Book Review: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Book review written by Dr. Caroline Critchlow, Assessment 
Coordinator for the Wegmans School of Nursing & Ralph C. 
Wilson, Jr. School of Education & Dr. Cathy Sweet, Assessment 
Coordinator for the School of Arts & Sciences. 
Drs. Critchlow and Sweet have over 40 years of experience in 
teaching K-16, including a decade teaching undergraduate 
and graduate students. 

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, and Mark McDaniels contend that a great deal of what we think we know about how to learn is taken on faith and based on intuition but does not hold up under empirical research. They claim that much of what we’ve been doing as teachers and students isn’t serving us well, but some comparatively simple changes could make a big difference.

Relying on ten years of research in the cognitive sciences, the authors apply their knowledge of cognitive science and psychology to the process of learning – not education – but of human learning; how we acquire knowledge and skills in order to have them accessible for future use.

With chapter titles like “Get Beyond Learning Styles” and “Embrace Difficulties” the authors lace anecdotal stories with scientific research in order to offer new strategies to improve how we support student learning. For example, one story recounts how medical students are taught surgical procedures, a process that must be learned outside of the actual environment in which it will be applied. The chapter, “To Learn, Retrieve” explores the process of reflection in the attainment, retention, and retrieval of knowledge. “Reflection can involve several cognitive activities that lead to stronger learning: retrieving knowledge and earlier training from memory, connecting these to new experiences, and visualizing and mentally rehearsing what you might do differently next time.” Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention.

Other chapters address misconceptions such as innate learning styles and massed practice, and are followed with strategies to improve the learning process like delayed feedback, interleaving of different but related topics, retrieval and blocked practice.

We think you’ll enjoy reading this book as much for the summaries of recent research studies as for the practical teaching strategies. The book contains extensive notes as well as a list of suggested reading that includes the articles and books referenced throughout the book.

By Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
313pp. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. $27.95

Please note this book can also be loaned from the Teaching & Learning Book Collection found in the Educational Technology Instruction Room in the lower level of Lavery Library, room L109.


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