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Notes from the field: How people are learning to learn

Ulrich Boser 0

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.

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