child and literally talking to it, which people might think you're disturbed, but you're just, you're just learning. Anyway, I I love that idea. And I feel like what Richard Fineman is saying there is the same thing we should elaborate.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Absolutely. Your story reminds me of an amazing learning model applied by BYU Idaho. I think they started this officially about 10 years ago. Their three model of step approach is prepare, teach one another, and then ponder improve. And so break those down. Essentially, it's the same thing as the Fineman approach. You prepare by completing assignments early, engaging in class activities, bring questions to share. But then the real heart of the learning experience is in the listening and responding to one another, taking an opportunity to teach each other the concepts and elaborate and then finally, they ponder improves as times to reflect individually and in groups and to test understanding retrieval and that sort of thing. But I rarely see this concept of others elaboration used in any kind of education. And I'm not sure why what why why it's it's it's not getting the love.

Greg Williams:

i Yeah, I think there's maybe some ways that we could simplify how to do it, but I know on its face to me, it appears like a time intensive, not very fun. And yeah, difficult thing. It's also kind of hard to automate, right like Yeah, what choice tests that you can easily grade? Instead, it's like, turn to your neighbor. You know, it's very manual, right? It's very human. And so that might be,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

they may not buy into the benefits, like if we if we actually do invest the time. And if we're courageous enough to to go off book here and let people actually say things in their own words, are we going to get the return on investment here? And I think the authors would argue that Absolutely, yes.

Greg Williams:

You mentioned that student who was, you know, hitting all these high scores, and his college professor was like, what, what are you doing? And, you know, some of his activities that he would do is the reading his textbook is he would, he would write his own study guides, right? He will write like a pre study guide, I

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

think it's just a collaboration. Yeah.

Greg Williams:

So you look at it and hadn't even read it yet. And was like, Okay, what do I think's gonna happen in here, right, and would start constructing a framework. And then after reading, it would say, Alright, I'm going to go through and build my own study guide and my own pretest from the material, right? That takes time. But, you know, he, he was whizzing this class that everybody else was struggling with. And that professor is so impressed. I think this is, this is definitely an overlooked principle that could be powerful in a lot of contexts. For sure. Alright, so next principle is retrieving. And we've talked a lot about retrieving already, just not explicitly. Essentially, retrieval practice is another way of saying quizzing or testing. And I remember they talked a lot about this idea of the testing effect that psychologists have pointed to this that the more you are basically challenged to answer a question of a thing, the better you're going to remember it. So instead of the more you read a thing, the more you're actually tested on it, you're going to remember it better, right? But the most basic concept around this is flashcards. Yes, yes. But there's a lot more to retrieval than just flashcards and testing, um, what did you make of this principle as it relates to retrieving here and, and the rest of the principles?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

I think this is probably at the heart of all eight of these techniques. If you can get good at retrieving information, you are and I have no statistics to back this up. But I think this, if you're willing to pick one, I think this would be the one. And it may just be the hardest one for learners specifically to get over, because of the baggage that comes with failing to retrieve correctly, right? A lot of times, tests and grades and how well we perform in our academic lives, is intrinsically tied to our self esteem. Right? I'm speaking personally here, like, like, even even when I was in my doctoral program, my self esteem was really closely tied to how much work I did on my dissertation that day, or, you know, like, things like that. And it's something that if we can get over, we're going to become extremely more effective at learning. Being comfortable with getting things wrong. It's just part of the learning process. So with that little preface, yes, retrieving. And what did you call it? The testing effect? is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think when they think quiz or test, they think of summative right experiences instead of formative. Assessments, right? So what I see the authors talking about when they talk about retrieving is much more in the practice and in graining and of knowledge and of, of learning memory. It's not in the okay. Did you get it? Here's your here's your final test to see if you understand this concept. That's not the retrieving they're necessarily talking about.

Greg Williams:

Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, for a brief time in my past, I was in the K 12 teaching space. And you know, I, I went to a conference. That was basically it was in San Francisco and all sorts of teachers for coming from all around the world. And there's Arne Duncan showed up. And at the time he was, you know, the the chief learning school person in the I want to say the Obama administration. And there was some crazy like, I never seen teachers, you know, if you've seen a mob being out of teachers like this was like, they were like a stop. Well, no, not that kind of mob like, oh, you know, angry mob, like pitchforks and torches mob

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

like Franken, Dr. Frankenstein? Yeah, they

Greg Williams:

were like, stop the testing of our children. You know, we hate tests. And I was like, Oh, yes, I hate test to like, cool. Like, let's burn it all down. You know, like, let's do this. And so I think in the authors were really clear on this is like, yeah, testing definitely has a bad rap, especially in K 12. Right. It's like, there's a movement have, like, let's not have tests at all, let's just have children's sort of makeup, like kids know what they need best. So they sort of can make up their curriculum and like, construct everything. It's almost like a dark side of, you know, generation, that first principle we talked about, right? It's like, yeah, there's no testing needed, because that's, you know, evil or capitalistic or whatever. And so, interestingly enough, you know, they talk about how testing is one of the most powerful tools, but I think what you described is so important, it's how it's executed. So in the book, they had an example of a professor who is dealing with a few problems. One was that in college, just students would not show up. Like, they would come the first few classes, and they just would stop coming. And you know, because now it's like, well, you can go get the slides afterwards, and certain math practice and then pass the midterm and massed practice, test the final. So why go to class anyway, right? Realize, it's like, I'm not even teaching them anything. Like, what's the point? So after a few experiments, what he landed on was having, I can't remember the number of his like, question quizzes. Yeah, like for question quizzes, and the quizzes, they weren't high stakes, but they did matter to your grade. And he would tell you the days they were gonna be, yeah. And he said, he wasn't gonna surprise you, he told you the days that they were going to be done. Right, I think it was, like spread across the semester. It was somewhat low stakes. But um, but they had higher attendance students show up, people would show up, and they were learning because they were regularly getting it. And then you could do the interleaving concept of like, instead of testing, just like what that section was on, you start interleaving questions in those tests, right. And then that retrieving becomes really powerful across the whole semester, that whole chunk,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

retrieving totally gets a bad rap. And maybe that's the first step is we need to rebrand testing to this is your retrieval practice for today?

Greg Williams:

Yeah,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

but, you know, you got me thinking, Greg, maybe what the real first step needs to be is we need to take testing out of the teachers hands and put it into the learners, hands. Testing needs to become a tool, and a practice, practice tools initiated by the learner, something that will help them and when they begin to see this tool as something that can help them get to where they want to be, then then maybe the fear around exams and things will disappear. Mm hmm.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I mean, I remember hearing the example it was not in this book. But as a law school student, who was always testing himself at the end of every day, he had set aside 30 minutes or something, to just test himself on everything you'd read everything you'd heard in class, and then elaborate, how did it apply to what you've been learning? In the previous section? How did it apply to his internship at that time, and he did that every day. And when those big brutal law, you know, exams came to try to pass the bar, like, he wasn't worried he got plenty of sleep, and he like aced them all. Because like, he had been testing the whole time and interleaving the whole time, there's nothing to be worried about. It was instead of reading every word of every chapter over and over again, it was testing and interleaving. Right. And elaborating,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

you know, I never considered this until you just shared that story, Greg, but when I was doing my master's program, I think one semester, I took something like 21 credits, graduate credits. Yeah. And at the end of the day, I found myself after the first week, I was not remembering anything from the, you know, seven, eight hours of class I had every day. And so what I turned to was journaling at night, and I would take that as an opportunity. I know it's, it's it's not You know, three and five, and then seven days, you know after but at least at the end of the day, I would go through and write down, try to recall from my memory without looking at my notes, here, the three top or important ideas that I got from each of my courses today. And that simple activity of trying to retrieve that information, help them get through that semester illustrate is,

Greg Williams:

well, I think that's a perfect actually lead into the next principle, which is reflection. And you noted in your blog post reflection seems to really be a combination of sorts of retrieval practice and elaboration, right? The way they describe it as reflection can involve several cognitive activities that lead to stronger learning, retrieval knowledge and early, earlier training from memory, you know, what did she say again, or like what you were doing in your journal, and connecting these two new experiences? So how does this new information fit into my existing mental model of the universe or of whatever and visualizing and mentally rehearsing what you might do differently next time. And so that that power of that reflection, I think is spot on, like what you were doing isn't necessarily the testing effect, right? Like you didn't have a set of flashcards in this scenario. You weren't taking a pretest or a practice test, but what you were doing is sitting there and taking some time to sort of make sense of what you heard, retrieve some things elaborate on it a little bit. And that, that is powerful.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Yeah, yeah. Reflection is so important to me personally. Because I think of myself as a creative person, I think of myself as taking ideas and, and pushing them to the next level. And I can't do that without thinking deeply about things and having time taking time to think deeply. And I encourage a lot of my learners in in corporate training, especially when it comes to creativity and thinking how to problem solve, to practice reflection in either if even if it's if it's on their own, right? If it's like a, an elearning training, or I'll, I'll just give them time to reflect or ponder or give them like a short answer a short, short essay response and say, Hey, we're just going to be emailing these thoughts to your to your manager. And, you know, give me some, some recall some experiences, you've had that, that have been similar to this experience that we just showed you in this training. What are some ways that you could approach this based on, on, you know, the things that you've learned so far? And I think it's a super powerful, powerful technique. Additionally, let me just say, this can also be used when talking about values within an organization. I, in recent years, I've seen a lot of businesses, ask instructional designers to say, you know, what we really need to get our employees aligned with the values that we have established as an organization. How can you help us do that kind of thing?

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I think there's, there's so much in this height. And I'm kicking myself that I don't have the hard copy of this book, you know, listened to it a couple of times. And I really want to get it now. Because there's a key quote in there. It's based on one of the pop psychology stories that I'm now remembering. They start off this chapter, essentially about this kid genius who, at the age of I want to say like he was hitchhiking across state borders to buy fireworks, and then was like, selling them to his friends and stuff. And then, as he got older, he was like, learning more and more about ways to invest and, you know, took over this like, railroad thing and like, became this tycoon and all of this stuff. And it was kind of random at first, like, this is a cool story. But what the heck does it have to do with like cognitive strategies of learning, but they talked about his ability to observe and then reflect on what was happening and what he knew and what he didn't know. And be able to actually start to make meaning of the world around him and connect it to what he understood as it related to essentially making money but enabled this particular character and it's a real person, I can't remember his name, to do some pretty remarkable things. And the quote that I want to find said something to the effect of what is really going to set people apart now and into the future is those who have the ability to learn and which is largely oriented around the ability to take to make the space and take the time to reflect on what they know and what they don't. I wish I had the quote because it was much better than that. But anyway, I guess I'm elaborating now because that are making up stuff who knows. So The next one is calibration. And this, you say in your post that this could be a fancy way of just saying feedback, or you're calibrating with, whether it's the expert or the communication partner or whatnot. Yeah, what do you make of this principle calibration?

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Okay, so this is like a salt and pepper with retrieval. If you do not have calibration with retrieval, they're gonna want the one will fall flat. Right? So the best learning experiences I have participated in are the ones that have me practice retrieving throughout the experience, and then give me meaningful feedback when I get the answer wrong. That guides me to the information I need to make the right choices or or just give me that little hint. That sparks the memory. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. That's, that's what it was. Someone who does this really well, I've seen recently is LinkedIn, some, sometimes they do it? Well, and sometimes they don't do they don't do it as well. But in LinkedIn learning, a lot of times they'll have these videos that are broken down into chapters, and they'll quiz you after every five, you know, videos. And then they'll have an exam at the end or whatever. But in these small little quizzes, if you don't get it, right, they'll they'll have they'll say, No, you got it wrong, but then they'll, they'll they'll give you that little prompt that little feedback, say, Okay, this is what this does, actually. And it might lean you towards this other thing, if you get it wrong two times in a row, it'll pop up the video that has the answer and says, Hey, maybe check this video. And this is a perfect example of calibration for me.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, as you're describing that, to me, it's like doing flashcards, but never seeing the back of the card and say, like, Did I get it? Right is wrong? Like, that's the worst when? So I guess one of the biggest things that, you know, I wanted to pick up my own pitchfork. And that that conference I was at in San Francisco about standardized testing, is like kids don't get feedback from those standardized tests, right? It's like, it's purely just high stakes. You know, the only feedback you get is like, sorry, Billy, you have to repeat the seventh grade or whatever. And that doesn't help one learn at all. There's no calibration in some of those standardized tests, right. So if you have more frequent low stakes testing, and actually gives you the time and space to calibrate, identify, where you have gaps reflect right, and then elaborate on what you think's going on set goals and, and build from there. So yeah, this is important, is

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

it thinking about taking the reins as a learner, right? These all these techniques aren't things that we should put the, you know, on the shoulders of the educators to do for us, all of these techniques are things that the learner can do themselves, right. And so this principle seven calibration, specifically is I, I think it can be practiced best in groups. It's tough with flashcards right to, to kind of like play tennis with yourself running back and forth over the net. But when you're in a group, and you can test one another, and you can elaborate on the test questions, and I think there's a lot of synergy that can happen there.

Greg Williams:

Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah, they actually talked about that, as an example is like a traditional study group might have like, the person who knows the most just kind of tells everyone Yeah, this is what happened in this chapter. Whereas the best study groups is they might not actually even open the textbook, but they just they've created their own study questions, and they're quizzing one another and checking one another, right. And that's going to be the best way to calibrate with what's going on. Last but not least, is pneumonic devices. And so this is like, you know, there's, there's the kind of regular ones that I think there's the going with the math theme, please, please, dear Aunt Sally, something Oh, man, that that mnemonic is falling apart? Or order of operations? I think there's like the north south east west, there's, there's so many different mnemonics, right, like Yeah, and I think to your point, this is one that's highly in the learners fear of responsibility to take on but there may there are things as designers we can do to help things be more memorable but like, we can't craft a memory palace for somebody else. But yeah, talk more about what what you made of pneumonic devices as it relates to some of the themes we've been talking About.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Okay, so from a purely academic standpoint, I can understand why the authors put this one in here. For the, you know, memory champions of the world, this is obviously critical to their success in the corporate realm. This is one of my less favorite techniques. I'm speaking from personal experience, I get confused between my two piano mnemonics fac E. And I can't even say the letters. I just have to say that every good boy does fine,

Greg Williams:

right? Oh, yeah, that's right. Notes. Yeah, yeah, like,

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

yeah, the lines and the spaces in the treble clef. So I get those two confounded all the time. And I have to actually think, okay, one of them has four, and one of them has five to five must be the lions in the form of speed of spaces. That's eventually I get there. But I get confused with just two. So if you are going to use pneumonic devices in a corporate setting, maybe just stick to one or maybe two, like at the most, if they're connected somehow. Any more than that, and you start getting into, like military acronyms that nobody can understand. Remember? Yeah, unless you're one of those, you know, committed memory, international memory champions.

Greg Williams:

Yeah, I found this chapter. Interesting. And fascinating. You know, there is discussion about this, like class at, I think it's Cambridge, or some, some Harry Potter school in England. Sorry, I've run in England for just saying that. But anyway, they're, you know, they were doing these preparing for these intense tests. I think these are like high school students getting ready for college. Yeah. And their, their Innovative Advanced Placement ones. Yeah, their teacher would like take them to different coffee houses, and they would like, associate different things in those different areas to what they were studying. They talked about Mark Twain teaching his kids the different presidents I think, are, yeah, the monarchs of the of England. And so they would walk down their country road, and they'd be like, oh, there's Elizabeth. There's, you know, George, or whatever. And they would learn the monarchs that way. I found it all fascinating, but I'm kind of with you, where it's like, there might be a corporate space, maybe you're learning, like, what's the sales framework here, it's B, A, C, or whatever. And, but like, a lot of those deep memory, pneumonic things they seemed more helpful for, I don't know, a memory championship or preparing for a high stakes test that you have to be able to pull from lots of complex sources quickly, you know, it's basically a way, you know, shortcuts to grabbing stuff to retrieval. Long term memory, right. Yeah. I think that's useful, but like, maybe not for everybody. I certainly could use it if I wanted to, but like, I don't know, at this point.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

I think the reason I'm talking on it, Greg is just because I'm not great at it. For some people taking time saving grace, like those, you know, advanced placement students in England that's saved their, you know, academic careers and set them on the path for their future success in life just because of this one thing that got them through that 90 minute test, write this 12 essays. And, and, you know, I think it's worth a shot, but I just don't have a lot of experience. With success with it. Yeah.

Greg Williams:

Yeah. Growth Mindset, you could become the next memory champion next year, probably. Yeah, you should do. Well, next time, I'll have you on the podcast, it'll be you know, the most recent reigning champion memory palace builder champion. Brian will be on the show to talk about it. But um, this is I mean, obviously, there's a lot more in the book. We're just elaborating here. And so, I mean, I assume you would recommend this to folks, given that you've read it a bunch, and we're talking about it, but I mean, is there anything else that you'd want to share for folks about this book or as it relates to your work? do you think's important to highlight a

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

couple things come to mind? Quit cramming, unless you need a good grade in in less than 24 hours. That's like the main message that I would share with the world. One thing that we didn't go over, Greg is how how beautifully the authors break apart, break down the myth of learning styles. Yeah, which somehow over the last 20 years has continued to persist not only in in the corporate world, but in education and beyond. But they do a beautiful job. Taking what's good from from that background and clarifying what's true and, and, and what's not. And we just don't have time to talk about that today, maybe talk about learning styles later.

Greg Williams:

It's a there's definitely some good, good stuff in there about that in a number of other things that we haven't talked through. But I've really enjoyed this. Maybe I've enjoyed it too much, or it's just we're recording this late. I'm a little bit you know, loopy er than normal. So it's been it's been good, though. And I've really enjoyed visiting with you about this brand. So thanks so much for your time.

Dr. Bryan Tanner:

Thanks. Great. Yeah, I hope people get something out of it.