Book Club Session Two: How to Make Learning Stick

Today we're covering Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Nhung and I fought over this book for a week. I don't mean we disagreed about it - I mean we stole it from each other because we each wanted to read it so badly.


As the title suggests, all learning strategies aren’t created equal. Over the past few decades, scientists have conducted a great deal of research on how we learn, and some of the results are surprising.


Perhaps the most counterintuitive result is this: the most durable learning occurs once forgetting has begun.

Consider cramming. When we cram for a test, we’re basically jamming as much stuff into our short-term memories as we can. We know we’re going to forget the material later – we just hope it’s after the test.

When we learn material for the long-term, however, we rely on different parts of our brains. In fact, the effort we expend to remember half-forgotten material actually deepens and strengthens connections between these areas of the brain.

Some more surprises: highlighting and rereading can create an “illusion of mastery,” but they’re not effective techniques for long-term learning. Better alternatives: self-testing, deliberately creating certain discomforts and inconveniences while studying, and mixing up topics and skills in your practice sessions.

Questions for Us 

If we’re honest, which of our study and practice strategies are working, and which ones aren’t? I'll go first: I do a lot of re-reading, even though a part of me knows that it isn't very effective. I think I do so because there's a comfort in reviewing semi-familiar material; it's less intimidating than mixing in something that I don't know as well. But that mixing is where the best learning takes place!