Image by Denise Krebs https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7149966049

Are creative people really different from the rest of us? Can creativity be taught?

The answer seems to lie in how standard cognitive representations and operations are used in idiosyncratic ways. Or in others words, it’s how individuals use information in unusual and different ways.

So what is going on with people who are thought to be creative? Sternberg (1988) found that these people:

  • Lack conventionality. They tend to make up their own rules and deviate from the norms. From an educational perspective we can see that too many rules can stifle an individual’s creativity. We need to create safe practise fields for students to deviate from the norm, to experiment, prototype and fail forward.
  • Integrate and intellectualise. These people are good at making connections between disparate ideas. This is yet another reason to move to a cross-curricular approach. The more connections that can be made between disciplines and ideas, the better students will be at building on existing connections.
  • Aesthetic taste and imagination. This is about having the knowledge to know what is beautiful in a particular area. Knowing a masterful piece of music when you hear it or knowing that something will work well in one circumstance and not another. How do we cultivate this in schools? Perhaps this is where we need to slow things down and allow enough time for students to try multiple ways of immersing themselves in a subject or topic. Do we rush from topic to topic, piling more and more on before there has been time to reflect?IMG_5263
  • Decision making skill and flexibility. Decision making is deliberate and rational, but agile and able to change methods and pivot on failure. This is knowing when to let go and change direction and when to persist. Worksheets and over prescribed instructions will give no opportunity for students to change methods and pivot on failure because they are learning to follow one pathway to an outcome. This is where I think the design thinking approach is invaluable in schools as it teaches students to develop multiple approaches and practise letting go when they need to.
  • Perspicacity: This refers to a person being perceptive, insightful, discriminating and shrewd.
  • Motivated and focused. This is where persistence comes into play. How many hours do you think Divinci spent on his inventions? To create the famous last supper it took him 3 years, sometimes working night and day – the Mona Lisa four years. While historians might squabble over exact time frames, the point is that creativity isn’t always flashes of insight followed rapidly by a product or piece of work. Sometimes it is deliberate and slow.

Given the right conditions we all can be creative, granted not all of us can or want to be the next Divinci, but we need to move away from the mindset of “oh I am just not the creative type” Creativity can be taught!

Constraints

Experiments have shown that where participants have more constraints, they show more creativity (Finke, R et al. 1992). This has implications in an educational context when we are trying to teach creativity. Rather than giving students a blank canvas and saying go for it, a better way might be to give them a limited number of materials and get them to use those materials in different ways to create something new. This also can help overcome a limitation on our thinking called functional fixedness (a cognitive bias that limits us to only use an object or material in traditional ways).

References:

Finke, R.A., Ward, T.B., &  Smith, S.M. (1992). Creative cognition: theory, research, and applications. Cambridge, MA

Sternberg, R.J (1988). The three facet model of creativity. In RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity. New York: Cambridge U Press.

 

 

This is the last post in a series looking at behavioural psychology. It is a summary of the previous posts that looked at what behavioural psychology is, the research and implications.

pavlov

Ivan Pavlov

I have wanted to write a blog post on behavioural psychology for some time now, but every time I sat down the task seemed so epic. There is so much complexity in this area that one post was not going to get the job done. I have instead opted to do a summary post with lots of links to more detail around previous research, rhetoric and research findings that are relevant to education and beyond.

Behaviourism is (roughly) a branch of psychology that looks at how organisms learn through interactions with their environment. Historically the main principles of behaviourism are Classical and Operant conditioning. Both of these have been and are still used by psychologists and specialists to support positive change in behaviours. The problem that I have with these principles is that they are seen to be used in a very narrow way (namely students who fall at the outer edges of the bell curve or to modify/control behaviour in some way).

When thought of in this way, its not hard to see why there seems to be a prevailing view that behavioural principles are synonymous with extrinsic motivation and behavioural ‘management’ in the classroom (I address this term later on).

Current research being conducted at The University Of Auckland however paints a very different picture and has a much larger range of impact and scope than I believe is generally understood.

Current research

There are so many areas that behaviourists study, but I will just mention a few here. For more detail see this post.

  • A big area of behavioural research looks at addictive behaviours and relapse. One of the main findings is that contexts matters as they act as cues for certain behaviours. This area has significantly helped people with substance abuse and eating disorders.
  • Most people have heard of the marshmallow test which looks at delayed gratification. This is based on research in the area of Delay Discounting, which shows we often prefer smaller rewards sooner, than larger rewards later. What this tells us is we need commitment strategies for the larger later win to help reduce the temptation to give into that smaller, sooner reward.
  • We also know from extensive research that punishment doesn’t work and can have negative ongoing effects. This also casts doubt on the use response cost initiatives like time out. New research is suggesting that specific stimuli in the environment act as cues guiding our behaviour. We need to start thinking differently about how we deal with challenging behaviours.
  • The latest research around how we make choices (behave one way or another) shows that when our environment changes more rapidly, we get more change in choice behaviour. This has interesting implications because in these environments we can change negative contingencies quickly to positive ones. It also shows that unexpected events can cause big changes in behaviour (the same findings in cognitive science).
  • Other areas of study include concept formation, memory and even how we solve problems and reason (there is a ton more but am running out of runway here)

Mythbusters

There are quite a few misconceptions around behavioursim, but one I firmly want to knock on the head is the idea that using behavioural principles is just about extrinsic motivation and manipulating behaviour change.

Every minute, of every day, of every year, we are being shaped through interactions with our environment. I learn that when I touch a hot stove I get burnt. I learn that when I put effort into my studies I get good grades and that makes me feel good because I have worked hard and achieved something. That ‘feeling good’ is reinforcement and motivates me – but it is not extrinsic motivation. We are reinforced by many things – a smile, acknowledgment of work done or achievement or even scratching an itch! The smile, the grade, or the scratch, are no different to a sticker or other reward. It is still an environmental event that influences behavior. The difference is the MEANING that that environmental event has to a person.

The problem that this poses is substantial because what is reinforcing for one person may not be for another. A smile may make an autistic child feel uncomfortable; getting a good grade might mean alienation from your peer group. Also reinforcement can happen when a teacher thinks they are punishing a student. For example, a child that is sent to sit outside the principal’s office for playing up in Maths time is escaping from the painful experience of struggling through a subject they don’t like. A smiley face on the board might be reinforcing for some kids but not others. So behaviour is complicated and the very best thing we can do is to really know our learners.

Implications and what’s possible

  • Creating positive environments and interactions between students, teachers and classroom activities is critically important for learning.
  • Know thy learner. It is so important to know the students learning and personal history and current situation. If we don’t have this understanding then not only can we not empathise with our students, but we can’t make changes to set up positive contingencies for them.
  • We need to know what the antecedents are (what is triggering behavior). What specific thing is causing the behaviour. Is it something in the classroom or something that happened at home? A good question to ask is what is it that the student needs. Going back to the example in an earlier post of the student who misbehaves during writing, the need to is to escape the situation. Knowing this we can change the contingency to make it a positive experience for them. If we can change the antecedent, we can change the behaviour.
  • Punishment doesn’t work as a behavior management tool. Instead give the students the responsibility to do the right thing and reinforce efforts towards good behavior. See table below for a differential on behavioural science for learning and classroom management.
  • Because punishers can become associated with particular stimuli we need to make sure those contingencies don’t stick. For example, a child repeatedly failing a Maths test will come to associate Maths with a negative bad feeling. Giving students opportunities for effortful success can change this contingency.
  • We also need to rethink contexts in classrooms. What does stimuli signal? What do the areas and objects and events in your classroom signal to the learners? Is this a quiet area, an area where we collaborate or work individually? Where are my safe spaces? When we change contexts we can change behaviour.
  • New research in choice behaviour suggests that we get faster changes in behaviour when the environment changes more rapidly – hypothetically this could reduce negative contingencies and allow faster adaptation to change*. This seems to support the idea of Individual learning plans where students plan when and how they achieve the set tasks. It also supports the idea of cross-curricular work as students are not locked into one genre for set periods of time.

*Two very important caveats for the last point (a) Emphasis on the ‘suggests that’ as this not been tested outside the lab yet. (b) There is a difference between using behavioural findings for understanding how we learn and classroom management. See this more below on this.

Behavioural management, I believe, is a misguided term to use; we are not managing behaviour, we are developing it. We are learning to understand how the environment shapes and guides our learning and behaviours. The more we learn and understand, the better we get at helping our students, ourselves and each other regulate behaviour for more positive outcomes. I think in education behavioural principles are often used to increase certain behaviours and decrease others and to enforce rules. These two applications often become muddled and so I have created a guide below to tease out the different meanings and applications. I hope that we can start to think about using behavioural principles beyond managing behaviour, to deeply understanding student’s needs and setting up environments to support their well-being and learning.

behavioural-table-2

I really feel like this is just the beginning of a conversation around how behavioural research can inform areas like education and help us to understand and improve our own behaviours. I think to get better at this Behavioural Analysts need to spend some time with schools and people to get a better understanding of exactly what their issues are and what support is needed. I have started a GDoc where you can leave suggestions for Dr Sarah Cowie who is part of the behvioural science unit at The University of Auckland. We would love to hear from you!

 

References

See previous posts for all references.

This is the second post in a series that looks at what behavioural psychology is, the research and some implications.

This post explores some of the rhetoric around behavioural principles and then talks about some new research findings and the implications of research from behavioural psychology. For the first post that looks at what behavioural psychology is and areas of research click here.

The rhetoric:

One I have heard a bit goes something like this: Using behavioural principles such as reinforcement to change behaviour is manipulative and encourages extrinsic motivation (which is bad because we want people to be intrinsically motivated).

Reinforcement

Image credit: opensource.com

Image credit:
opensource.com

Every minute, of every day, of every year, we are being shaped through interactions with our environment. I learn that when I touch a hot stove I get burnt. I learn that when I put effort into my studies I get good grades and that makes me feel good because I have worked hard and achieved something. That ‘feeling good’ is reinforcement and motivates me – but it is not extrinsic motivation. We are reinforced by many things – a smile, acknowledgment of work done or achievement or even scratching an itch! The smile, the grade, or the scratch, are no different to a sticker or other reward. It is still an environmental event that influences behaviour. The difference is the MEANING that that environmental event has for a person.

The problem that this poses is substantial because what is reinforcing for one person may not be for another. A smile may make an autistic child feel uncomfortable or getting a good grade might mean alienation from your peer group. Also reinforcement can happen when a teacher thinks they are punishing. For example, a child that is sent to sit outside the principal’s office for playing up in writing time is escaping from the painful experience of struggling through a subject that they think they can’t do. A smiley face on the board might be reinforcing for some kids but not others. So behaviour is complicated and the very best thing we can do is get to know our learners inside out and backwards.

Punishment

In many countries we have moved on from using physical punishment as a way of stopping certain behaviours. This is a good thing as research shows that punishment doesn’t stop unwanted behaviour and only has unwanted negative effects. But we still widely use time out and other response type punishers. New research shows that this is problematic and unwanted behaviours still return in most cases. We need to look for different ways to encourage appropriate behaviours.

New research

Behavioural Momentum theory tells us that behaviour that has had a very rich history of reinforcement persists for a very long time. While this can be a negative for removing unwanted behaviours, it has a positive side also. Experimental research has shown that not only will organisms orient their attention to the stimulus that has a higher rate of reinforcement, but also attention persists longer where there has been a richer history of reinforcement. Take for example a student who loves Art but hates writing. The act of creating a piece of art makes the student feel good which is reinforcing a love of the subject and the attention that may come from the work produced from teachers, parents and peers. But imagine writing! The art subject has a larger history of reinforcement and so there will be more persistence in behaviour in this area. This has important implications around helping students to persist in areas that they struggle with.

Image by Paul L Dineen

Image by Paul L Dineen

Choice behaviour looks at why we choose to do one behaviour over another at any given moment. The newest research on Choice Behaviours using Local Analysis is very exciting. What this research has shown is that behaviour is not just emitted based on where a person got their last reinforcer, but where next one is likely to come from. This calls into question Thorndike’s strengthening argument and has some interesting implications. For example one of the findings is that choice changes more rapidly in environments that change more frequently. More rapidly changing environments could be a way to change or deter negative contingencies forming with certain contexts or subjects. It also would equip students with the ability to adapt positively to change. An example of this is teachers who use Individual Learning Plans. Students know what they need to complete in the week and then they work out when, how and with whom they will complete the tasks. This changes week to week and adaptations can be made along the way.

We also have found that regardless of the rate of environmental change, reinforcers from the lower-rate alternative tend to produce larger changes in choice than do those from the higher-rate alternative. It’s almost as if unusual events are ‘surprising’ and produce a bigger change in behaviour. Interestingly this is exactly the same finding from cognitive science that novel events produce more engagement.

So What? What does all this mean and how can it inform us?

  1. Creating positive environments and interactions between students, teachers and classroom activities is critically important for learning.
  2. Know thy learner. It is so important to know the students learning and personal history & current situation. If we don’t have this understanding then not only can we not empathise with our students, but we can’t make changes to set up positive contingencies for them.
  3. We need to know what the antecedents are (what is triggering behavior). What specific thing is causing the behaviour. Is it something in the classroom or something that happened at home? A good question to ask is what is it that the student needs? Going back to the example in an earlier post of the student who misbehaves during Writing, the need to is to escape the situation. Knowing this we can change the contingency to make it a positive experience for them. If we can change the antecedent, we can change the behaviour.
  4. Punishment doesn’t work as a behaviour management tool. Instead give the students the responsibility to do the right thing and reinforce efforts towards good behaviour. See table in this post for a differential on behavioural science for learning and classroom management.
  5. Because punishers can become associated with particular stimuli we need to make sure those contingencies don’t stick. For example, a child repeatedly failing a Maths test will come to associate Maths with a negative bad feeling. Giving students opportunities for effortful success can change this contingency.
  6. We also need to rethink contexts in classrooms. What does stimuli signal? What do the areas and objects and events in your classroom signal to the learners? Is this a quiet area, an area where we collaborate or work individually? Where are my safe spaces? When we change contexts we can change behaviour.
  7. New research in choice behaviour suggests that we get faster changes in behaviour when the environment changes more rapidly – hypothetically this could reduce negative contingencies and allow faster adaptation to change*. This seems to support the idea of Individual learning plans where students plan when and how they achieve the set tasks. It also supports the idea of cross-curricular work as students are not locked into one genre for set periods of time.

*Two very important caveats for the last point (a) Emphasis on ‘suggests that’ as this not been tested outside the lab yet. (b) There is a difference between using behavioural findings for understanding how we learn and classroom management. See this more in this summary post on this.

 References:

Cowie, S., Elliffe, D., & Davison, M. (2013). Concurrent schedules: Discriminating reinforcer-ratio reversals at a fixed time. Journal Of The Experimental Analysis Of Behavior, 100, 117-134.

Shahan, T.A & Podlesnik, C. A. (2006). Divided attention performance and the matching law. Learning & Behavior, 34 (3) 255-261

 

 

This is the first post in a series that will look at what behavioural psychology is, the research and some implications.

Behavioural psychology: A background and historical perspective. What is behavioural psychology and what does the research say?

Behaviour_Interactive_logo So what is this thing called behavioural psychology or behaviourism? Roughly it is a branch of psychology that looks at how organisms learn through interactions with their environment.

Some assumptions the discipline make are: “(1) all activity of organisms is behaviour and (2) a primary influence of behaviour is the learning of relations between environments and behaviour” (Podlesnik, C). 

The main influences on behaviour are: The evolutionary and learning history of an organism and the current environment. According to behaviourists It is the interaction of all of these that gives rise to behaviour.

Behavioural analysts study the output (behaviour) of an organism as the result of its interactions with the environment. Practitioners then use that research to help animals and humans. Dr Sarah Cowie gives a researchers view: “One of my most favourite things about this area of psychology is that understanding how things in our immediate environment affect behaviour gives us so much power to change behavior effectively”

The two main principles used in Behavioural psychology are Classical and Operant conditioning:

Classical conditPavlov's_dog_conditioning.svgioning is the process where an unconditioned stimulus (that elicits an unconditioned response) gets paired with a neutral stimulus, which then elicits that same response. Confused yet? Examples are much better so here goes: It is your first day at school, 3pm rolls around and the teacher says you can go home. You are happy. Home time is an unconditioned stimulus and your unconditioned response is happy and excited to see mum and dad. Enter the school bell. The school bell goes just before (usually) the teacher says you can go home. The bell is a neutral stimulus. When the bell and home time are paired the bell comes to predict home time and the resulting feeling of happiness. The bell on its own becomes a conditioned stimulus that elicits a happy response.

Operant Conditioning on the other hand consists of a three-term contingency: Antecedent. Behaviour. Consequence. Antecedents are just stimuli or events in the environment.

Example: Antecedent = Hunger. Behaviour = Crying. Consequence = Gets milk.

Another example is a spelling test (antecedent) a student saying they are ill (behaviour) Student misses out on test (consequence). The thing with the three -term contingency is that consequences that are favourable to the student are more likely to be repeated than an unfavourable consequences. Also how close that consequence is to the behaviour will impact on behavioural change or lack of it. The three-term contingency is really useful for understanding why our students behave the way they do, but also has another implication. It tells us that when we give feedback to students matters a great deal. The further apart we give feedback or reinforcement to students, the less likely of an impact it will have because the association between behaviour and consequence gets weaker as time goes on.

 

Why study behaviour?

Research from behavioural analysis has contributed widely and significantly to the area of problem behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse. The research shows it is better to extinguish an unwanted behaviour in the same context as it was learned in (which goes against the idea of rehab centers). We can also apply this area of research to other behaviours such as tantrums, lateness and truancy. Why behaviour persists and relapse occurs is massive area beyond the scope of these posts, but the crux of the findings is that changes in context play a huge role in problem behaviours. One such experiment we ran at UOA seemed to suggest that fewer context changes and slowly fading out reinforcement increases the chances of replacement behaviours persisting and reducing relapse of unwanted behaviours. An example of this might be when a student has ongoing difficulty with aggression and lashes out at others. We give the student an alternative behaviour to perform when they get angry (say squeezing a ball or going for a run) and the alternative behaviour gets reinforced. We know from the research that the alternative behaviour needs to be accessible in all contexts where aggression occurs and the reinforcement must be faded out slowly.

A lot of the research has been used to help people with learning difficulties and harmful behaviours. Typically Applied Behavioural Analysts will use Classical or Operant principals as the basis of their work. This is probably the area most educators are familiar with, working with specialists in supporting positive behaviours.

Behavioural research also gives us an insight into how we make choices. Using mathematical models we can predict a close match of rates of responding to reinforcement rates. We also use these models to look at how people reason and solve problems. Check out the Monty Hall problem and this clip on problem solving with New Caledonian crows.

Research in the area of Delay Discounting shows we often prefer smaller rewards sooner, than larger rewards later. An example of this is setting the goal of getting up early to go for a run each morning to lose some weight and get fit. Morning rolls around and we hit that snooze button repeatedly! We choose the short-term win of sleeping in over the long-term win of losing weight. The classic example of this is the Marshmallow test. Commitment strategies for larger later win can help reduce the temptation to give into that smaller, sooner reward.

Punishment

Punishment is generally defined as an event that decreases behaviour. Obvious punishers are things like getting an electric shock or physical violence, but things like time out or response costs where a child might lose a sticker earned to buy a toy can also be punishers. Skinner’s (1938) research showed that punishment only temporarily decreased behaviour and he concluded that punishment only ‘suppresses behaviour’. Punishment has an array of negative effects such as freezing, increased aggression and avoidance of a punisher (kids who hide in classrooms to avoid the bully at lunchtime..) So if punishment doesn’t decrease behaviour and has lots of negative effects, why are we using it? Most often we can change behaviour using reinforcement and get the same if not better results than using aversive methods.

More recent research suggests a particular stimulus in the environment acts as a cue that something good or bad is going to happen and we behave accordingly. An example of this is when Azrin and Holz (1996), showed when a green light was paired with extinction (removal) of reinforcement, behaviour decreased dramatically and when the green light was removed behaviour increased again. The light was associated with the removal of reinforcement and acted like a punisher. The same experimenters showed that punishers can lose their effectiveness when they become associated with reinforcement. A real life example of this would be when parents put their child in time out and then feel bad so go over and give the child a hug. What we have done here is ended up reinforcing the bad behaviour and making it more likely to occur again.

I want to finish by mentioning shaping. Shaping is the process of reinforcing successive approximations to a desired behaviour. Shaping can be really useful way to get reluctant students to learn new behaviours and skills. Shaping involves breaking a large task (or what seems large to the learner) into really small steps. Say you have a child who will not join in the swimming lessons. We can start by having them sit by the pool. Then next day into togs, next day sit with feet in the water, then waist in and so on.

There are so many areas like Memory, Concept formation and problem solving that I would love to go into but am pushing word or should I say attention limit as it is! You can click here to find a summary of research, implications and examples.

Newer research and findings can be found in this post.

References

Azrin, N.H & Holz, W.C. (1996). Punishment. In W.K. Honig (ED). Operant behavior: Areas of research and application. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bouton, M. E., Winterbauer, N. E., & Todd, T. P. (2012). Relapse processes after the extinction of instrumental learning: Renewal, resurgence, and reacquisition. Behavioural Processes, 90, 130-141.

Hineline, P.N  & Rosales-Ruiz, J. (2013). Behavior In Relation To Aversive  Events: Punishment And Negative Reinforcement. APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis: Vol. 1.

Podlesnik, C. A., Jimenez-Gomez, C., & Shahan, T. A. (2006). Resurgence of alcohol seeking produced by discontinuing non-drug reinforcement as an animal model of drug relapse. Behavioural Pharmacology, 17, 369-374

Podlesnik, C. A.  (2015). University Of Auckland lecture slides.

Skinner, B.F. (1938). The behaviour of organisms. New York: Appleton -Century-Crofts.

 

 

 

 

Adapted from the Atkinson & Shriffrin (1968) model of memory

Adapted from the Atkinson & Shiffrin (1968) model of memory

Information Processing Theory is a theory from cognitive psychology that suggests information is processed in three stages. In order to remember and recall information, one must ensure that information successfully navigates through three memory stores called sensory memory, working memory and long-term memory.

Sensory memory

Sensory memory is like a temporary storage where information that is attended to will be passed on for further processing. Sensory memory has unlimited storage, but here is the catch – it only holds stimuli for approximately 2-5s. Thousands of inputs are entering sensory memory, but if that information is not further processed it will be lost. So what information gets processed? The information that gets processed is information that we pay attention to. This happens in (roughly) two ways: We pay attention (automatically) to what is familiar to us, or we have to consciously orientate our attention to stimuli. The first scenario allows information to be processed easily as it is instantly recognised from information in our long-term memory store (this is why prior knowledge helps us learn new information). The second scenario requires educators to cue learner’s attention to the important aspects of the material they are learning. You can read more about cuing attention here.

Key points:

  • Link new information to existing information.
  • Cue learners by explicitly saying ‘this is important’ ‘you will need to know this to be able to do x’
  • Present information in varied ways and contexts to increase the chances of activating prior knowledge
  • Students with little prior knowledge in a subject may need more exposure to the material.

Working memory

Information that is processed then transfers to working memory. Working memory has limited capacity and duration, holding just 7 + – 2 items for only 30s (or up to 2 min if engaging in rehearsal). We can think of working memory as a place where what we are currently thinking about is stored – when we stop thinking about that information it disappears from working memory. Working memory is receiving information from sensory memory and long-term memory (this is why prior knowledge is so important – the more you know the more information you have to associate with incoming information). Information that is recognised or can be linked to something already in your long-term memory gets processed quickly without much ‘work’. New information needs to be worked on to get it into long-term memory. A key factor in getting information into long-term memory is reducing the cognitive load. Information needs to be chunked into smaller manageable bits. Try remembering the following letters: E A D K M R E as compared with MAKER ED. You can see that if we rearrange the words and chunk them, it becomes effortless. Mind maps can be used to group or organise similar information together. Mind maps work because they create a more complex meaningful unit and they also help with recall of information as they make links between words and concepts.

Key points:

  • Too much information at once overloads WM resulting in information loss.
  • Break large concepts into smaller digestible ones that make up the whole.
  • Use concept maps or organisers
  • Try not to be verbose, only give the fewest words in instructions. Simpler lesson plans are best, introducing 1-2 concepts at a time.
  • Present new information in the context of prior knowledge.

 

 Long-term memory

Information then makes its way into long-term memory storage. Long- term memory is both unlimited in amount it can hold and duration. It’s suggested that we don’t lose information that is successfully stored in LTM, rather we can’t recall it successfully. The best way to successfully encode information into LTM is to make the information meaningful to the learner. This can be done in three ways:

  1. Organise information in a way that connects with existing information. Using conceptual models that explicitly show the connections between material being taught and how that relates to information previously taught.
  2. Elaborate on the information. This can be done by using analogies to help learners connect the information to something familiar. Another way is to have students come up with their own examples from their own lives.
  3. Increase the level of active processing a learner has to do. Getting students to compare and contrast information gets students to draw on multiple sources of information and think deeper about the material. Sometimes when we have to learn new material that is difficult to link to existing knowledge we can use mnemonics to create a link. Two good strategies to use are the peg word method and method of loci. Also have students come up with their own questions about the material that other students can then answer. The PQ4R method is also a simple way to get students to be more active in their reading process

Key points:

  • Encoding is important to ensure information gets into and stays in long-term memory
  • Connect what you don’t know with what you do know.
  • If you are not actively processing information chances are you are not encoding it.

Last word: Whilst students will have similar limitations on their memory system, there will be a lot of variation in levels of prior knowledge between students. With the shift to personalising learning, one of the best things we can do is get to know what our students know and what they don’t know. But this is more (much more) than what they can produce on a test – it involves all the knowledge and interests a leaner has in their lives including sociocultural values and knowledge of past and present.

 

References:

Eysenck, M.W., & Keane, M.T. (2010). Cognitive Psychology – A Student’s Handbook (6th ed). New York. Psychology Press.

Mayer, R.E., Heiser, J., & Lonn, S. (2001). Cognitive Constraints On Multimedia Learning: When Presenting More Material Results In Less Understanding. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 93, (1), 187-198.

Shunk, D.H. (2008). Learning Theories – An Educational perspective. (5th ed.). New Jersey. Prentice Hall.

Slavin, R. E. (2012). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. (10th ed.) Chapter 6.