Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Seven Tips for Learning from Lectures:

In this post I list seven tips you can use when trying to remember the contents of a seminar or lecture. These tips are especially useful for students. Forty-three years of college teaching have made it clear that most students don't get as much out of lectures as they should (and it is not just because of my lectures). When I was a student, I wanted to learn efficiently, so I could have more play time. I soon discovered that everything I could learn in class was something I did not have to study later.

The basis for these tips comes from my book on improving memory and from the posts in this blog. Obviously, I can't review all that here. Take my word for it, these tips work. Please comment to tell me what you have learned about learning effectiveness and efficiency during lectures.

The Tips:

1. Come with the right attitude. Be pumped up. Plan to retain as much understanding and information as possible. As long as you are spending your time in class, you might as well get out of it all you can. Don't be willing to put off the learning until later study time.

2. Do at least a little pre-lecture preparation. Skim text or other sources that deal with the topic of the day. If lectures are inter-related, briefly review previous notes of lectures that this current lecture will build on.

3. Don't take many notes. Take notes only for organizing ideas and for things you don't already know or could figure out. Use a tape recorder if you worry about missing something.

4. Make notes with multiple visual and spatial cues. Use lots of drawings and diagrams.

5. If allowed, ask questions of the teacher. This helps to keep you alert and engaged. Remember the answer. If you have asked good questions, they are liable to show up on quizzes (teachers like to quiz on ideas that come up in class that are not in the book or handouts - its a reward for those who attend and pay attention).

6. THINK about what is being said by the teacher. How does this build on what has been presented in the course earlier? What issues are not getting addressed by this lecture? What is most likely to show up on a quiz? What will take special effort to remember? How can you use this information, either later in this course or in another course?

7. After the lecture:

a. Don't do anything for the next 10 minutes. Without interruption, review what has just transpired, first by looking at your notes, then trying to recall without lookng.

b. Re-work your notes and drawings if they need it.

c. Assuming your handwriting is readable, keep the longhand version of your notes. See in your mind's eye the spatial layout of the notes; recall it as you would a photograph. Cursive handwriting and the hand drawings provide many visual and spatial cues that will facilitate

d. Come back later that same day for another rehearsal of what transpired in class, first by looking at your notes, then by not looking at them. Vocalize your notes; hearing the information will reinforce the retention especially for auditory learners. Repeat this review in each of the next several days.