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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Fallacy of Learning in a Bubble

Unschooling Rules 22 is: Formally learn only what is reinforced during the next 14 days (you will forget everything else anyway).

Learning decays.  Learning decays faster than most of us realize.  One of my favorite charts showing this is as follows, which I am reprinting from my 2005 book, Learning By Doing.
In school, pilots learn a complex skill to perform a task.  But the skill, when not reinforced, decays quickly and measurably.   (Some skills do return more quickly next time, and some don't.)  
The model of front-loaded learning- of jam packing a head full of content to serve for the rest of one's life - is of course, madness.  Less than 5% sticks after just 6 weeks, even when perfectly taught (here: theory + practice + review).  That is why for me, any evaluation of what students learn in school is only relevant if taken significantly after the cessation of the artificial school bubble environment.  For many reasons including this one, learning has to be done in the context of real life, not the sterile classroom, in order for it to enable eventual success.

One more note:  to study effective learning practices, one ought find the places that care the most about the results of learning. Organizations I have found useful include those that support: pilots, Wall Street brokers, sports teams, nuclear reactor operators, and parts of the military.  My own interest in educational simulations in part came from their near universal organic adoption by passionate instructors.  In fact, one can almost argue that those educational programs that have not seen the need for sims in are revealing some problematic characteristics. 

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