19 - Illusions of Competence

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 19

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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19 - Illusions of Competence

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In this video, we’re going to talk about

some essential ideas in getting your

learning on track.

The importance of recall, illusions of

competence in learning.

Mini-testing and the value of making


One of the most common approaches for

trying to learn material

from a book or from notes is simply to

reread it.

But psychologist, Jeffrey Karpicke, has

shown that this approach

is actually much less productive than

another, very simple, technique.


After you’ve read the material, simply

look away, and see

what you can recall from the material

you’ve just read.

Karpicke’s research, published in the


Science, provided solid evidence along

these lines.

Students studied a scientific text and

then practiced it,

by recalling as much of the information as

they could.

Then they re-studied the text and recalled

it again.

That is, they tried to remember the key

ideas, once more.

The results, in the same amount of time,

by simply practising and recalling the

material students

learned far more and at a much deeper

level than they did using any other


Including simply rereading the text a

number of times.

Or drawing concept maps that supposedly


the relationships in the materials under


This improved learning comes whether

students take

a formal test, or just informally test


This gives an important reminder.

When we retrieve knowledge, we’re not just

being mindless robots.

The retrieval process itself enhances deep


and helps us to begin forming chunks.

It’s almost as if the recall process helps

build in

little neural hooks, that we can hang our

thinking on.

Even more of a surprise to researchers,

was that the students themselves predicted

that simply reading and recalling the

materials, wasn’t the best way to learn.

They thought, concept mapping, drawing

diagrams that show

the relationship between the concepts

would be the best.

But if you’re trying to build connections

between chunks, before the

basic chunks are embedded in the brain, it

doesn’t work as well.

It’s like trying to learn advanced

strategy in chess, before

you even understand the basic concepts of

how the pieces move.

Using recall, mental retrieval of the key

ideas, rather than

passive rereading, will make your study

time more focused and effective.

The only time rereading text seems to be

effective, is if you let time pass

between the rereading, so that it becomes

more of an exercise in spaced repetition.

One way to think about this type of

learning and recall, is shown right here.

As we mentioned earlier, there are four or so

slots, in working memory.

When you’re first learning how to

understand a concept, or technique to

solve a problem, your entire working

memory is involved in the process.

As shown by this sort of, mad tangle

of connections between the four slots of

working memory.

As you begin to chunk the concept, you


feel it connecting more easily and

smoothly in your mind.

Once the concept is chunked, it takes up

only one slot in working memory.

It simultaneously becomes one smooth

strand that’s easy

to follow, and to use to make new


The rest of your working memory is left


That dangling strand of chunked material

has, in some sense,

increased the amount of information

available to your working memory.

It’s as if the slot in working memory is a

hyperlink that’s been connected to a great

big web page.

Now, you understand, why it is key that

you are

the one doing the problem solving or

mastering the concept.

Not whoever wrote the solution manual, or

book, on whatever subject you’re studying.

If you just look at the solution, for

example, then tell yourself.

Oh yeah, I see why they did that.

Then the solution is not really yours.

You’ve done almost nothing to knit those

concepts into your own underlying neural


Merely glancing at a solution and thinking

you truly know it

yourself is one of the most common

illusions of competence in learning.

You must have the information persisting

in your memory if you’re to

master the material well enough to do well

on tests and to think creatively with it.

In a related thing, you may be surprised


learn that highlighting and underlining

must be done very carefully.

Otherwise it can not only be ineffective,

but also misleading.

It’s as if, making lots of motions with

your hand can

fool you into thinking you’ve placed the

concept in your brain.

If you do mark up the text, try to look

for main ideas before making any marks.

And try to keep your underlining or

highlighting to a minimum.

One sentence or less per paragraph.

On the other hand, words or notes in a

margin that synthesize key concepts are a

very good idea.

Jeff Karpicke, the same researcher who’s

done such important work

related to recall, has also done research

on a related topic.

Illusions of competence in learning.

The reason students like to keep rereading

their notes

or a textbook, is that when they have the


or Google open right in front of them, it


the illusion that the material is also in

their brains.

But it’s not, because it can be easier to

look at the book instead of

recalling, students persist in their

illusions studying

in a way that just isn’t very effective.

This is a reminder that just wanting to

learn the material, and

spending a lot of time with it, doesn’t

guarantee you’ll actually learn it.

A super helpful way to make sure you’re

learning and not fooling

yourself with illusions of competence, is

to test yourself on whatever you’re


In some sense, that’s what recall is

actually doing.

Allowing you to see whether or not you

really grasp an idea.

If you make a mistake in what you are

doing, it’s actually a very good thing.

You want to try not to repeat your

mistakes, of course, but mistakes are

very valuable to make in your little self

tests before high stakes real tests.

Because they allow you to make repairs and

you’re thinking flaws bit by bit

mistakes help correct your thinking, so

that you can learn better and do better.

As you know now recall is a powerful tool.

But here’s another tip, recalling material

when you are outside your usual

place of study can also help you

strengthen your grasp of the material.

You don’t realize it, but when you are


something new you can often take in

subliminal cues

for the room and the space around you

at the time you were originally learning

the material.

This can throw you off when you take tests

because you often take

tests in a room that’s different from the

room you were learning in.

By recalling and thinking about the

material when you are in various physical

environment, you become independent of the

cues from any one given location.

That helps you avoid the problem of the


room being different from where you

originally learned the material.

I’m Barbara Oakley, thanks for learning

about learning.


Mistakes are very valuable to make in that

you’re little, it, it.



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