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Posts published in “Education”

Notes from the field: How people are learning to learn

Ulrich Boser 1

Reader email is often my best email. While there’s the occasional snide note, most people send thoughtful responses to my work. Some point out errors. Others flag their own projects.

My favorite, though, is people who use my work to change the way that they learn. For instance, I got a note late last year from Allen Johnson. He used my book to improve his West Coast Swing dancing. Among other things, Johnson tried to get more "immediate feedback on my errors, so that I could repeat correctly rather than perpetuating my old ways."

The new approach to dancing helped Johnson learn far more effectively. He even went to France in search of more attentive and demanding teachers and group classes that reinforced the private lessons. “It made a huge difference," Johnson said in a note. "I entered my first-ever dance competition, at the Newcomer level, the lowest skill level, and placed first. It was the good teaching that made it happen. Self-esteem comes from results, not false affirmation."

More recently, Ted Maynard reached out. A professor at Wake Technical Community College, Maynard told me that he read the book "to grow professionally.” Maynard wrote up a detailed report on the book for his school’s faculty, outlining the ways in which the book could improve instruction. (You can see Maynard's report here.)

Among other things, Maynard himself planned to use more hypotheticals in his classes. “I want to use 'what if' questioning to get students thinking more in depth about things,” Maynard told me. "Use of such questioning is a more student – centered approach rather than a lecture delivery approach, which has been shown to be too passive to be effective"

Writer George Lawton might be my favorite, though, because he came up with an idea that I really wish that I had come up with on my own. Specifically, Lawton created a set of flash cards around the book. See here.

So you can now ask yourself: "How effective is testing yourself?" I'm sharing these tools here because, well, they'll help you learn more about learning. But more than that, the approaches show that all of us can take effective learning strategies and apply them in new ways.

The Science of Learning in Action: A Visit to Iron Range

Ulrich Boser 0

There are not that many universities that have fully embraced the science of learning. Some schools might have clickers in a few classrooms for example. Others may have intense mentoring programs. But broadly speaking instructional practice hasn't changed much in higher education since it was first pioneered.

This makes Iron Range Engineering in northern Minnesota pretty unusual. The program has fully embraced the research on how people learn and it's made for a very different educational experience.

I visited Iron Range engineering recently and was really impressed by their approach. When it comes to assessment, they use a lot of oral tests. As co-founder Ron Ulseth explained to me, the oral assessments allow students to explain what they know, both elaborating on their knowledge as well as showing it to the assessor. In this sense the assessments are both a form of learning and a form of evaluation.

The school's faculty has also taken some innovative approaches to retrieval practice. One educator showed me this scratch-off that she uses to help students learn.

A spacing approach to learning is also encouraged, and once students learns a principle in any of their courses, they are accountable for being able to describe and apply that principle right up until graduation.

It helps that the program is small. It only has about a hundred students. It's also well supported financially. There is funding from a regional economic development agency that gives the school a lot of flexibility.

The program has won some recent kudos. MIT recently listed IRE as one of the best engineering programs in the world. For Ulseth, that’s not enough. “Engineering education should always be changing. That’s the nature of engineering. You’re always looking to improve for the betterment of people."

--Ulrich Boser

This post first appeared at The Learning Agency.

Launch of the Learning Agency

Ulrich Boser 2

In an effort to improve education delivery services, I've decided to launch The Learning Agency.

Part service provider, part consultancy, the organization will offer professional services around the science of learning. We are a boutique firm that delivers value for our clients. In other words, we have a niche in the science of learning that we serve effectively and at cost.

Ulrich Boser started the Learning Agency after the success of his book "Learn Better." Released in 2017, the book examines the new science of learning and was featured in many media outlets, including Wired, Slate, Vox, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and The Atlantic. Amazon called it simply “the best science book of the year.”

The Agency already has a number of partners and clients including  Class Dojo,the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Holdsworth Center. We are also in the process of developing a number of other projects including creating a mini-class on 'learning to learn,' a project using AI to help retrieval practice, and creating a science of learning network of scholars and practitioners.

More on the organization here.

My book on the science of learning named one of the top business books of the year by Entrepreneur magazine

Ulrich Boser 1

 

Entrepreneur magazine named Learn Better as one of the top business books of the year, and as a book you'd want to read "to help you tackle the learning curves you hope to surmount in 2018."

 

So much of life has centered on one approach to learning that involves memorizing facts, dates, and details — but this approach isn't working. Instead, better learning comes from simple techniques described in this book.