New MOOC–Learning How to Learn for Youth!

30th November 2018

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Coursera’s first MOOC for Youths, Parents, and Teachers!

We have a huuuuge announcement!  Today is the launch of Coursera’s first MOOC created for younger people, as well as the young at heart—Learning How to Learn for Youth. This is a sister of our original Learning How to Learn MOOC, and contains a fresh take on some of the ideas of Learning How to Learn, along with intriguing new material.  Barb and Terry are joined by their friend and amazing talent, motivational speaker and conference emcee Greg Hammons.

If you are a parent, teacher, or coach of young people, and want to give your kids a supercharged start to success in school, sports, music, art and life in general, take this course. Research has shown that incentives do work, so feel free to give your kids a reward for taking it!

Great Banjo and Guitar

A friend of Barb and her husband Phil, Mr. Vincent Sadovsky, recently passed away.  He was an incredible guitar and banjo player, as well as composer and arranger. Over his career he published for Mel Bay – New Twists for the 5-String Banjo: A Guide to the Use of Keith Tuners, and was a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as well as a grand national champion banjoist.  If you love folk guitar or bluegrass banjo, Barb recommends stopping by for a look at   

Books of the Week

  • e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, (4th edition) by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer. It’s easy to think that this is a book only for creating online materials.  Nothing could be further from the truth—this is a very deep and useful book for any serious educator. Early on, the book describes how to find and evaluate good research. It’s hard to find books on teaching that build their guidance from knowledge of how the brain works, but Clark and Mayer’s book does just that, and beautifully.  Sure, some of the guidance seems straightforward, but when put all together, this book provides a great set of principles that will help instructors from any discipline better understand, and reach, their students.  Hardcover (not e-book) copy is recommended.
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, 2nd edition, edited by Richard E. Mayer. If you want to go even deeper into the principles of how human beings learn effectively, you can’t do better than this marvelous 900 page, nearly five-pound behemoth of a book. It goes heavily into the research that helps guide our understanding of how human beings learn. The basic premise is that humans learn better when they can both see and hear what they’re learning–Mayer and his contributors give great insight into why this is true. Hardcover (not e-book) copy is recommended.

Barb in Rochester, Michigan

Barb’s giving a talk for the wonderful Rotary in her hometown of Rochester, Michigan on December 4th at 12:15 pm. Barb and Phil’s daughter Rosie traveled to Chile for her senior year in high school under the auspices of Rotary, which is ultimately how Rosie’s husband came to be from Chile. If you’d like to see Rotary in action connecting local people together, and see Barb while you’re at it, come to the talk!  More information here.

The Reproducibility Crisis in Psychology

Here’s an intense article in The Atlantic about a major problem that most researchers are aware of, but would often like to ignore, or pretend is just not that big a deal. The problem is, fully half of all studies in psychology cannot be reproduced.  Other researchers just can’t get the same results, even when they work carefully with the original researchers and do large-scale studies. And it’s not just because people are, for example, different from one part of the world to another.

The Replication Crisis in Education  

One of the important implications of the research in psychology relates to research in education. Here’s a four-year-old article complaining about the lack of replication in educational research. In other words, the field of education doesn’t seem to be nearly as well-grounded as psychology, despite the apparent problems of psychology, because education doesn’t appear to be creating solid mechanisms for replicating their findings. We need a large-scale study of educational research, similar to that of the field of psychology, that gives a sense of the validity of educational research.  

Incidentally, the terms “reproducible” and “replicable” are often used interchangeably, but technically, replicable means independent people collected new data and got the same result, while reproducible means that independent people analyzed the same original data and got the same result.

Growth Mindset and Effect Size

Along these lines, Carol Dweck deserves credit for putting forth a gold-standard” study of growth mindset. She and her colleagues pre-registered their plans beforehand so intentions couldn’t be altered once the data came in, and the study was massive, involving over 12,000 students in 65 public schools.  Their findings showed a .03 improvement in GPA, which Dweck argues here is significant. The effect size, however, is only a 0.08 overall (a good explanation of effect sizes is in chapter 3 of this book). A meta-analysis by a different author group found the effect of growth mindset interventions to be too small to be practically meaningful. Meta-analysis co-author Brooke McNamara responds to Dweck’s criticism of the meta-analysis here. (We also have to give credit to McNamara, an assistant professor, and her chutzpah in being willing to look critically at the work of a world-renowned Stanford researcher.) This related discussion in Wired also helps put growth mindset interventions into context.  

School Finances and Teacher Professional Development

In light of all of these findings, where growth mindset interventions have a best case effect size of 0.34 amongst students coming from poverty, (0.08 overall), while interventions like teaching with mnemonics have a far larger effect size of 0.76, we can’t help but wonder why far more discussion and professional development for teachers isn’t being devoted to, for example, topics like direct instruction, scaffolding, creating video review of lessons, rehearsal and memorization, and mnemonics, which, as John Hattie’s research has shown, can have a far larger impact on students. Some researchers feel that mindset is still vitally important—that its effect size is small for understandable reasons.  But even so, it’s reasonable to ask why is “growth mindset” appears omnipresent in teacher development training,  and not factors that have far greater effect sizes. As the above Wired article argues, are monies being faddishly spent by school districts on materials that have little impact and that could be better used elsewhere?

Fads in Education As Opposed to Solid Information about How the Brain Learns

In fact, might future research relate to detecting educational fads? To get a sense of what might be becoming a fad, researchers could go through typical number of hours of professional development being given to teachers, or monies spent on a specific intervention, and relate that to the actual effect size of that intervention.

In a related vein, researcher Richard Mayer’s fantastic work on multimedia learning describes the bottleneck of working memory, and how to ensure material is learned despite that bottleneck. Virtually all modern learning is multimedia learning—that is, it takes advantage of both pictures and text.  So why are these foundational ideas on not often taught in teacher professional development? We believe it’s time to move past trendy, easy-to-digest materials and on to material that’s been proven by research to have a hefty impact.

Interview with Barbara Oakley in El Mundo: “To say that you do not care about mathematics is elitist”

Here is a recent interview with journalist Berta de Vega in El Mundo, one of the greatest papers of the Spanish-speaking world.  Berta points out that educational guru Ken Robinson has noted that dance can be more important than mathematics. Barb’s response? “If you do not care at all about having to put food on the table for your family, then I can understand that dance is just as important to you as mathematics.”

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


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