Friday, October 7

Lab Rats

This is a follow-on to a previous post "The Number 2". It was triggered by a comment that Jay Cross made:

"In 1920, Bluma Zaigarnik notices that waiters in coffeehouses memorize remarkably complex orders and then flush them from memory once the transaction is complete. There's more at work here than short-term vs. long-term memory. In 1927, Bluma's research found that people retain about twice as much of a subject if they don't reach closure. When you put down a book, do it in mid-chapter. If you're leading a seminar, don't finish before the bell rings. Not closing out the topic creates tension in the brain that fades when the thing is finished."

Ultimately Zeigarnik proved that people remembered unfinished tasks about twice as well as completed ones.Thus, if an instructor wants students to remember a presentation, she will end the class in mid-sentence, before drawing a final conclusion. Direct marketers use the Zeigarnik effect to whet their readers’ interest. To remember the book you’re reading, take a break in mid-chapter, not at a more natural stopping point. If you want to keep something actively in mind, don’t close it out. Let it hang. Theres more on Internet Time if your curious.

Simple idea. It sounds like it works. So why don't more people do it?

There's all this fantastic research out there about How We Learn. We've read and talked a lot about it here and elsewhere. Talk is cheap ...

Without turning people into lab rats WHY aren't more of us who are responsible for learning creating controlled experiments in learning? Tackle the same training problem in several different ways and see what works, what the resource costs are, what was the ROI? I think it would be enlightening to see the same training problem 'solved' in a number of ways:

  • Using an intructor-based classroom format one with a grand finale, one using the 'end the session in mid-sentence' ambiguity model
  • Developed and a workflow/EPSS program - no 'learning' involved
  • Done as a good online program delivered via LMS
  • Developed and delivered in a mistake-based/ambiguity-based/ mode,
  • and as a perhaps even designed as a simple simulation.

You (our blog readers) might even be interested in taking pieces of the puzzle. We could start with a finshed program from the above list that has been shown to get good results from the students, and use it to develop the other models for testing. We could publish the results here. The focus could be corporate workplace learning.

We have this dinosaur of a model, that we hide behind the jargon of pedagogy, that we cling to like drowning sailors ... almost like trying to take your vinyl long-playing records and diode turntable and stereo speakers on an airplance to listen to music. We all know and talk about the ways that research and technology are changing the ways we live and work.

What about the ways we learn? And I'm not just talking about 'a classroom online'. To me, that is an oxymoron akin to jumbo shrimp. As the lyrics to one of my favorite tunes tells me, "Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slippin' into the future." Time, perhaps, to try something new and interesting?


jay said...

David, it's as if we have a Braque/Picasso thing going on here. This morning I arrived five minutes early for an appointment and stayed a while in the parked car because Steve Miller started singing, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future."

The Meta-Learning Lab is looking for funding to do exactly what you propose. Let's test some of these ideas. If the tests yield meaningful results, perhaps we can shame people into using them. Join the fun if you like.

David Grebow said...

Jay, which one of us is Braque and which one is Picasso?

Dave Lee said...

This makes sense to me too David. I'm pretty confident that our brains don't need to shut down on a topic just because an arbitrary temporal marker has passed. There's great power being challenged at the end of a conversation - you can't get the topic out of your mind.

Most think I'm totally whacked because I usually have 6-8 books that I'm reading at any given time. But I think it works for me for exactly the reasons you're talking about.

David Grebow said...

David - This may explain why multi-tasking works ... you're constantly interupting your self and rapidly moving between unfinished tasks that you get right back to when you can. Maybe we should have students purposefully interupted in the middle of learning something and asked to multi-task with several other learning materials and see if they learn more than the 'fall asleep as I drone on' single focus single one-topic-at-a-time approach - Call it The Theory of Learnus Interuptus?

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