Desirable Difficulties: The Five Forces of Learning

Research news from a workshop I recently attended: There are 5 empirically proven methods for memory retrieval and hence long-term learning. Here they are:

1) Variable Conditions. Change it up – old environments dull the brain, while new one improve attention.
2) Spacing. Think interval training. Short but intense sessions, then take a break.
3) Mixed Practice. Nothing deadlier than doing 30 problems of the same type; tweak the cognitive challenge and help your mind adapt more quickly.
4) Generative Principle. Do something – summarize, write in the margins, create maps, whatever.
5) Testing. Testing always improves recall – even if the material is not actually tested!

In other words, the worst thing you can do for learning is to read your textbook for two hours straight in your favourite armchair. For more information, check out the study by Bjork and Bjork (2011).