Current Topic Seven, ED 650

Facebook as an LMS

Miron, E., & Ravid, G. (2015). Facebook groups as an academic teaching aid: case study and recommendations for educators. Educational Technology & Society, (4), 371.

The first point the authors develop is the difference between open online education and, what they call, walled garden solutions the standard learning management systems, BlackBoard, for example. The next insight they offer is the difference between cooperative and collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning is a personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique. It suggests a way of dealing with people which respects and highlights individual group members’ abilities and contributions. There is a sharing of authority and acceptance of responsibility among group members for the group’s actions. Cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes which help people interact together in order to accomplish a specific goal or develop an end product, which is usually content specific. Cooperative system is more directive than a collaborative system of governance and closely controlled by the teachers.

The differences in these two approaches collaborative and open online education are the foundations on which they build their case study of using Facebook groups in online instruction.

The use of Facebook informal learning consists of the following:

  • Creating a Timeline or Facebook Group to support the teaching of any curriculum subject.
  • Creating a space and platform for homework and revision resources.
  • Running debates on topical issues and hot issues in the media.
  • Peer tutoring and support.
  • A research tool to post, share ideas, videos, and resources.

It is striking that the authors have to make an argument for open education, for collaborative learning and for going where people prefer to be. Higher education was, of course, the only game in town for decades. However, since the 1980’s, that monopoly has eroded. For, profit higher education was the first place I saw a threat to the classic private/public college model. Distance education (audio and teleconference technology) in rural states was the next turn that signaled significantly. Then in the late 1990’s online school began to flourish. Finally, the national and state budget crisis for public higher education was a severe change in the landscape. Along with this came the scrutiny of politicians and citizens as to the effectiveness and productivity of higher education. In the 1960’s the call for “relevance” was aimed at social and moral agenda, in the 21st century ROI has been added to the list of criticisms. As well, the credentialing role of higher education has eroded over the last 40-50 years.

What if we explore the claim that open, collaborative, customer-centered online education is the only way higher education will reclaim any authority. What if we extend that to public K-12 school as well? I might complicate that as well because I still see a place for face-to-face cohorts. In part, this is important because in the workplace we routinely switch between face-to-face and online collaboration and work.

From my colleagues in K-12, I have heard concerns about open online education. The interests include, that student’s work is entirely in the public eye, because on the internet the persistence of artifacts is beyond control, and because online bullies or predators might victimize students. I think these concerns are valid especially, for kids K-6. Therefore, if I soften my claim and we keep our K-6 curriculum and online experience in the walled garden, we begin to transition middle-schoolers between environments and with many conversations about digital citizenship, and online security. Then, during 9-12 grades, we operate nearly entirely in the open, collaborative, and social online environment.

From my colleagues in higher education I have heard concerns as well, frankly, none of which hold water. Their syllabus and curriculum are not proprietary, nor original, and MIT’s move to publish all course materials online renders that conceit moot. Adult learners collaborate and communicate online extensively in every other aspect of their lives and work, higher education’s slowness to the realization reflects only on higher education. Higher education has celebrated peer review for decades, and well the peer review online is just as brutal, efficient and public as well, so fools are fools in public. Collaboration is the name of the game in many disciplines as well as all workplaces, so the vestiges of scholarship that depend on the cloistered researcher are, well all gone. Perhaps the hardest transition I have seen in higher education is to a customer-centered approach, we have long deluded ourselves with the conceit that we know best and certainly better than our customers – alas, that we alone suffer from that delusion.

Despite my criticism, despite my frustration, I hesitate to participate in Facebook groups as an LMS. And the reasons are mostly personal. I only just a year ago set up a Facebook profile and that only to manage ads. As well, I recall conversations among librarians at my previous job talking about the “creepy treehouse” effect of inserting ourselves into a social moment for business or educational purposes.

And so in the end, while I love the work of this essay I am left with no single solution to open, collaborative, customer-centered online education. And I think that that is a really good thing. Because when teaching imagines it has found the single right answer it has instead found one more mechanical, industrial, institution centered, heavy-handed approach to schooling that misses the mark of learning entirely.

Current Topic Six, ED 650

In turn, this Current Topic is aimed at doing a quick dive into a literature review for my project proposal. I am again interested in very recent research. This is not meant to be an exhaustive literature review. Rather it is a survey too quickly take the pulse.

Fortunately, Ally et al. in their essay Use of Tablet Computer to Improve Access to Education in a Remote Location, touch on issues relevant to us here in Southwest Alaska. Their project was conducted in Swat, Pakistan. Like us, they needed to expose learners to devices and technology, however, internet access was non-existent. They used an Aptus server to support the tablets. These servers simulate an online experience and provide access to open educational resources. The devices are cheap at $100. Learners can use tablets or computers in conjunction with it and become familiar with devices and skills relevant to the broader online environment.

The Aptus model is ironically a concept that occurred to me when I was in St. Paul, Pribilof Islands. Their internet service is through cellular service. However, in the town, a fiber optic network has been constructed so the local area network is quite good. Indeed, one of the pass times is playing console games. I wondered what kind of learning resources we could set up and deliver locally through their local network.

This particular project aimed at high school age learners. The content was different for each grade. The approach was blended aimed at getting the learners to work independently and or collaboratively as a peer group. The pre-test revealed that nearly 80% of the cohort had no previous experience with devices or online learning. The pre-and post-test showed significant improvements. In a sense, this research tells us a lot of what we know about learners using online resources.  What is interesting is the proof of concept that we might be able to make more of here in remote, rural Alaska.

The second article, “Mobile-Assisted Seamless Learning Activities in Higher Distance Education” is much more focused on the effective pedagogical use of mobile devices in distance presentation of higher education. Mobile technologies included smart-phones, tablets, and laptops.  Flipping the classroom and creating synchronous online cohort meetings we also key to the study. The author adopts and builds on a six-part theoretical model.

  1. formal and informal learning
  2. personal and social learning
  3. learning across time
  4. learning across location
  5. ubiquitous knowledge access
  6. physical and digital spaces

The study cohort was vocational teachers working on certification. The cohort was just forty so difficult to generalize from. The researcher reported on technical difficulties with the “e-meeting” system where video and audio connections were unreliable and required much troubleshooting and user training. Again the results are somewhat to be expected as we know already that when done will online learning, with the added convenience of ubiquitous devices and access, can be a powerful learning experience.

The third article, “Education Working Group Management using Digital Tablets” is several years old. However, it like the first article is focused on specific technology. In this case, the study examines the use of applications in service of building students teamwork skills. The course the authors focused on was a college entry-level engineering course. The projects students selected as groups varied widely, however, the instructors standardized the tools used the methods they used to manage and monitor the groups.

The authors reviewed six cloud computing tools,

  • Dropbox
  • SkyDrive
  • Google Drive
  • 4Sync
  • SugarSync
  • Box

The selected Dropbox for the purposes of their teaching. For managing the classwork they selected TeacherKit from among several:

  • Teacher Tool
  • Teacher Assistant
  • Teacher Aide Pro
  • Visual GradeBook

For monitoring students collaborative work they used Notability and reviewed:

  • New Notes
  • Notes Plus
  • Not Taker HD

Because some of the software for the projects could not be run on tablets they also managed tablet access to a computer where the needed software could be run. They selected LogMeIn:

  • Team Viewer
  • Jump Desktop
  • RDP remote desktop

So, despite this article being four years old, it offered some very concrete solutions for configuring a tablet for group work. The remote login app as well offers a fruitful solution which may have application in our rural site.



Ally, M., Balaji, V., Abdelbaki, A., & Cheng, R. (2017). Use of Tablet Computers to Improve Access to Education in a Remote Location. Journal Of Learning For Development4(2), 221-228.

Mobile-Assisted Seamless Learning Activities in Higher Distance Education. (2017). International Journal of Higher Education, (3), 70. doi:10.5430/ijhe.v6n3p70

Saorin, J. L., Torre, J. L., Martín, N., & Carbonell, C. (2013). Education Working Group Management using Digital Tablets. Procedia – Social And Behavioral Sciences93(3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership), 1569-1573. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.083


Current Topic Five, ED 650

In effect, I wanted to write a similar essay as my Current Topic 4, except I changed the source material. Previously, I conducted an open Google Search. For this piece, I searched Rasmusson Library article database. I limited to conference proceedings in the advanced search. My thought being that this would be as current as the popular literature on the web, however, it would be more scholarly. I found two conference papers from 2017.

Pistoljevic, N. and Hulusic, V. (2017) An interactive E-book with an educational game for children with developmental disorders: A pilot user study. (2017). 2017 9th International Conference on Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications (VS-Games), Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications (VS-Games), 2017 9th International Conference on, 87. doi:10.1109/VS-GAMES.2017.8056575

Salama, G., Scanlon, S., and Ahmed, B., (2017) An evaluation of the flipped classroom format in a first-year introductory engineering course. (2017). 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2017 IEEE, 367. doi:10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7942874

The technology in both is pretty yesterday, e-books, and nor is the practice of gamification or flipped classrooms in any way new. So, these conference papers, in that way at least are similar to the popular literature. Indeed, the topics are sharply focused in a way that the popular literature is not.

The project the first conference paper reported on: “The main objective of this project was to develop an interactive educational e-book for early childhood stimulation and to evaluate its effectiveness on learning numbers, colors, novel vocabulary, identification, counting and responding to inference questions (Pistoljevic and Hulusic, 2017).” The researchers were trying to intervene early with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and positively impact learning demonstrated through the transfer of knowledge or skills to new media or environments.  They built game elements into the e-book. This particular paper aimed to explore the game element of the e-book. As can be imagined the methodology was fairly complex as were the reliability observations. This paper reports on the results from observing ten pre-school age children.  “The results from the pilot study showed that this and similar computer game-based environments, when designed properly, could be used for fast and effective skills development and knowledge acquisition (Pistoljevic and Hulusic, 2017).”

For me, the interesting element of this study is the positive impact for children diagnosed with ASD. It is easy to sit and watch anyone, play a computer game and develop skills relevant to playing other computer games, i.e., to see transferability of skills and knowledge. More interesting is transferring skills and knowledge to different environments. Our common sense observations of young people playing games are not enough then. I think this is a critical nuance when thinking about technology in the classroom and online education. How do we create parallel testing/performance environments that show the application of skills and knowledge in other contexts?

Turning to the second conference paper, we see that it too is an extension of research underway. In this case, the researchers extended their questions from a single section of the course as “flipped” to flipping the entire course. The course is an introductory engineering course that covers broadly fundamental skills: “…programming, engineering design, project management, statistics, dimensions and conversions, technical representation of data and engineering ethics (Salama, Scanlon, and Ahmed, 2017).” Salama et al. define their project in this way:

In this study, we used the collected data to answer the following research questions:
1) Will students have similar usage patterns when the flipped classroom is used in the whole course?
2) Can improvements in student performance with the flipped classroom be similarly replicated with a new cohort of students?
3) Will students have similar perceptions of the flipped classroom when it is extended to the whole course? (2017)

Our authors end up, saying: “In conclusion, the results presented in this paper support our previous results that the flipped classroom can be effective in improving the learning experience of the students in this introductory engineering course (Salama, Scanlon, and Ahmed, 2017).” Given that we have been flipping classrooms for a long time, in my memory nearly twenty years, I find myself more interested in the e-learning module development, methods and results sections of this paper. First, the e-learning development:

The modules thus included
􀁸 Interactive slides summarizing key relevant concepts
􀁸 Simple animations to present more detailed explanations of difficult concepts or examples
􀁸 Randomized and time limited assessments of varying formats including: true/false, multiple choice, multiple responses, fill in the blank, drag and drop etc (Salama et al., 2017)

So it is very cool that they did this, however, none of this is bleeding edge instructional design or technology.  And I mean no disrespect to the authors in saying this, rather, my concern is more broadly about education on the cutting edge of technology. The work of the authors is good and genuine and beneficial to the students. When we review the methods and the results the students themselves tell us so.

In the end, I think we have to go to the independent learners themselves to get closer to bleeding edge technologies. Perhaps we just cannot find it in schools and classrooms? I have beaten John Seeley Brown’s example of the pro-surfers to death, alas. I have as well beaten the example of YouTube entrepreneurs to death. Perhaps the other place to go is the elite educational institutions because they have the deep pockets and they employ tenure as it was meant originally to protect failure and risk-taking rather than status-quo and mediocrity. MIT, RPI, Harvard, certainly it feels galling to drop those names, but perhaps state universities are too embroiled in politics and economics to actually be sites of innovation.  And then we turn to K-12 public education, individual teachers are super-heroes/heroines but bound and gagged by budgets and learning outcomes and standardized testing.


Pistoljevic, N. and Hulusic, V. (2017) An interactive E-book with an educational game for children with developmental disorders: A pilot user study. (2017). 2017 9th International Conference on Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications (VS-Games), Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications (VS-Games), 2017 9th International Conference on, 87. doi:10.1109/VS-GAMES.2017.8056575

Salama, G., Scanlon, S., and Ahmed, B., (2017) An evaluation of the flipped classroom format in a first-year introductory engineering course. (2017). 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2017 IEEE, 367. doi:10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7942874

Current Topic Four, ED 650

I am intrigued to read survey articles that discuss this year’s trends in education, or business. Mostly I am left feeling disappointed. I feel disappointed in several ways usually, first, is that the obvious is frequently stated, second, the nerdiest and intriguing topics avoided, and finally, little is said about a mindset that visions a different future.  A Google Search on this year’s trends resulted in many articles. In Technology that will Shape Education in 2017, we hear from Low, about eight directions:

  1. Virtual Reality
  2. Augmented Reality
  3. Learn from Anywhere, Teach from Anywhere Mobile Devices
  4. Collaboration Technology
  5. Gamification
  6. Coding
  7. Evolving Learning Spaces and Styles
  8. The Maker Movement

Many schools, libraries, and nonprofit centers are already deeply involved with the “maker movement.” Schools in rural Alaska, serving villages of 400 people have “fablabs, ” and the kids are using them on a daily basis.  So hardly cutting edge technology.

Jones, by contrast, calls out the cost, danger, and impracticality as reasons indeed “cutting edge” technology will not be in the classroom this year.

Some of the newest inventions that are finding success in medicine, science, engineering, and technology are not likely to be teaching aids soon. Some technologies–such as nanobots, quantum electronics, molecular sensors, and universal translator devices–may have teaching benefits but are too costly and impractical for schools to own. New inventions in the worlds of DNA hacking, cyber warfare, drone engineering, and many of the other technologies frequently in the news will likely stay out of the classroom in the near future for their dangerous possibilities.

His list: Google Drive, MOOCs, and 3D printing seem far more likely and equally tame as some that Low lists.  So this creates an exciting criterion for sorting through Low’s list. So, Virtual Reality is too expensive and experimental; Augmented reality is just not there yet. My post Augmented Reality explores some of this more deeply. All of the rest of Low’s list is very yesterday, like Jones three most likely.

So, instead, I want to look at Jone’s list of unlikely technologies. It makes no sense that drones will not be in the classroom soon. Why not? Every YouTube content creator has one. Hacking is probably just banal and belongs on yesterday list. A Google Search on Cybersecurity summer camps reveals a host of programs aimed at 7-12 graders.  For example, the NSA offers the GenCyber Program as one example of its ubiquity. Even those technologies that are indeed out of reach for practical classroom experimentation are probably precisely the ones that teachers should be exploring with students. Since those will be accessible and ripe for use for this cohort at their graduation. I am routinely struck by the truism that we are preparing people for jobs that do not exist yet.

What if instead of asking “what are the cutting edge classroom technologies?” We propose instead just about future trends in technology.

Infographic: A Timeline of Future Technology
My daughter did work on Carbon Sequestering in both here Chemistry and Engineering programs. It makes perfect sense to me that K-12 students should be learning about these technologies that we are at early stages on. Both because it inspires curiosity and excitement and because it creates a curriculum of practical need. If a youngster is excited about Cabon Sequestering, then many of the fundamentals of Chemistry, Biology, and of Engineering a situated in a context and motivated by a personal curiosity as is entirely normal my daughters’ interests have turned to other topics, and we would expect young people still in K-12 to have several turns of curiosity. But in truth that is a good thing and a way to cover many technologies and subjects. It is also an essential technique of the futurist of sampling and scenario building. We likely need to think more deeply about how we raise a generation with the skill set of futurists considering along with technical skills for making and doing. Of course, the weakness and the superficiality of my survey here are that I am ignoring the burden of State and Federal learning outcomes and as well local social reactionism. These constraining factors loom large in the minds of educators, teachers, and administrators, alas. This crucial limiting factor is aimed precisely at status quo and the stability of business as usual. And this in a country that prides itself on entrepreneurial thinking.  Perhaps then entrepreneurship like technological innovation is being learned somewhere else then schools?



Jones, George (2017, January 16, 2017). Classroom Technology: What’s New For 2017? Retrieved November 9, 2017, from

Low, Mei Lin (2017, 15 March 2017). Technology That Will Shape Education in  2017. [Weblog]. Retrieved November 9, 2017, from

Current Topic Three, ED 650

Chapter 6

Indeed, for a moment the bedlam of “learning styles” chatter caught my attention. However, I did struggle with the exclusiveness of some of the categorizations. Also, that I am not a teacher allowed me some distance from the theorizing. I find our author’s suspicion and criticism of learning styles to be refreshing. “Moreover, their review shows that it is more important that the mode of instruction matches the nature of the subject being taught, visual instruction for geometry and geography, verbal for poetry, and so on. When instructional style matches the nature of the content, all learn better regardless of their differing preferences for how the material is taught (146).” I think this is what I was intuitively resonating within the “learning style” discussion; I recalled my struggle as a learner in school being taught with mismatched instructional methods. Mismatched instruction is different from learners having different styles of learning necessarily.

I resonated with the turn to “intelligence” and particularly Stenberg’s analytical, practical, and creative model (150). Interestingly, our cultural moment has the IQ test to capture analytical ability, but not an equivalent for estimating practical and creative intelligence we kind of fly by the seat of our pants when estimating these, and perhaps with 20/20 hindsight. Warren Buffet we surmise could score well with practical intelligence, and “the artist formerly known as Prince” on creative intelligence. I also resonated with the examples of practical intelligence, Kenyan herbal medicine, as being suggestive of some of the phenomena we see in rural Alaska. Many young men do better with snow machines, four-wheelers, hunting, and fishing than the classroom. Conversely, many young women do better with computers, writing, and the work of the office comparatively displaying a higher analytic ability. As our authors mention, the family situation may explain children of different families excelling in different areas. But, in Alaska, we need the same family situation to interpret the various gender expressions. Schools seem to reinforce these by passing women through and preventing men. But, is this cast in concrete?

Dynamic testing is a tool to identify which intelligence(s) are lagging strikes me as a far more valuable diagnostic than learning that I am in the 95 percentile for verbal and written skills or 75th for math and analytics. Alas, what is unclear to me is that we have well-developed techniques for developing practical or creative intelligence? School just does not seem the place to remedy shortcomings in those intelligences, at least not as we have it configured currently.

Structure Building

Indeed, this is a strategy that I engage in as I map out mental models of known content. I try to find that fine line where I have stripped away everything but the essential elements versus the moment where I have torn away one feature too much, and the model falls apart. I learned the core elements of the piece stripped away, and I discovered the function in the model. I have as well learned to test my models in different situations this also reveals when I have stripped away too much or a flaw in the knowledge itself and then I engage in the creative process of grafting on an element, sometimes this is elegant more often a kludge until I find something better. Moreover, this is the third aspect of my structure building, the provisional quality of the builds.

Rule Learner

I tend as well to be a “rule learner” though again my rules are provisional and modifiable as I encounter exceptions. Trying to hold in memory all of the possible examples or counterexamples has felt too cumbersome to me. The efficiency of structures and rules has informed my learning.

Chapter 7

I have to say that this section was positively inspirational and I rarely enthuse like that. The chapter is lengthy and offers many examples. However, I like the pithy conclusion.

  • effortful learning changes the brain
  • growth mindset
  • self-discipline
  • grit
  • persistence
  • conscious mnemonic devices

Chapter 8

Is a summary of the entire book as such it works as a handy annotated table of contents. Also, they offer case studies of leaning and the importance of learning beyond school, business, professions, and so on with applications of their concepts. This book has an extensive bibliography and a useful index. Yes, it is written by scholars, but for a popular audience, so the style is accessible while still being credible and rigorous.

This graduate degree has been a long haul for me. Unfortunately here at the end, it has collided with job changes and relocation. So a lot of the shine has worn off for me. However, this book is quite inspirational. I have always prided myself on being a life-long learner and have been pretty good at it. However, I see in this text ways to become better and a bit of a prompt to do so and follow through. I am intrigued as well as I achieve late-middle age with practicing the memory techniques. Neuroplasticity and neurogenerativity are intriguing concepts to an old-dog wanting too learn new tricks.

I recall as a college student feeling cross as I learned some of these techniques the hard way and wishing that someone would just teach them in K-12. As a graduate student and teaching assistant, I recall trying to work some of that into the sections of English 101; I was teaching. As my life took turns away from being a teacher, I thought less about these topics as they applied to others and mostly focused on my learning for my purposes. My learning to learn was jump-started when my son started taking karate and jujitsu Dad joined in to support kid-grit and keep him engaged with activities rather than starting and quitting. And as well since I had to drive it gave me something to do rather than just sit and wait. There are physical mnemonics that martial arts create for memorizing patterns of movements and techniques. As well, there is a similarity between forms that create efficiencies in learning. As well interleaving, effortful learning, and a growth mindset are all regular parts of martial arts practice. I hadn’t made the full-circle connection and brought those techniques back to other types of learning, and in this our text is brilliant.

I had a fascinating conversation with a LEAN Process Engineer working creating standard work for Hospital Operating Rooms. She described how washing the room had been standardized so that when a second person entered the room, they could tell at a glance where the cleaning was at and could pick up and get to work. Likewise standardizing the room setup and equipment needs with “pick cards.” The thing that was impressive for me was the insight that our book was about individual learning/recall, the LEAN engineer was about group learning/recall. Much of the techniques in our text are about making our learning standard work, making systematic and methodical. My learning, however, is an internal process and self-referential, standard work in a workplace necessarily needs communication whether it is the location of a cleaner in a room, or, the same “pick card” for the same procedure. Again the exponential challenge of group learning and recall and at times the profound urgency of getting it right, surgery or space launch.


Brown, P. C., H.L. Roediger, and M.A. McDaniel (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Current Topic Two, ED 650

 Chapter 3

I like how our authors call “cramming” out. “Cramming” has always been discouraged in my schooling, moreover, in my experience, I could see that it did not suit me. Interestingly they offer that intervals between study sessions, and allowing for a bit of forgetting seems to be a more optimal approach.  They introduce a multi-faceted concept “interleaving” which switches study between topics or skills and at its best may mix up the sequence of switching between practice sessions, hence stimulating attention perhaps.

I think my first recollection of this kind of learning strategy came from sports practices. Weirdly, it wasn’t until graduate school that I used the strategy intentionally for academic practice. In particular, I recall writing papers and stopping before all my inspiration from the previous day was recorded. I would reflect on the topic and the inspiration and the thoughts that the days writing had produced until it was time to write again on the paper the next day. In this way, I was able to keep the inspiration flowing over an extended time. I find myself necessarily doing interleaving in the workplace. I recall creating a practice of working on multiple projects across a day moving each forward incrementally and switching between them. I found that steady progress allowed me to manage my time better and that time was more productive. As an adult practitioner of martial arts in mixed-age classes, it was interesting to see the Senseis routinely employ all aspects of interleaving in teaching the skills.

Chapter 4

We meet a highly motivated Marine who discovered or recognized her fear of falling in being assigned to parachute school. The emotional tension, in this case, served her well heightening her motivation. The authors recycle the notion of “testing” that they introduced in the first two chapters here. The describe every practice session as equivalently a testing session and emphasize the importance of that.

They then begin to develop their notion of learning and develop encoding, consolidation, and retrieval as key elements.  “Encoding” moves sensory input to mental representation. “Consolidation” I love that they use a trope of writing an essay as an example of the mental process of stripping away the noise and focusing on the essential elements of an information/skill (consolidating information/skill is a personal favorite technique). “Retrieval” hinges on a healthy consolidation process that moved memory from short to long-term additionally is making associations either to existing knowledge/skill or some other set of recall cues.

The intensity of effort involved in the recall significantly improves they combine this with interleaving to create a potent tool for learning.  A personal favorite is a practice of creating of mental models, and the authors identify this as a major factor in their effortful learning model. Building mental models is a powerful technique because it allows one to test their knowledge in different situations. Testing refines the model and makes the knowledge/skill available in various locations rather than just one.

They continue developing their ideas with three additional concepts, fostering conceptual learning, improving versatility, and priming the mind for learning.The heart of interleaving is conceptual learning and interleaving with real variety. Repeating the martial arts advice “practice as you play, and you’ll play like you practice” they define their meaning when speaking of versatility. They describe the unfair but critical moment where a learner is called on to solve a problem before being shown how.

All of this work on “desirable difficulty” puts me in mind of concept I learned about as an undergraduate taking a course on enhancing creativity. The notion was “activation level, ” and the point was that we could optimize our creativity by managing our “stress” so that we were at an ideal, though uniquely individual, level, eustress rather than distress. And when I turn to our authors’ discussion of “undesirable difficulties” it seems these are parallel constructions.

Chapter 5

The authors explore the illusion of knowing.

The truth is we’re all hardwired to make errors in judgment. Good judgment is a skill one must acquire, becoming an astute observer of one’s own thinking and performance…. One is that when we’re incompetent, we tend to over estimate our competence and see little reason for change. Another is that, as humans, we are readily misled by illusions, cognitive biases, and ths stories we construct to explain the world around us and our place within it.

So how do we interpret the stories we construct so that we can get back to the data as it presents? I like their recipe.

  • Testing — practicing retrieving learning from memory
  • Peer Instruction — social process aimed at understanding, explanation, feedback, and comparison
  • Cues –mental models, integration, with existing knowledge
  • Feedback — strengthens retention, delaying it may produce better
    • Teams — collaborative problem solving (need to avoid the Bay of Pigs)
    • Simulations — necessary to “practice as you play, and you’ll play as you practice.”

Important to each of these techniques is that all can be or are necessarily social. So the message is that other people can be both a source of reality. And accessing that is through the systematic use of these techniques.  However, what about when all the people we can access share an illusion, cults, or the team that ok’ed the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs, for example? Perfect learning isn’t the same thing as perfect or even correct knowledge/skill/outcome. Perhaps, we are aiming at helping folks discover better ways of asking questions, of being self-suspicious as well as, practicing techniques like the ones listed above?


Brown, P. C., H.L. Roediger, and M.A. McDaniel (2014). Make it stick: the science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Current Topic One, ED 650

Sometimes I find it more efficient reading to work backward from the author’s conclusions. In our text, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Brown, et al. end the second chapter with this summary.

Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention…. Effortful retrieval and delaying subsequent retrieval… repeated retrieval. Simply including one test… testing doesn’t need to be initiated by the instructor… a better grasp of their progress… spot gaps and misconceptions… corrective feedback (2014, 43-44).

So, key concepts are captured in this ellipsesized version of their review. For the author’s learners demonstrated retrieval shows learning. Also, we see techniques for achieving “durable retention” including effortful retrieval, letting time elapse between retrievals and repeated retrievals as necessary tools for learning. Also, the authors suggest that learners can own their processes and direct their practice of retrieval. Learners, alone or in peer groups can facilitate monitoring progress, and be reflective of errors and gaps in knowledge/skills — a feedback/feedforward cycle.

I resonate deeply with any discussion of learning that puts the learner first and empowers them to own and control their process. Accordingly, I will be looking for this throughout the book. However, it is nice to see it explicitly developed so early in the text. Certainly, it is present in the two case studies they offer, the emergency plane landing, and the gunshot wound to the head implicitly, but by making it explicit the authors have my attention. Turning to their case studies, I think these are relevant examples. We often joke in the office setting that our work is not life or death and somehow that relieves the pressure or rationalizes less effort. Nevertheless, for a pilot and a brain surgeon, the margin of error matters significantly. I like very much that our authors start where learning is a high stakes issue.

I am fond of and return routinely to the example of the pro-Surfer that John Seeley Brown explores. I have summarized in several ways throughout this program; one is linked here. My quick and dirty summary of the main concepts includes these elements:

  • Shared passion
  • Face-to-face cohort
  • Practice capture technology
  • Play/practice (elements of gamification)
  • Online cohort
  • Published/peer reviewed (open)
  • Failure has a real cost (injury, financial loss)
  • Practice refinement and improvement (lather, rinse, repeat)
  • Success has potential for compensation/recognition in both real and virtual world

Although the case examples touch on many of these elements, I see three distinct points between the examples as relates to learning as retrieval. There does seem to be a difference between the two Browns, however. We see an emphasis on quizzing and testing in our text whereas our pro-Surfers have techniques, which better match their environment and activity. Interestingly this seems the case as well when in our book Brown et al. explore the pilot’s case study. Therefore, we need to think about quizzing and testing as figurative elements rather than literal and specific techniques. The important point I think is pulling the knowledge or skill from our memory rather than from a text, or any other representation.

I recall, as a new Scoutmaster, creating the first-aid scenario to test my troop’s knowledge and skills. The scenario was kids playing with explosives in a garage. The scouts heard the explosion, rushed to the scene, and were first on the scene. I recall an older scout thumbing through his handbook trying to find how to handle a severed limb; meanwhile, we had a bleed-out timer running on the actor playing the victim.

My Boy Scout needed to know how to apply direct pressure to an open wound, and he needed to understand pressure points or constriction/tourniquet techniques. His role was first aid, not reconstructive surgery – though we coached the Scouts on how to preserve the detached body part for possible reconstruction. Because moments of disaster are violent and frightening one of the points of scenario, practice is to desensitize the responder to their horror and fear instead of focusing and prioritizing. Moreover, I see this in our text though less graphically illustrated when the authors want learners able to retrieve knowledge and skills but also to create solutions. Solutions indeed based on past learning but not limited to past learning rather interpretive and flexible to the particulars of the immediate challenge – landing with a single engine, or repairing a vein before the patient bleeds out.

I wonder, however, about more complicated moments in organizations, for example, where a single person does not cannot contain all the knowledge. In their case studies, our authors do not speak to any of the other players in the surgery, or the air traffic control and airport ground crews. I wonder if they over simplify when they forefront the rock stars the pilot and the surgeon. In the example of the surgery, they do talk a little about how the surgeon prepares the room and the team by offering likely scenarios and desired responses. However, I am a little disappointed by the thinness of the example.

In the military Special Forces, units prep for missions as a team of equal footed experts each contributing to the mission planning. Entire missions can be scrubbed if the team shows the impossibility of the task. Missions can be modified if a team member shows a specific and better way to accomplish the objective. My point here has to do with specialized knowledge and teamwork. Why did our text authors ignore the Anesthesiologist or the Head Nurse in the case studies? I doubt our star surgeon did. The reason the patient lost the blood he did was that it was inevitable – or did it represent the pride of our doctor unable to take suggestions from his team? I am a little unfair to the authors here, and they do capture the importance of cohort learning in other moments of their text. But, what does it mean when we depend on the knowledge and skills of other teammates (or in the case of Special Forces as well the physical fitness and mental toughness)? I suggest that communications skills matter as much as retreival skills for moments of team learning, or team execution.


Brown, Peter C. (2014). Make it stick : the science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts :The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Brown, J. S. (Producer). (2013). John Seely Brown on Motivating Learners (Big Thinkers Series). Retrieved from