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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Learn Better by doing

Learning is a skill, writes Ulrich Boser in his new book, Learn Better.

People “know” a lot about teaching learning that just isn’t so, argues Boser.

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More than 90 percent of survey respondents said students should be taught in their own learning style, despite “virtually no evidence” for that approach.

In addition, the public thinks reading, underling and reviewing notes are effective ways to study, but it skeptical about far more effective active techniques such as self-explaining and self-quizzing.

Boser explains why using an abacus works so well in Vox. The “abacus makes learning a matter of doing,” he writes. “It’s an active, engaging process.”

He watched a high school girl named Serena Stevenson solve complex problems quickly by visualizing an abacus, then moving her fingers as though she was moving beads.

For each question, she closed her eyes, and then the fingers of her right hand began to twitch, a progression of plucks and jerks. The movements were fast and exact. . . . on YouTube, I watched students with even more theatrical gesticulations. What’s more, the hand movements turned out to be at the heart of the practice, and without any arm or finger motions, accuracy can drop by more than half.

People learn more when they have to do something, he writes.

The power of mentally doing is clear in memory tasks. Want to remember the French word for home, “maison,” for instance? People are far more likely to recall the word “maison” if a letter is missing from the word — e.g., “mais_n.” When people add the “o,” they’re more engaged and thus learn more.

Using abacus beads to keep track of digits also reduces demands on short-term memory, freeing up more brain for complex calculations, writes Boser.

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