Today I stumbled across two interesting articles. Both talk about some relevant research on learning, and coincidentally, both are by folks I know.
An alumni bulletin mentioned research done by Hal Pashler (who was a new professor while I was a grad student; I was a teaching assistant for him, and he let me give my first lecture in his class), and talks about the intervals necessary for successful learning. Will Thalheimer has done a great job publicizing how we need to space learning out, and this research was interesting for the the length of time recommended.
The study provided obscure information (true but unusual), with an initial study, subsequent re-study, and then a test, with varying intervals between the study periods, and between the second study and the test (up to a year). The article implied the results for studying (no new news: cramming doesn’t work), but the implications for organizational learning. The interesting result is the potential length of time between studying and performance.
“If you want to remember information for just a week, it is probably best if study sessions are spaced out over a day or two. On the other hand, if you want to remember information for a year, it is best for learning to be spaced out over about a month.”
Extrapolating from the results, he added, “it seems plausible that whenever the goal is for someone to remember information over a lifetime, it is probably best for them to be re-exposed to it over a number of years.”
“The results imply,” said Pashler, “that instruction that packs a lot of learning into a short period is likely to be extremely inefficient, at least for remembering factual information.”
This latter isn’t new information, but does fly in the face of much formal training conducted on behalf of organizations. We’ve got to stop massing our information in single event workshops, and starting preparing, reactivating, and reactivating again for anything that isn’t performed daily.
Moving from learning to thinking and doing (it’s not about learning after all), the second one concerns research done by Jonathan Schooler (who was a new faculty member where I was doing my post-doc; we published some work we did together with one of his PhD students). Schooler’s work has been looking at day-dreaming, and found that it’s not a unitary thing, but actually has a couple of different modes, which differ in whether you’re not aware you’re daydreaming or are, instead, mindful of it. The latter is to be preferred.
In the one where you’re aware you are daydreaming, you can mentally simulate situations and plan what might happen and how to respond, or review what did happen and consider alternatives. This works for social situations as well as other forms of interactions. And the results are beneficial: “people who engage in more daydreaming score higher on experimental measures of creativity, which require people to make a set of unusual connections.”
This is what I mean when I talk about reflection, and in the coming times of increasing change and decreasing knowledge half-life, the ability to be creative will increasingly be a competitive advantage. So, as I’ve said before, do try to make time for reflection. It works!