Learn so it sticks

Learn better by focusing on process, not outcomes – Latest research

Growth is a word bandied about quite a bit these days.  However, I believe that not enough is shared about how to grow or how to help others grow. While no one would argue that growth is important, I find it rare that people know how to affect growth or recognize when progress is being made.  This post gives you an idea or two on how to take action in this area and recommends a book with lots of simple, practical and actionable tips. 

(Excerpt from the book – Learn Better – on how to study and learn better)

Some years ago, researcher Louis Deslauriers and some colleagues decided to roll out a simple intervention in an introductory college science class. If a student did poorly on the first exam, Deslauriers or one of his colleagues would meet with the student for around 20 minutes and provide some research-backed advice. We’ve already covered a lot of what the researchers told the students (regarding meaning reflecting, targeting, self-quizzing and verbally or textually summarizing) and they underscored the importance of mental doing. “Do not simply reread,” Deslauriers would explain. “Attempt to ‘do’ each learning goal by generating your own explanations.” As part of the meeting with each student, Deslauriers also talked about developing plans and goals, advising people to learn “in a targeted manner, to improve your ability with a specific learning goal.” Finally, Deslauriers would tell students to take various approaches to engaging an idea, to make sure that they could explain a concept in various ways. The effect of the advice was impressive. Most students saw their outcomes skyrocket, with tests scores jumping by more than 20 percentage points, or about two grade levels. What’s more, the students in Deslauriers’s class didn’t study any longer. The new approaches didn’t take any additional time. The students simply studied better.

In Learn Better, the author shares the research relating to six areas that help us to improve learning.  

  1. VALUE

Important: It is not step by step process as some areas may be used at times and not at others. However, I believe that Value is key at the outset to help provide learning motivation.

A deeper understanding of each area provided below:

Value – When learning anything, the process will be more effective if we can find meaning.  We improve our ability and likelihood of learning when we relate it to something valuable to us. 

An important aspect of learning for an individual is to ascertain meaning first. That is, if you want to help someone learn something faster and more deeply help them to find meaning in the topic for themselves as part of the process.  For instance, if you are showing someone how building a better business is about simplifying and create a systematic process based around four key decisions, ask them what building a healthy and thriving business that operates day to day without need for them to intervene means to them, or how they came to want to create their business.

Also, most importantly, have, use in hiring, growth and all aspects of your team experience, a Core Purpose – why your company exists, what impact it has on people.  Of all six areas in this book, I believe that this one is the most important and impactful to better learning and better productivity and fulfillment.

Key words – Find meaning

Target – Another key is to target learning to a narrower field such as learning how to run a marathon by focusing on how to master hills or when hitting a baseball to focus on seeing the seams or hitting a tennis ball by trying to read the writing on the ball as it approaches.  Or, instead of saying you want to lose twenty pounds, you decide to eat 1800 calories per day and walk 30 minutes each day.

It is important to set specific goals and develop plans to improve learning.

Key word – Narrowing

Develop –   In order to have the learning stick and improve it helps to focus practice on key areas.  Employing the concept of deliberate practice put forth by Anders Ericsson in his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

Key words – deliberate practice

Extend – look beyond basics and build upon what we already know.  It is key to have some level of knowledge first and to then find ways to build on that foundation. First learn to crawl, then to walk, then to run.

Key words – Prior knowledge 

Relate – Find how it all fits together.  We have to step back and see the bigger picture.  How what we are learning fits into a larger context.

For instance, when learning about People in ScalingUp, one should remember that it is one important piece in creating a healthy and thriving organization focused around four key decisions.

Key words – Bigger picture

Rethink – Practice more often the things you forget but also revisit everything over time.  It will be easier to recall.later.

For anyone who wants to learn anything, the takeaway is clear: Anything we can do to distribute our learning over time pays off, and people should space out the development of a skill. If you’re practicing the violin, don’t just rehearse a melody for a few hours; return to the melody periodically so that it stays burned in your memory.

Key words – Space out learning, reflect to learn

Overall, it is important to learn the effective process of learning.  We can do this by first ensuring that the topic has personal meaning to the learner (VALUE), that we thoughtfully narrow the focus of the topic (TARGET), focus our practice to key areas (DEVELOP), first gain fundamental knowledge before we then move to more sophisticated areas of the topic (EXTEND), take a step back once in a while to see how what we are learning relates to the bigger picture or context (RELATE) and lastly to space out our learning and reflect so we increase the chances of longer term recall. (RETHINK)

Other helpful words/concepts/techniques:

  • Self-Quizzing
  • Revisit concepts over time. Those you miss should be revisited more often.  Reflect to learn.
  • Summarize in your own words
  • Provide relevant feedback and encouragement
  • Group studying is helpful due to social aspect as well as teaching others.

Final thoughts (excerpt from the book)

Set expectations. There’s no getting around it: Learning is hard. Gaining expertise requires struggle. For parent, teachers, and managers, this means that learners need support and encouragement, and so you should offer lots of praise and social encouragement to the people learning something. Be sure, however, to focus on process, not outcomes, so people remain motivated. More specifically, stop using the word “smart.” People who are told they are “smart” often become complacent, performing under their ability, according to work by Carol Dweck. So praise methods, not performance: “Great job working so hard.” “This is going to be hard.” “Keep it up.” 

One thing to try – Next time you are sharing something new with a group, try the following:

  1. Give a high level view of the outcome of the share
  2. Ask each person to write down what it would mean to them if they were to achieve this outcome.
  3. Have each person read this out loud, or just a handful or so if the audience is over 10 or so.
  4. Ask, and allow others to ask, clarifying questions.
  5. Start the share from the beginning.

This should increase the engagement level of the audience as you have allowed them to think about and articulate out loud what they would get out of this information before you have started.  It can also increase the likelihood of action when you are finished among other benefits.

This was one of the better books I have read about how to create a more effective learning culture.  I recommend it highly.

Finally, as a related aside, in all the years of study I have done on learning, one thing comes up over and over again as the best way to learn something – teach it to someone else.  

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach

For MA companies ONLY, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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