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Make it Stick | Summary and Key Lessons

“Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” is a book written by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. 

Quick Summary: The book delves into the latest cognitive psychology research to present practical techniques for more effective learning. The authors explore various learning strategies, offering advice on which methods work best, and why commonly accepted practices are often ineffective.

Make it Stick Full Summary

Emphasis on Active Retrieval Practice

Rather than relying on passive techniques like rereading, the authors emphasize the importance of actively recalling information. 

By using methods like self-quizzing, learners strengthen their memory and understanding of the material. This retrieval practice consolidates information and fosters long-term retention, making it a more effective learning strategy.

Interleaving and Varied Practice

The book introduces the idea of interleaving different subjects or topics in parallel, rather than focusing on one at a time. 

This method improves the ability to differentiate between concepts and helps with problem-solving. Additionally, varying the practice context and mixing different materials makes the learning process more challenging but ultimately more effective.

Challenging Learning Enhances Retention

The authors argue that the learning process should not be too easy. Embracing difficulties, using techniques like spacing (distributing practice over time), and creating challenges in the learning process can lead to deeper understanding and better long-term retention. 

They posit that the struggle involved in learning is what makes it stick.

Debunking Common Myths and Misconceptions

Throughout the book, the authors dispel many myths and misconceptions about learning, such as the idea of individual learning styles (e.g., visual, auditory) and over-reliance on ineffective methods like rereading. 

They make a strong case that scientifically supported strategies are more universally applicable, and they caution against overconfidence and illusions of mastery without proper self-testing and feedback.

Growth Mindset and Lifelong Learning

The authors advocate for a growth mindset, where intelligence and abilities are seen as malleable rather than fixed. They emphasize the importance of effort, perseverance, and resilience in the learning process. 

By applying the principles laid out in the book, they encourage readers to embrace lifelong learning and to constantly challenge themselves to grow and adapt in an ever-changing world.

make it stick summary

Also Read: Made To Stick | Summary and Key Lessons

Key Lessons 

1. Emphasizing Effortful Learning and Retrieval Practice

“Make It Stick” emphasizes the value of effortful learning. This goes against the intuitive idea that if learning is easy, it’s also effective. The authors point to research showing that making learning more challenging can significantly enhance long-term retention

Schools often promote rote memorization or easy repeated reading of materials. However, the book cites real-world examples, like using flashcards with spaced repetition or taking practice tests, to force retrieval from memory. 

These techniques have been shown to improve retention in various subjects, from foreign languages to medical studies.

2. Interleaving and Mixing Different Topics

Interleaving is the practice of studying multiple subjects or topics in parallel rather than focusing on one subject at a time (blocked practice). According to the book, this approach promotes the ability to differentiate between concepts, fostering a deeper understanding.

A study cited in the book contrasts the learning methods of two groups of students practicing math problems. One group practiced blocked problems (all multiplication, then all division, etc.), while the other used interleaved practice (a mixture of multiplication, division, addition, etc.). 

The latter group performed significantly better in a subsequent test. Many modern educational approaches are adopting this strategy, especially in STEM fields.

3. Embracing Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Make It Stick argues that failures and mistakes aren’t just acceptable but vital parts of the learning process. When learners confront errors and analyze them, they gain insights and knowledge that mere success wouldn’t provide.

For example, in the corporate world, this principle can be seen in companies like Toyota with their continuous improvement philosophy

Toyota encourages employees at all levels to participate in identifying mistakes or inefficiencies and then work on solving them. 

This culture of embracing failure and learning from it has been one of the key factors in Toyota’s success. It resonates with the idea that failures are not setbacks but learning opportunities that lead to growth and innovation.

Also Read: The Power of Positive Thinking Summary and Key Lessons

4. The Power of Elaborative Interrogation and Reflective Learning

The authors emphasize the technique of elaborative interrogation, where learners ask probing questions about the material, such as “how” and “why.” This strategy requires the learner to actively engage with the material, leading to a deeper understanding and better retention. 

This approach is complemented by reflective learning, where learners review what they’ve learned, relate it to what they already know, and ponder its practical applications.

For example, an educator teaching historical events can encourage students to question not just the what and when of an event but also the why and how. 

For instance, instead of simply learning that World War I started in 1914, students can delve into the complex political, social, and economic factors that contributed to its inception. This technique helps to develop critical thinking skills and provides a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Final Thoughts

“Make It Stick” serves as a guidebook for learners, educators, coaches, and anyone interested in enhancing their ability to learn. By focusing on scientific research and empirical evidence, it goes beyond conventional wisdom to present a nuanced and practical understanding of how people learn best. 

The book provides valuable insights and actionable strategies for improving learning processes, whether in academic, professional, or personal contexts.

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