Too short? Or just right? 

Lately I’m wondering about what kinds of resources might be most useful as I talk with teachers about the science of learning and memory theory. Specifically: is shorter sometimes better? 

There are plenty of great, longer explanations of how memory research relates to teaching and learning. I collected some of my favorites in this “choose your own adventure” style slide deck. That collection includes the books that started the ball rolling for me: Make it Stick  and How we Learn. Reading those books flipped on a light bulb for me: I taught memory theory every year in my psychology classes, but until I read those books, I didn’t make the connection between what I was teaching and how I was teaching. 

Those books got me started reading everything I could get my hands on about memory theory, cognitive psychology, and teaching and learning. The more you look, the more you’ll find. My most recent favorite finds are Peps McCrea’s great, tiny books (like Memorable Teaching), articles about cognitive load theory (like Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand), and researchers who explicitly try to tie the big ideas from cognitive psych. To their teaching (like Stephen Chew’s The world’s best 24 minute videos for teachers and administrators – my title, not his!) 

But not many teachers have the time to dive into the literature like this. Lately I am getting interested in whether some VERY short presentations of the science of learning might be more effective. I stumbled across these two articles and I’m thinking about asking some teachers to read them and talk about how the ideas might relate to their teaching: 

10 Things To Know About Teaching And Learning by Alex Quigley. This blog post is simply a list of 10 statements about teaching and learning with references to psychological principles. It doesn’t get much more clear than just listing a statement like “We need to make helpful connections between the complex stuff” and pointing readers toward “schema building” (the term “deep processing” or “semantic encoding” could have worked here too). 

How Cognitive Load Theory Changed my Teaching by Zach Groshell. I love how Z. Groshell shows how he uses cognitive load theory to make practical decisions as a teacher in very short paragraphs. There are good book-length resources that use this same idea (like Small Teaching and How I Wish I’d Taught Maths) but these few paragraphs show one teacher’s rationale clearly. 

One thing I worry about: teaching and learning are so complex and contextual that any teacher could find exceptions to the “rules” or statements in these short blog posts. It would be easy to quibble with the concise conclusions in these posts. Books and longer articles have space to discuss nuances and details about cognitive psychology. I wonder: are these short summaries more prone to “lethal mutations” of what we should learn from research? 

I’m excited to see whether these very short summaries of cognitive psych. research start useful conversations with teachers. I’ll report back, and if any of you have tried anything similar, I’d love to hear about it.  

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