Southeast Asia Globe - - Education In Southeast Asia -


is ex­cit­ing. It is also too of­ten con­flated with ‘bet­ter'. Per­haps nowhere is this more ap­par­ent than in the world of ed­u­ca­tion, where teach­ers are un­der pres­sure to teach more ef­fec­tively, par­ents con­stantly search for ways to im­prove their child's up­bring­ing and life­long learn­ers vo­ra­ciously digest self-im­prove­ment lis­ti­cles in a bid to pre­pare them­selves for the rise of the ‘gig econ­omy'.

But in our un­end­ing quest for bet­ter­ment, we of­ten over­look tried-and-tested tech­niques – and we gen­er­ally don't start by build­ing a strong foun­da­tion.

Af­ter vol­un­teer­ing for five years in an ur­ban school dis­trict in the US, Bar­bara Oak­ley, an en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor at Oak­land Univer­sity in Michi­gan, de­cided to cre­ate a free on­line course, or mas­sive open on­line course (MOOC), that of­fers prac­ti­cal ad­vice to help peo­ple learn more ef­fec­tively.

“The kids were great but the struc­ture, the en­vi­ron­ment and even the teach­ers were not nec­es­sar­ily op­ti­mal in any way, shape or form,” Oak­ley told South­east Asia Globe.

“It just got me to re­alise that we don't teach stu­dents how to learn.”

The course, filmed us­ing a makeshift green screen stu­dio in Oak­ley's base­ment, uses metaphor and Mi­crosoft 98-era an­i­ma­tions to un­pack com­plex top­ics, such as pro­cras­ti­na­tion, mem­ory and mo­ti­va­tion, to give course par­tic­i­pants lots of prac­ti­cal take­aways to help them im­prove the way they learn.

To date, more than 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple from 200 coun­tries have signed up to Oak­ley's ‘Learn­ing How to Learn' course, which is avail­able in English, Chi­nese, Span­ish and Por­tuguese via the MOOC provider Cours­era.

Ac­cord­ing to Oak­ley, the course has been so well re­ceived be­cause it re­veals the nuts and bolts of learn­ing but man­ages to do so in a fun and en­ter­tain­ing way.

“It teaches you how to work in a less frus­trated way. You learn what's hap­pen­ing in your brain when you pro­cras­ti­nate and how to trick your brain into not pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, some­thing most tra­di­tional ‘the­ory of ed­u­ca­tion' classes fail to cover,” she said.

The meth­ods and tech­niques that Oak­ley ad­vo­cates in the course bor­row from well-es­tab­lished neu­ral sci­ence. One ex­am­ple is the Po­modoro tech­nique, which in­volves set­ting a timer for 25-minute stretches of fo­cused work fol­lowed by reg­u­lar ‘re­wards' such as lis­ten­ing to a song or go­ing on a short walk. Dur­ing the re­ward phase, our brains con­sol­i­date the in­for­ma­tion we have just learned, help­ing us to or­der our thoughts and forge stronger men­tal con­nec­tions be­tween pieces of in­for­ma­tion.

Ini­tially de­vel­oped by renowned soft­ware de­vel­oper Francesco Cir­illo, the tech­nique is ef­fec­tive be­cause our brains have two modes of think­ing: ‘fo­cused', in which we build on pre­vi­ous knowl­edge like a pin­ball bounc­ing around a ma­chine with lots of bumpers, and ‘dif­fuse', in which our brains are af­forded the space re­quired to cre­ate new neu­ral path­ways, and, thus, learn new knowl­edge. We can't use both modes at the same time, so tak­ing suf­fi­cient breaks al­lows us to em­ploy both ways of think­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to Oak­ley, such tech­niques are un­likely to be taught by pro­fes­sors any time soon due to vested in­ter­ests in the world of higher academia.

“There are lots of won­der­ful peo­ple in academia, but if aca­demic skill cen­tres truly fix [stu­dents' study tech­niques], then the [stu­dents] will be gone and will not be con­tin­ued users of their ser­vice. There's this sort of criss­cross: they want stu­dents to learn bet­ter but they help them in a way that means stu­dents will con­tinue to rely on them,” she said.

“They don't get them to learn how to learn in­de­pen­dently, but stu­dents want to learn in­de­pen­dently. That is why the course has been so pop­u­lar.”

You learn what’s hap­pen­ing in your brain when you pro­cras­ti­nate and how to trick your brain into not pro­cras­ti­nat­ing

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