Peter Brown and Henry Roediger’s Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning describes how to become productive learners. It covers learning classroom material and skills, uses examples from schools, businesses and athletics, the concepts are very applicable to EMS students and educators. Here are three things I took away from Making it Stick:
1. The more effort it takes to learn something, the more likely you will remember it.
People who struggle to learn something, but keep working until they do, can often apply that material later than people who grasp concepts easily. Struggling to learn something, whether it is cardiology, applying a traction splint or running a call during internship does not mean someone is not talented. That is why students who struggle to get C’s can end up being more successful that students who easily get A’s.
For students, don’t give up if you are struggling with something you really want to achieve. For educators, don’t give up on students who struggle in class — as long as they keep putting effort into learning.
2. Practice recalling information instead of re-reading or re-watching it.
While it may seem that you remember something by highlighting or cramming for a test, this is a trap. Re-reading and re-watching material only stores information in short-term memory, and is likely to be forgotten soon after. Exercises that require recall of information, such as self quizzing, writing down the most important points of a reading section or video, and applying the reading to a case helps store it in long-term memory that can be more easily retrieved.
3. Space out your practice.
Along with effort, making skill practice more difficult improves performance later. Some examples include being introduced to a skill and waiting a few days before practicing it again, or revisiting a content area a few days after being introduced to it. This feels harder than practicing one skill over and over or rereading about a topic, and then moving on, but the muscle memory is only stored in short term memory and likely to be forgotten. Added effort from spacing retrieval makes it easier to perform that skill later, and to apply it in novel situations.
It is one of the books I reference most frequently when developing lessons for my class, and consider the book I a must-read for students and educators.