How to Learn Anything Better By Tweaking Your Mindset

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New study finds that changing your mindset during learning directly impacts what you recall.

People recall more and learn better when they expect to teach that information to another person, a new study finds.

The research, published in the journal Memory & Cognition, gave some participants the impression they would have to teach someone else a text after they’d learned it themselves (Nestojko et al., 2014).

A comparison group were told they would simply be tested on the information they’d learned.

In fact both groups were given the same test afterwards and neither group had to teach the written materials to anyone else.

Dr. John Nestojko, the study’s lead author, explained the results:

“When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

The immediate implication is that the mindset of the student before and during learning can have a significant impact on learning, and that positively altering a student’s mindset can be effectively achieved through rather simple instructions.”

Relational processing

The likely reason why this fairly simple trick works is that it tends to automatically activate more successful learning strategies, the kind routinely used by teachers.

The authors explain:

“When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure.

Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.” (Nestojko et al., 2014).

Organising information and placing it within a coherent structure are vital components of effective learning.

Psychologists call this ‘relational processing':

“Relational processing — processing the relationships amongst units of information — is proposed to enhance recall by increasing the elements incorporated into memory traces and by allowing for an effective search strategy at the time of retrieval via generative, reconstructive means.

[...]

[a] higher degree of output organization displayed by our teaching-expectancy participants reflects their greater relational processing at encoding.” (Nestojko et al., 2014).

Image credit: BK

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 11 August 2014

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Images: Creative Commons License