Effortful Learning

Our brains have evolved to be efficient because they require a lot of calories. And learning is an activity that involves a lot of effort. It can feel hard because it is creating new pathways and connections in the brain. We can use strategies to make it more efficient, but not all learning will be fun or fast.

Spaced Practice vs Massed Practice

We often think of forgetting as the enemy of learning, but it is an important part of how our brains learn. As our brains forget information and we relearn it we move it into our long-term memories. The more times we are exposed to information the stronger the pathways become in our brain and the longer the learning lasts. While many students find that cramming works to increase a test score, this type of learning is very temporary, and students often have to relearn it for the next exam or a final.


The research is unequivocal that the best way to increase student test scores is through quizzing or self-testing. Quizzing often feels counterintuitive, but tests and real-life application are asking us to get the material out of our heads. Quizzing helps students practice retrieving before the test so their brains can practice and know what they do not know yet.


Feedback is an essential part of the learning process. Sometimes students need to go into office hours to get the correct answers or detailed explanations. Feedback from assignments, tests, quizzes, projects, and presentations can help students analyze what the teacher expects and how well they are meeting those expectations. In addition to adjusting strategy, it can also help students correct errors and master the material.


Chapter 1