Category: Uncategorized

Cracks in the Ivory Tower

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education, by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness. 

This fascinating book is framed around an important premise – it’s not that people in a given problematic institution, say, academia, are necessarily bad people.  It is instead that people can have differing incentives and rewards.  As authors Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness observe: “What sets this book apart from many other critiques of higher ed is that we believe academia’s problems are ingrained. Bad behaviors result from regular people reacting to bad incentives baked into academia. No specters haunt academia. Normal people just take the bait.” We might point out that another difference between this book and other critiques of higher education is that it’s pretty funny.  

We quibble with Brennan and Magness about a few things.  For example, student evaluations may be problematic, but in our opinion, they’re certainly not worthless.  If such reviews can’t tell how good an instructor actually is, they can certainly give a good sense of how bad they are.  Malign instructors under the protection of tenure can kill student motivation. Just a few of these creatures on, say, an engineering faculty, can result in students—even good students—deciding that by golly, it doesn’t matter if the humanities or psychology might come with a latte-type job; anything looks better than engineering. In any case, we found Brennan and Magness’ focus on incentives to be deeply insightful—this perspective has come to flavor our own analysis of many social interactions.

Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, by Laurence Leamer.  Truman Capote was one of the most fascinating characters of the twentieth century.  So this book proved irresistible for us.  

Capote was a raconteur of the first order, and he parlayed his story-telling skills not only into a career as a novelist, but also into calling cards that made him a popular houseguest amongst the wealthy.  Over time, Capote began to realize that his awareness of the world of enormously wealthy, fashionable women could be used as fodder for his writing. Just as he took advantage of the confidences of murderers in his classic, In Cold Blood, Capote ruthlessly set about milking his wealthy female friends for their thoughts—thoughts he could put on the page to sell books, even as these publicly shared confidences would destroy his deepest friendships.  A real page-turner that is a biography not just of Capote, but of some of the world’s wealthiest, intelligent, best-dressed, but often trapped women.

Class Central’s Most Popular Courses of 2021

Don’t miss Class Central’s list of Most Popular Courses of 2021. And Class Central reflects on their first decade of service to MOOC-takers! 

Barb’s favorite flashcard program, iDoRecall, has dramatic new updates!

iDoRecall has released its browser extension that allows users to sync their Kindle highlights with their iDR account, import the highlights, and selectively convert them into linked recalls. When they practice those recalls, if they struggle with the answer, they can click the source link. If they have the free Kindle Desktop app on their PC or Mac, it will open the correct book at the location of the highlight to refresh their memory in the context where they first learned that information. Here is a demo video

iDR users can now import highlights and create linked recalls on any public-facing webpage using the iDR Webclipper. When they practice these recalls, they can click the source link, and the relevant webpage will open and scroll to the location of the highlighted text or screenshot of the regions of interest. Here is a demo video.

iDR users can create redaction recalls that enable flashcards where they redact portions of text or areas on an image such as anatomic labels or cells in a table and challenge themselves to remember what is hidden under the redactions. Here is a demo video.

As long-time Learning How to Learners recall, iDoRecall is a unique spaced-repetition flashcard web app that enables you to link the facts, concepts, formulae, terms, and definitions in your learning materials that you want to remember with your flashcards. These source links close an essential loop in the learning process. When you practice your flashcards, if you struggle with the answer, you can click the source link and the Word file, PowerPoint, PDF, image file, Web page, Kindle eBook highlight, or YouTube video will open at the exact relevant location where you discovered that ditty so that you can refresh your memory in the original context where you first learned it. With iDoRecall, you don’t just learn. You employ cognitive science-backed principles to remember what you’ve learned.

Readers of Cheery Friday can get a 25% off the Learner Annual Subscription by using the FriendOfBarb discount code at checkout. (No, we are not an iDoRecall affiliate—we just like the program!)

Dr. Roi Yozevitchpodcast with Barb

Dr. Roi Yozevitch is one of Israel’s most popular podcasters about learning and AI. Listen in here as Roi and Barb converse their way through a broad spectrum of ideas about learning and education.

Oregon eliminates all proficiency requirements to read, write, or do mathematics in order to graduate from high school

This insightful post by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, demonstrates that no matter how problematic you might think education might be, there is always room at the bottom. Unfortunately, Oregon’s move means further inequity for Oregon’s students, as the more well-to-do parents remove their students from public school systems and put them into private schools.  Viewed from Brennan and Magness’ perspective in Cracks in the Ivory Tower, there are plenty of elated actors in this drama who are rewarded by removing requirements to show that students have actually learned anything.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Top Books of 2021 on Learning How to Learn! 

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Top Books of 2021 on Learning How to Learn! 

Study aids 

Barb and Terry’s books

Our books, not surprisingly, would have topped the list of top Learning How to Learn choices. We’re separating them out here: 

ASEE Master Class on Teaching

ASEE Presents: Master Class on Effective Teaching – Jan. 11, 12, & 13, 2022; 12 to 4 PM ET,

Final Reminder – The next edition of the upcoming Master Class on Effective Teaching, led by none other than Barb, has now been opened for registration.  Feedback on previous sessions of this workshop have been phenomenal: “Three words for this course:  – Astounding  – Invigorating  – Invaluable” “Brilliant insights” “This was amazing…Best $199 I’ve ever spent in my life!”  

This workshop will give you a chance to review and internalize some of the best insights about effective teaching that recent neuroscience provides.  Most great teachers (like you!) are great because you intuit what learners need, and when. This upcoming Master Class will provide you with insight into why you do what you do in your teaching. This insight can help you leverage your natural teaching intuition even further. The materials are based on the critically praised Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn.

Cohort for Uncommon Sense Teaching on Class Central!

One of our very favorite websites in relation to online learning is Class Central.  So we’re super happy to announce that Barb will be running Class Central’s new Cohort on the MOOC Uncommon Sense Teaching.  In Class Central’s wonderful Cohort approach, students support each other as they go through the Uncommon Sense Teaching MOOC—and they meet weekly with Barb to discuss their insights and questions.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have personal time with an instructor who normally teaches to millions.  

Dr. Doug Green’s blog for parents and teachers

Dr. Doug Green took his pension when his wife was diagnosed with ALS. He now devotes his time to producing free resources daily for parents and educators.  Check out his blog for busy parents and educators—and don’t miss his fine summary of our book Uncommon Sense Teaching

Barb’s Interview from Her Home—on Yandex

Here is an insightful interview of Barb, videotaped at her home by Yandex.  You can also take in what you’d like from the entire Yandex playlist!

Karen Maeyen’s Insightful TEDTalk about asking questions 

Barb’s work in education—and in fact, the vast majority of her writing and research, has involved trying to answer questions that popped into her head (sometimes bizarre ones).  Barb’s friend Karen Maeyens has given a wonderful talk on asking questions–you can’t help but enjoy this insightful, inspiring presentation

90-minute naps can help boost motor skills and memory

Evidence continues to accumulate that naps can revitalize and refuel, so that the latter part of the day becomes more productive.  As this StudyFinds article observes: “Researchers at Northwestern University say napping for just 90 minutes can boost both motor skills and memory. The team finds that sleep can enhance a person’s ability to learn challenging motor tasks since it helps the brain to process and focus on the new skill. After a short sleep, study participants were able to perform more quickly and more efficiently than if they did not have the extra rest.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Mindshift—the book behind the MOOC

The critically acclaimed Uncommon Sense Teaching (and MOOC!)

The newest on learning: the book Learn Like a Pro (and MOOC!)

The LHTL recommended text, A Mind for Numbers

And Learning How to Learn, a book (and MOOC!) for kids and parents.

Raising Critical Thinkers

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Raising Critical Thinkers: A Parent’s Guide to Growing Wise Kids in the Digital Age, by Julie Bogart.  As one endorser notes: “Julie Bogart is a brilliant educator who’s written a wonderful book that shows us how to nurture children’s ability to think critically and carefully. Each chapter offers dozens of questions, lessons, and exercises for helping learners understand their biases, evaluate the sources from which they get information, and consider other perspectives. These tools can enable students from kindergarten through high school to experience the joys of discovery and insight, and they can help young people grow into compassionate adults who want to make a positive contribution to their world. Read this book and use it. Your children and students will thank you, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself, too!”  

And here’s an excerpt from Barb’s foreword:

“Julie approaches critical thinking in an utterly novel way. Like a master poker player, she turns her gaze not only toward the cards being dealt, but also inward to the body’s physical ‘tells’ in reaction to those cards… these bodily reactions and thought patterns can serve as a guide for digging deeper and being more honest, both with those you are interacting with and yourself. It’s this self-awareness that supports you in guiding your children as well.

“As Julie notes, ‘Knowing how to develop well-formed opinions in spite of prejudice and bias is one of the goals of education (and this book).’  Read on, for a wonderfully insightful guide to steering yourself, and the children you love, toward a life of considered, thoughtful insight.

Raising Critical Thinkers is an instant classic.  Highly recommended! Also good for audio.

Using neuroscience to help engineers learn most effectively

Join Barb in this free, 1-hour technical webinar with the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), Learning How to Learn for Engineering Professionals, as she shares the most useful, practical insights from research in learning.  (It’s a chance to see Barb live!)

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is an education provider specializing in engineering. It delivers a range of live online industry-oriented engineering courses, utilizing remote and virtual labs, to students from over 140 countries around the world. 

“Cohorts” from Class Central! (A Cohort on TOEFL Speaking Practice is starting now!)

“Cohorts” is a new buzzword in the online world.  They are study groups that can be led by a peer, a subject matter expert, or even the instructor of the course itself—they add a social layer to online courses. Here is one of the very best of cohorts—Cohorts: Social Learning for Open Courses.  Just starting (you can still join!) is  TOEFL Speaking Practice.  Enjoy!

Nelson’s Everest Memory Masterclass is on sale for Black Friday (25% off)! It’ll be his last cohort for the year, so register now!

Our friend, now 5-time US Memory Champion Nelson Dellis is back with his master class on the basics of memory techniques. From how to remember where you put your keys and people’s names and faces, to remembering numbers, speeches, and passwords, Nelson’s class has it all! There’s also a ton of bonus content included: interviews with top memory athletes and experts, Q&A sessions, championship training resources, templates, and more.  Nelson is not only a memory expert—he is also one of the greatest of online teachers. So if you’re looking to improve your memory, this is the upbeat, practically useful course to take.  Highly recommended!  And don’t miss Nelson’s books:

Stanford Online High School

We are often asked what high school represents the best of modern education.  Our conclusion? Stanford Online High School.  We recently had the chance to interview a Stanford OHS student, and were stunned at her overview of the school, which she loves so much that she is considering taking a “gap year” of extra learning.  “It’s challenging, and makes you excited to learn.  I love how everybody else is also excited to learn!  I got to take ‘Methodology of Science’ in 9th grade, “History & Philosophy of Science” in 10th grade, ‘Democracy, Freedom, and the Rule of Law’ in 11th, and now ‘Critical Reading & Argumentation’ along with ‘Advanced Topics in Philosophy.’”

When you have a school that makes kids excited about those kinds of topics, that school is doing something very right.  Note that Stanford OHS uses careful assessment into courses by their readiness, not solely by their age or grade level—a mastery learning approach. Applications are opening, so if this is the kind of education you want for your 7th through 12th grader, you might check this school out.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Mindshift—the book behind the MOOC

The critically acclaimed Uncommon Sense Teaching (and MOOC!)

The newest on learning: the book Learn Like a Pro (and MOOC!)

The LHTL recommended text, A Mind for Numbers

And Learning How to Learn, a book (and MOOC!) for kids and parents.


Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Heads up—as Barb is heading into heavy work on the final two MOOCs of the Uncommon Sense Teaching specialization, and another exciting three-MOOC specialization to be announced, we will be moving to a “once a month” schedule, (along with occasional bonus emails), for our Cheery Friday email.  So savor each one!

Book of the Week

Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.  This wonderful book relates the exploits of intrepid polar explorer William Barents, who became a European legend after his death in 1597.  It can be tough to relate the story of a man about whom little is known aside from his occasional appearance in the diaries and reminiscences of others.  But Pitzer provides a great feeling for Barents’ uncompromising goal of reaching China through a northern route.  The true glory of Icebound, however, is Pitzer’s way with words.  Here, for example, is her description of how a ship is built: 

“Barents had begun exploration just as the Dutch dominated European shipbuilding. Though the craft was evolving, ships remained in that moment artisanal projects, in which each vessel was made by hand with little in the way of diagrams or written plans. Builders began with a set of blocks in a line on which they set the keel—the spine of the ship. Perpendicular to the keel, arcing planks known as ribs rose to breathe a shape into the cage of the hull. With the ribs in place, planks running parallel to the waterline could be attached, and L-shaped knees set inside to brace and bind the structure. Planks, keels, and ribs were all still cut and shaped by hand. They had to be hammered and plugged, with joining pegs pounded in then cut flush to the exterior planks. One or more decks could be laid to divide the ship into levels, from the cargo hold at the very bottom of the ship; to the orlop in the middle, which held the guns and sleeping sailors; and the upper deck, which sat open to the elements topside. The ‘ceiling’ of the ship—not the roof but the planks along the sides of the vessel—would finish off the interior.”

It is entrancing to read Pitzer’s portrayal of the crew’s exploits, as nearly every day brought an ingenious new escape from death. (Pro tip: Remain armed around polar bears.)  Pitzer herself has travelled to Russia retracing Barents’ voyages—it is little wonder her descriptions are so evocative. An excellent read, especially if you want to appreciate sitting cozily at home on a winter’s eve.  

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman on the Biology of Learning

We are big fans of neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and his podcasts and writing.  Here is a not-to-be-missed discussion of how to focus more effectively and learn more efficiently.  You can catch Dr. Huberman’s many past podcasts here. You can sign up for Dr. Huberman’s newsletters here. [Hat tip: Adam Trybus.]

Bianca Jones Marlin Traces How Sensory Inputs Shape the Brain

This fascinating article about Columbia University neuroscientist Bianca Jones Marlin describes the biology behind some of our most human experiences, including building family relationships. Marlin is definitely a researcher to keep an eye on.

“This Is My Brain on Salvia”

This article from Wired gives an interesting perspective on how the default mode network shapes our thinking—and what happens when that network is disabled.  


And while we’re alluding to Wired, we might as well run a link to a story about all the Dune memes out there.  We’ve been fans of Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, for nearly forty years. Barb actually has an autographed copy of Dune, because her father was Frank Herbert’s veterinarian in Port Townsend, Washington.  (As Barb’s friends have explained, this is perhaps her biggest claim to fame.)  

Here is a wonderful deconstruction by Dune director Denis Villeneuve as he breaks down the iconic Gom Jabbar scene in the movie.

Japanese version of Uncommon Sense Teaching! 日本語版オンラインコース! 

Here is the link to a Japanese version of Uncommon Sense Teaching developed by Hiroyo Saito, Director of Instructional Design and Technology Services at Haverford College. Hiroyo writes:



A Meta-Analytic Review of the Benefit of Spacing out Retrieval Practice Episodes on Retention

Here are some counterintuitive meta-analytic findings related to spaced repetition: “Overall, these results support the advantage of spacing out the retrieval practice episodes on the same content, but do not support the widely held belief that inter-retrieval intervals should be progressively increased until a retention test.” [Hat tip: Nicole Charest, co-instructor of Apprendre comment apprendre, the French edition of Learning How to Learn.]

Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars

All of the University of Kent short talks on teaching and learning have moved to a new YouTube channel here. Check them out!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To, by David Sinclair with Matthew D. LaPlante. [Hat tip, Adam Trybus] This fascinating, beautifully written book explores a common—but ignored—factor in many lethal diseases.  That is, the effects of aging.  Sinclair describes why aging occurs, and gives concrete recommendations for treating aging that include exercise, get a good sleep, and don’t smoke, but also go beyond to include discussion of possible treatments such as NMN, rapamycin, and metformin. The book’s compelling descriptions of biological processes oftentimes make it a joy to read. This, for example, is the best “for the general public” explanation of epigenetics we’ve ever seen:  

“Every one of our cells has the same DNA, of course, so what differentiates a nerve cell from a skin cell is the epigenome, the collective term for the control systems and cellular structures that tell the cell which genes should be turned on and which should remain off. And this, far more than our genes, is what actually controls much of our lives. One of the best ways to visualize this is to think of our genome as a grand piano. Each gene is a key. Each key produces a note. And from instrument to instrument, depending on the maker, the materials, and the circumstances of manufacturing, each will sound a bit different, even if played the exact same way. These are our genes. We have about 20,000 of them, give or take a few thousand. Each key can also be played pianissimo (soft) or forte (with force). The notes can be tenuto (held) or allegretto (played quickly). For master pianists, there are hundreds of ways to play each individual key and endless ways to play the keys together, in chond combinations that create music we know as jazz, ragtime, rock, reggae, waltzes, whatever. The pianist that makes this happen is the epigenome. Through a process of revealing our DNA or bundling it up in tight protein packages, and by marking genes with chemical tags called methyls and acetyls composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, the epigenome uses our genome to make the music of our lives.”

What Kids Need to Know About Their Working Memory

We teach kids how to read, write, and do arithmetic.  But we rarely teach them how to make most effective use of their memory systems. This terrific article by Deborah Farmer Kris in Intrepid Ed News provides a first rate overview of how to teach your kids memory hacks.  What is particularly insightful are the many practical—yet novel—tips that will really help your child or your students (and you!) to use memory more effectively.  

Meet Barb in Guatemala!

Barb will be having a conversation with fans of Uncommon Sense Teaching at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on November 5th, from 4:00 to 5:30 pm.  You’ll have a chance to get to meet in a small group, and converse together related to your questions about the book and MOOC, as well as about learning in general.  If you are in Guatemala, make room in your schedule and plan to head on over to UFM, because Barb would love to meet you!  Register here!

The AI Wars: lessons from the conflict that paralyzed the field

This interesting article by David Goudet in Towards Data Science gives a great overview of how research in artificial intelligence was held up for many decades, in large part due to the erroneous conclusions of research giants Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert. As Goudet notes: “Marvin Minsky remained skeptical his whole life and even in his last years, he didn’t believe in the advances of AI. He made a lot of poor predictions even being an expert in the field.” [Hat tip: Adam Trybus.]

90-minute naps can help boost motor skills and memory

We’re often asked whether naps are helpful in learning.  This study provides powerful affirmative evidence about the value of naps.  Laying procedural links related to motor skills are consolidated in a fashion similar to the consolidation of declarative links, so this study also provides tangential impetus to the idea that naps can help with learning of all kinds.

Braver Angels

In response to last week’s email, LHTLer Paul B brings up a group called Braver Angels, whose mission is to allow the voices on each side of a topic to talk to each other civilly and constructively. Check it out!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

In the Garden of Beasts

Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Year

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson. We have read many books over the years about the rise and fall of the Third Reich (including Shirer’s definitive classic by that name).  But In the Garden of the Beasts is one of the best we’ve ever read in describing the gradual unfolding of the evil that was Hitler and his loathsome cronies.  The book follows William Dodd, the unlikely, bottom-of-the-barrel pick as Ambassador to Nazi Germany, and his daughter, Martha Dodd, who slept her way through the top of Berlin’s high society as she merrily embraced Nazism.  But as the Dodds grew more familiar with Germany and the Nazis, they began to appreciate the true horrors of the regime. Martha would become a spy for the communists—only late in life realizing that she had been the dupe of each evil faction.  Larsen’s descriptions are stunningly apropos of the era—and resonate today: 

“…Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep into the fabric of daily life. It had occurred quietly and largely out of easy view. At its core was a government campaign called Gleichschaltung—meaning “Coordination”—to bring citizens, government ministries, universities, and cultural and social institutions in line with National Socialist beliefs and attitudes. 

 “‘Coordination’ occurred with astonishing speed, even in sectors of life not directly targeted by specific laws, as Germans willingly placed themselves under the sway of Nazi rule, a phenomenon that became known as Selbstgleichschaltung, or ‘self-coordination.’ Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who come back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern. Gerda Laufer, a socialist, wrote that she felt ‘deeply shaken that people whom one regarded as friends, who were known for a long time, from one hour to the next transformed themselves.’ Neighbors turned surly; petty jealousies flared into denunciations made to the SA—the Storm Troopers—or to the newly founded…Gestapo…

This is an absolutely remarkable book of history—we cannot recommend it more highly. 

We Got Here Because of Cowardice. We Get Out With Courage

Bari Weiss’s extraordinary essay about today’s Woke America, with its enormous impact on education, resonates with the eerie acquiescence of many Germans of the 1930s to the rapid encroachment on their personal liberties by Nazism. As Weiss notes: “If you have ever tried to build something, even something small, you know how hard it is. It takes time. It takes tremendous effort. But tearing things down? That’s quick work. 

“The Woke Revolution has been exceptionally effective. It has successfully captured the most important sense-making institutions of American life: our newspapers. Our magazines. Our Hollywood studios. Our publishing houses. Many of our tech companies. And, increasingly, corporate America. 

“Just as in China under Chairman Mao, the seeds of our own cultural revolution can be traced to the academy, the first of our institutions to be overtaken by it. And our schools—public, private, parochial—are increasingly the recruiting grounds for this ideological army. Most important: In this revolution, skeptics of any part of this radical ideology are recast as heretics. Those who do not abide by every single aspect of its creed are tarnished as bigots, subjected to boycotts and their work to political litmus tests. The Enlightenment, as the critic Edward Rothstein has put it, has been replaced by the exorcism. 

“What we call ‘cancel culture’ is really the justice system of this revolution. And the goal of the cancellations is not merely to punish the person being cancelled. The goal is to send a message to everyone else: Step out of line and you are next. 

“It has worked. A recent CATO study found that 62 percent of Americans are afraid to voice their true views. Nearly a quarter of American academics endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. And nearly 70 percent of students favor reporting professors if the professor says something that students find offensive, according to a Challey Institute for Global Innovation survey.

“…As Douglas Murray has put it: ‘The problem is not that the sacrificial victim is selected. The problem is that the people who destroy his reputation are permitted to do so by the complicity, silence and slinking away of everybody else.’

“Each surely thought: These protestors have some merit! This institution, this university, this school, hasn’t lived up to all of its principles at all times! We have been racist! We have been sexist! We haven’t always been enlightened! I’ll give a bit and we’ll find a way to compromise. This turned out to be as naive as Robespierre thinking that he could avoid the guillotine. 

“…Every day I hear from people who are living in fear in the freest society humankind has ever known. Dissidents in a democracy, practicing doublespeak. That is what is happening right now. What happens five, 10, 20 years from now if we don’t speak up and defend the ideas that have made all of our lives possible?

“Liberty. Equality. Freedom. Dignity. These are ideas worth fighting for.”

Here is Bari describing the situation to CNN’s Brian Stelter. This tweet from Lyndsey Fifield of the Daily Signal observes the irony of Stelter’s “insistence that nobody is stopping people from speaking freely when he’s talking to a woman who lost her job because she spoke freely is pretty galling.”

FIRE on behalf of Free Speech

There has been a surge of alumni activism on behalf of free speech this week. This Wall Street Journal article “Alumni Unite For Freedom Of Speech: Many left-of-center professors now realize that they too can be brutally canceled by the mob” highlighted the launch of the new Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA), which unites free speech alumni groups at 5 colleges (so far) to advocate for free thought and expression on campuses. Founding members have proudly declared that they will defend the free speech of Democrats, Republicans, left, right, or whoever is speaking.

If you’re interested in free speech at your alma mater — and especially if you might be interested in participating in an alumni group on your campus — please register today to join FIRE’s Alumni Network. Through the network, FIRE will deliver breaking news about your alma mater, but also gain a sense of who might be interested in starting or joining a free speech alumni group working to improve your own campus. 

How it begins, but hopefully not how it ends

This intriguing paper “Avoidance begets avoidance: A computational account of negative stereotype persistence,” describes how early influences can bias a person against certain groups—an activity that compounds and worsens over time. The implications of this important paper are that who you meet early in life—and what is taught in K-12—can set the tone for later, far stronger biases.

That’s all for this week. Have a thoughtful week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

The Great Upheaval

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future, by Arthur Levine and Scott J. Van Pelt. If you’re looking to understand the future of higher education, you couldn’t do better than to look at The Great Upheaval.  What makes this book so interesting is not only its review of past changes in higher ed, but also its careful look at what has happened in leading industries such as movie-making, filmmaking, and newspapers as they’ve been disrupted by the online world. All this background means it’s a slow wind-up to get to the meat of the matter—that is, the future of higher ed. But the careful foundation that Levine and Van Pelt lay pays off. They conclude that many new universities will be unlike their industrial era predecessors. “The key actor is the student or consumer of higher education, no longer the colleges and universities that provide it. The focus is on learning rather than on teaching. The outcomes of education are fixed instead of time- and process-based. Higher education is primarily digital, no longer principally analog, and content is unbundled rather than consolidated. Competencies replace credits as the currency and accounting system of higher education. Colleges and universities are one of many sources for education rather than the sole provider.”  Well worth reading if you are wondering where higher ed is heading post-COVID.

ASEE Presents: Master Class on Effective Teaching – Jan. 11, 12, & 13, 2022—12 – 4 PM, ET

The next edition of the upcoming Master Class on Effective Teaching, led by none other than Barb has now been opened for registration.  Feedback on previous sessions of this workshop have been phenomenal: “Three words for this course:  – Astounding  – Invigorating  – Invaluable” “Brilliant insights” “This was amazing…Best $199 I’ve ever spent in my life!”  

This workshop will give you a chance to review and internalize some of the best insights about effective teaching that recent neuroscience provides.  Most great teachers (like you!) are great because you intuit what learners need, and when. This upcoming Master Class will provide you with insight into why you do what you do in your teaching. This insight can help you leverage your natural teaching intuition even further. The materials are based on the critically praised Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn.

A Google Group for LHL Poland!

If you’d like to learn more about learning and Learning How to Learn in Poland, this Google Group:, organized by Professor Adam Trybus of the University of Zielona Góraw, will keep you posted on Polish goings-on. You’ll find intriguing ventures are underway!

Third Culture Kids

It’s hard to appreciate how much our thoughts are often influenced and shaped by the thoughts of the people around us. But Barb got a feel for this while growing up due to her constant moves—she’d lived in ten different places by the time she was fifteen years old.  When she would arrive in one place, acceptable behavior and thoughts could be quite different from where she lived before.  For example, when she moved from rural Texas to tony Malibu, California, she suddenly discovered that her accent, her jeans, and even her ears were unacceptable.  Perhaps this is when she began to realize that social acceptance is a double-edged sword—sometimes fitting in with others means turning into the kind of person you don’t really want to be.  

Over the years, Barb has occasionally met people who are able to rely on their own observations, rather than on simply finding a way to justify thinking the same way as everyone else in their social group.  Upon questioning, she’ll like as not be surprised to discover that the independent thinker had also moved around while growing up.  In fact, there is a name for these kids—they’re called “Third Culture Kids,” because they can grow up between their parents’ culture, the culture of the place they are growing up, and a culture of their own that arises because of their displacement.  This wonderful article gives a good description of the phenomenon. Of course, there are also people who are able to think independently just because that’s who they are—we salute them!

Retrieval practice tips

If you’d like tips on retrieval practice to be delivered to your e-mailbox, as well as to access a tremendous database of retrieval practice research, you couldn’t do better than go here. And don’t miss Barb’s favorite book on teaching, Powerful Teaching, which is affiliated with the site.

Research into why we can’t remember our early childhood memories

This interesting article in CNN Health describes latest research findings about why we can’t remember our earliest memories.  Key graf: “It is true to some extent that a child’s ability to verbalize about an event at the time that it happened predicts how well they remember it months or years later. One lab group conducted this work by interviewing toddlers brought to accident and emergency departments for common childhood injuries. Toddlers over 26 months, who could verbalize about the event at the time, recalled it up to five years later, whereas those under 26 months, who could not talk about it, recalled little or nothing. This suggests that preverbal memories are lost if they are not translated into language.” (Of course, this doesn’t explain how Barb remembers losing her lunch on the kitchen floor before she could walk.)

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

And Learning How to Learn, a book (and MOOC!) for kids and parents.

The Fire and the Darkness

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden 1945, by Sinclair McKay.  This riveting book held us spell-bound each evening over the past week—only when sleep called with urgency was Barb able to draw herself away.  It is hard to do justice to Dresden’s horrific bombing, which was, on the face of it, a war crime that killed some 25,000 innocent civilians—many of them refugees—in the final weeks of World War II. Yet McKay does a fantastic job of setting out the context of what occurred, describing the horrors experienced by Jews and anyone else who dared cross the Nazi juggernaut, and how, whatever else it might have done, the savage bombing seemed to have been the final straw that broke the Nazi’s morale.  Even-handed, riveting works of history such as this book are extraordinarily important as nowadays, hyperinflated versions of the Dresden death toll are used by neo-Nazis to support revisionist history. These revised histories give short shrift to the millions of deaths and untold damages that Hitler caused.  The Fire and the Darkness is truly a great book. (Also excellent for audio listening.)

PowerPoint in Polish! Barb’s talk at the University of Zielona Góra

Here is Barb’s talk about learning for the visionaries who came to the University of Zielona Góra (some came all the way from Warsaw!).

The Data Is In — Trigger Warnings Don’t Work

This provocative article in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes the lack of efficacy—and even the harm, that arises from using trigger warnings.  Key grafs: 

“When debates about trigger warnings first erupted, there was little-to-no research on their effectiveness. Today we have an emerging body of peer-reviewed research to consult.

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma. (For a review of the relevant research, see the 2020 Clinical Psychological Science article “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories” by Payton J. Jones, Benjamin W. Bellet, and Richard J. McNally.)

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings ‘were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.’

“What’s more, they found that trigger warnings actually increased the anxiety of individuals with the most severe PTSD, prompting them to ‘view trauma as more central to their life narrative.’ ‘Trigger warnings,’ they concluded, ‘may be most harmful to the very individuals they were designed to protect.’”

The Dangers to Education in the USA

China just appointed Dr. Jinping Huai as its new education minister. He is a top computer science scientist and former president of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. China’s educational professionals follow suit their western colleagues—in other words, China has a genuine STEM expert to lead the education ministry.

In the US, some of the biggest dangers of education seem to be coming from within the field of education.  This thought-provoking article from Quillette by three US mathematicians points to the dangers of current educational approaches in the US, observing: “…China pursues none of the equity programs that are sweeping the United States. Quite the contrary: It is building on the kind of accelerated, explicitly merit-based programs, centered on gifted students, that are being repudiated by American educators. Having learned its lesson from the Cultural Revolution, when science and merit-based education were all but obliterated in favor of ideological indoctrination, China is pursuing a far-sighted, long-term strategy to create a world-leading corps of elite STEM experts. In some strategically important fields, such as quantum computing, the country is arguably already ahead of the United States.” 

Bizarre Policies in Math Education

This nuanced discussion of math learning disabilities by Barry Garelick reflects the strange, Catch-22 like situation of modern reform math education. Students can end up bouncing back and forth between a system (that for those with disabilities) which works well for them, and the routine system that doesn’t. No one seems to have figured out that what works well for those with disabilities in math can work for other kids as well.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Mindshift—the book behind the MOOC

The critically acclaimed Uncommon Sense Teaching (and MOOC!)

The newest on learning: the book Learn Like a Pro (and MOOC!)

The LHTL recommended text, A Mind for Numbers

And Learning How to Learn, a book (and MOOC!) for kids and parents. 

The End of Trauma

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Greetings from beautiful Dresden, Germany! Next, Barb heads to Poland to speak for the University of Zielona Góra on October 4th, and to the Bauhaus University Weimar to keynote for the Annual Meeting of the eTeach Network 2021 on October 8th. It’s exciting to see the latest trends in learning in Europe!

Book of the Week

The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD, by George A. Bonanno. Bonanno argues that we vastly overestimate how common PTSD is, and we often fail to recognize how resilient people really are. In fact, many relatively new ideas about stress and how to handle it can actually exacerbate stressful feelings.  Take mindfulness, for example—as Bonanno points out, not only is there not good evidence for mindfulness’s efficacy in helping with recovery from trauma, there is actually some evidence that it could be detrimental.  As Bonanno notes: “A group of mindfulness experts recently cautioned, in a paper published in a leading psychology journal, that misinformation about the effectiveness of mindfulness can mislead people, and can even lead to harm. An alarming number of published studies and case reports have linked meditation to serious side effects, including increased anxiety, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, and depersonalization—the feeling of being disconnected from oneself. It can also cause people who have gone through potentially traumatic events to reexperience memories of these events.” 

So what does Bonanno recommend to end trauma?  Flexibility—realizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” ways to handle trauma. For example, letting emotions out in relation to a stressful situation may sometimes be warranted, but many times, suppressing emotions is the better approach. 

As Bonanno concludes: “All of this research points to the same basic conclusion: coping and emotion regulation strategies are inherently neither good nor bad. Every strategy has costs and benefits, and a given strategy is effective only insofar as it helps us meet the demands of a specific situation. Ironically, this is not a new story. The leading theorists on coping and emotion regulation have always emphasized this kind of dynamic interaction with changing situational demands. The core theorists have also emphasized the importance of timing. What may be effective at the onset of a stressor event, they pointed out, may be less effective or less useful later as the stressor runs its course.”

American History Business Center

We’ve just come across a fascinating website: The American Business History Center. As the Center notes: “Lawyers study precedents.  Doctors study the Hippocratic oath.  Political strategists study past election results.  But the far larger world of business often has little sense of history.  People involved in business often don’t know how businesses get created, grow, or get destroyed.  This is costly to our society.  If more managers and leaders studied the lessons of history, both the successes and failures, they might succeed more often.

“Students at all levels study the history of politics and war. But that’s not what history really is – it’s the story of everyday life and how it changes over time. Much of that change is due to business.  However, public awareness of where our great regional, national, and global enterprises, the products they make, and the entrepreneurs who built them is limited at best.  Most of the greatest business leaders in American history are unknown and unsung.  We aim to change that.” 

Here is a video of American Business History Center founder Gary Hoover himself, explaining the history of retailing.

Motivation depends on how the brain processes fatigue

This article in Medical Press describes how a “research team conducted a study to investigate the impact of fatigue on a person’s decision to exert effort. They found that people were less likely to work and exert effort—even for a reward—if they were fatigued….Intriguingly, the researchers found that there were two different types of fatigue that were detected in distinct parts of the brain. In the first, fatigue is experienced as a short-term feeling, which can be overcome after a short rest. Over time, however, a second, longer term feeling builds up, stops people from wanting to work, and doesn’t go away with short rests.”

Certainly Barb experiences this in her work. She can be tired, but reframe her thoughts and still forge ahead on what she’s working on.  But come evening, there comes a moment almost like a mental buzzer going off—Barb knows better than to work beyond that point.

A memory researcher to watch: Psychology professor Keisuke Fukuda

This excellent article by Megan Easton in the University of Toronto Magazine [Hat tip: Dennis Wilson] gives an overview of memory researcher Keisuke Fukuda’s work.  Key graf: 

“In one study, partly inspired by his experience learning English, [Fukuda] demonstrated that focusing on large amounts of information for a short time is more effective than dwelling on smaller amounts of information for a long time. ‘Instead of studying 10 new English words each day in the hopes of learning 70 words per week, I looked at all 70 words seven days in a row,” he says. “When you see something over and over and start recognizing it, you’re practising retrieving that information. Repeated retrieval makes it more accessible later.’”

As the article also notes, Keisuke Fukuda’s top 5 memory tips are:

  • Test your memory often on the material you want to remember
  • Don’t cram. Space out your memorization over time
  • Focus on repeated, if brief, exposure to info you want to remember
  • Take breaks! Let your mind rest for at least 15 minutes a few times a day
  • Use digital reminders, alarms, voice assistants and photo aids

MOOC of the Month

Our apologies—last week’s link was broken for Professor George Seidel’s masterful MOOC Successful Negotiation.  Here’s the correct link. [Hat tip Sunny Brock, first in with the correction.]

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Seven Essentials for Business Success

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Seven Essentials for Business Success, by George Seidel. Since we aren’t in the world of business, we found Dr. Seidel’s description of the world of business education, and the philosophy of great professor-teachers in business, to be intriguing.  The discussion is filled with nuggets of thought-provoking, teaching-related information we’d never encountered before, as for example: 

“In 1995, Robert Coles, a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard University, published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled ‘The Disparity Between Intellect and Character.’ He wrote the essay after meeting with a student who was distraught after another student propositioned her on more than one occasion. She recounted to Professor Coles that she had ‘taken two moral-reasoning courses with [the other student], and I’m sure he’s gotten As in both of them—and look at how he behaves with me, and I’m sure with others.’ She went on to note, ‘I’ve been taking all these philosophy courses, and we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?’”

Now that’s an important question for us as teachers!

Pat Bowden with a great review of a mystery MOOC

Our favorite MOOC reviewer, Pat Bowden, gives a great review of an awesome new course.  Click the link to find out who stars. 🙂

Class Central Updated Their Best Online Courses of All Time

Here’s the list! (And Barb has five courses on the list. 🙂 )

A visionary approach to mastery learning in K-12 education

We’re happy to announce that we’ve posted our first (optional) interview video for Uncommon Sense Teaching. It’s with Dr. Cory Steiner of Northern Cass School District #97, in Hunter, North Dakota, about his groundbreaking work in shifting the school district over to a mastery learning approach. This is truly a visionary to education, and you’ll love hearing Dr. Steiner’s insights. (Also note Barb’s flustered realization in the outtake that she HAD to film the discussion with Dr. Steiner!)

MOOC of the Month

We’d also like to bring your attention to Professor George Seidel’s masterful MOOC Successful Negotiation, which is amongst Coursera’s most popular MOOCs, with over a million enrollees.  Everybody needs negotiating skills, and learning from a MOOC is actually much easier and better than learning from a book.  Enjoy!

Perfect practice with Linda Langeheine’s “Stop! Attack!” Approach

For those of you who are learning to play a musical instrument, you might find Linda Langeheine’s three minute video on how to tackle and correct mistakes to be useful.  This seems perfectly in accord with how the procedural system learns.

Voice Coaching

One skill that is often not discussed with relation to online learning is the importance of voice. If you suspect your voice might be harsh or grating to listen to (most people are unaware of problems with their voice), you might wish to take a look at Nathalie Andrew’s Heartspark Voice and see if her coaching services might be helpful for you.

Don’t Forget the Fall 2021 One-Day Virtual On Course National Conference!

Barb will be giving the opening keynote for the On Course National Conference on October 8th. The closing session will be given by Jonathan Brennan, author of the excellent Online Teaching with Zoom. Whether you’ve been working with On Course strategies for years or just care deeply about the success of your students, you’ll find this is a powerful professional development conference. 

Register here, and learn!  

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team