Use it or lose it

From the current Discover magazine (not yet online) on why teaching by lecture doesn’t work:

“The latest cognitive science research on effective learning…points to more interactive approaches that include immediately and repeatedly putting new information to use.”

The author, David Freedman, quotes Carl Wieman, Nobel Prize-winning associate director of the Office of Science and Technology at the White House:  “They say [the lecture] is the way it’s always been done, and it was good enough for them, so it’s good enough for their students.”

Freeman goes on:

Were this attitude to hold in medicine, we would still be bloodletting; in physics,we would be trying to reach the moon with very large rubber bands, and in economics we would still be suffering major worldwide financial crashes.  (Well, physics and medicine are advancing, anyway.)

Why do some of us still think that being talked at (even online) constitutes knowledge transfer?  We wouldn’t let people work with dangerous equipment without practicing first.  Why do we assume that learners can simply hear about how to handle a difficult conversation and then be able to do it weeks later while under stress?

All true learning needs a component that goes beyond the theoretical:  some form of practice. When it comes to new knowledge, it really is “use it or lose it.”

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