Learning, Memory and the Health Sciences

Faster, Higher, Stronger – Academically?

I read a LinkedIn article by Mark McClusky, Editor-in-Chief at WIRED.com, about his book, Faster, Higher, Stronger.

The article resonated with me as I was reminded how excellence in athletics is similar to excellence in academics.

I’d like to revisit five of the key lessons that he discusses, and look at how they apply to the world of education.

1. Lots of Little Things Become Big Changes
2. N=1
3. Data is Power
4. Get The Basics Right
5. The Only Sustainable Advantage is to Learn Faster

1. Lots of Little Things Become Big Changes

When I work with students who want to improve their learning strategies, I break the overall system into five smaller steps. We start with preparing for lecture (pre-reading) because it is easy to do and only takes a few minutes. When students are prepared for class (whether it’s online or in a physical classroom) they feel smarter, get better notes and are more engaged in the learning process. The next step is showing students how to organize their notes to maximize their reading time and have a set of notes that are ready for reviewing and self-testing. Each of those small changes makes up the study system that can have a huge impact on their learning and course grades.

2. N=1

McClusky says, “All of us who are trying to improve…are involved in an ongoing experiment with one subject.” The authors of Change Anything call it being both “the scientist and the subject.” In other words, find out what generally works for most people, and then tweak it until you find out what works for YOU. It will be a process of trial and error, but if you track what works (and when and why) that will give you data (see the next item) to make informed changes.

3. Data is Power

In this section, McClusky discusses the Hawthorne effect. “The gist of the idea is that people change their behavior—often for the better—when they are being observed ….” We also find this to be true when we ask students to track their time for seven days. Students tell us that when they know they will have to write down what they did with their time, they sometimes change activities. Students also report that until they completed the time-tracking exercise, they really had no idea where their time went.

4. Get The Basics Right

“We’re all drawn to novelty, to the promise that there are breakthroughs that will enable us to move forward in huge leaps and bounds. But that’s not how things usually work….” McClusky states. In the academic world, this could translate into wanting to make the next big breakthrough in the war on cancer, while not wanting to “waste time” learning medical terminology or the basics of cell biology. You can’t process and analyze information that has not been stored in your long-term memory. Storing information in your long-term memory, through spaced repetition, may not sound very remarkable but the information must be there before it can be built upon and before something new can be created.

5. The Only Sustainable Advantage is to Learn Faster

“…all you can do is keep your eyes and ears—and most importantly, your mind—open to all possibilities, with a willingness to try things and learn from them, whether you fail or succeed.” Having a systematic approach to learning gives students a framework in which to test and refine their learning strategies.

Keep these five lessons in mind as you progress in your academics and in your profession.

 

References

Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.

Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes-and What We Can Learn from Them, Mark McClusky.

Six Steps to College Success: Learning Strategies for STEM Students, Kathleen Straker and Eugenia Kelman.

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