In addition to the existing good books out there (Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn, Patti Schank’s new series, e.g. her book on Practice & Feedback, & Brown, et al’s Make it Stick), I was pointed to two others. One I’d heard about but hadn’t gotten to yet, the other was new to me. And now that I’ve finished them, both are worth recommending and adding to your reading list.
Benedict Carey’s How We Learn is an accessible overview of the science of learning. As a journalist (not a scientist), he documents his own unlikely journey as a learner, and how that matches up with what’s known. His idiosyncratic study habits, he discovers, are actually not that far off from what really does work for learning (as opposed to passing tests, and that’s an important distinction). He includes practical implications and maintains a motivating style to help others to put the practice advice to work. His point, it’s what you do as much as how.
This is a book to give to learners to help them understand themselves as learners. The colloquial style and personal anecdotes make the messages comprehensible and relevant. The book includes a full suite of advice about how to learn best. While it may be hard to convince learners to read a book on learning, this may well be the most valuable investment they can make.
On the other hand, Anders Ericsson’s Peak is very much the translated (co-authored by Robert Pool, a journalist) science book. It’s full of revelations, but laid out with scientific experiments to complement a very thorough set of case studies. What it does beautifully is unmask the myth of ‘native talent’ and unpack the details that lead to expertise. And those details, specifically are about deliberate practice.
Most importantly, in my mind, is the summary that points out that our focus should not be so much on expert performance but instead on helping so many achieve meaningful levels of ability that they’ve been turned off to by bad stories. Too often people will say “I can’t do math” and instead such abilities can be developed wonderfully. This book, while relevant to individuals, has much more insight to provide for learning designers. It separates out why you want models like activity-based learning. And why what we do too often in classrooms and online aren’t helpful.
I’d put these near the top of my recommended reading lists.