Reflection: The Learning Scientists podcast

Over the summer I got back into running [read: slow jogging] and also added walking into the mix. It turns out that when I run, I like a playlist and when I walk, I quite like a podcast. I won’t lie: I do love an Oprah podcast. Anyway, moving swiftly on, this morning on my 5:30am walk before work (yes, you read that right) I decided to go for something different and tuned into The Learning Scientists podcast.

Episode two introduced the strategy of retrieval practice. In the name of retrieval practice, here’s what I can remember about retrieval practice from the podcast:

  • Retrieval practice is bringing information to mind
  • Essentially, putting what you’re trying to learn away and quizzing yourself is more effective than just re-reading what you’re trying to learn over and over
  • As well as quizzing yourself or taking practice tests, you can use flashcards for retrieval practice, but the dodgy thing here is that it’s tempting to look at the answer on the back too quickly
  • Don’t just try to remember facts or definitions; try to make links between the things you are retrieving
  • It feels hard, especially at first
  • Retrieval practice has both direct and indirect benefits
  • A direct benefit is that it will help you remember what you’re trying to learn
  • An indirect one is that it gives you information about what you do and don’t yet know

Not bad for 20 minutes of listening at the crack of dawn.

What I found really interesting though is that it made me reflect on a time when I had used retrieval practice myself successfully. Let’s go back 13 years and I’m in my last year of my undergraduate degree. I had two exams which would comprise of four essay questions. To prepare for these exams I made mind maps on the big topics that were going to come up and here’s what’s funny: I didn’t just look at those mindmaps, but would redraw them from memory over and over. I can remember it so clearly. My plan was that I would then be able to redraw them in the exam and use them as kind of checklist for my essay questions, ensuring I had covered all the important points – and that’s just what I did. It worked too – really, really well. Odd to think I was engaging in retrieval practice to study before I even had any clue that it was a thing.

I will definitely be tuning into the follow up episodes on retrieval practice and look forward to learning about a new strategy each month from The Learning Scientists. In fact, I’m thinking a series of staff meetings on their six big strategies is in the pipeline. I’ve set myself the target of developing staff engagement with evidence-based practice and this seems the obvious way in.

If you haven’t checked out the plethora of resources on their website, then you really must.

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