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Accelerating learning?

Two Professors of Psychology at the University of Chicago,  Sian L Beilock and Susan Goldin-Meadow, appear to have come up with a way to accelerate learning that you can use yourself or to teach others, such as children, more effectively. But their experiments showed this would accelerate learning things wrong just as much as it accelerated learning things right, so you need to be careful that you’ve got things right before you apply this.

The Tower of Hanoi is a well-known puzzle in which you move the tower from the left-hand side to the right-hand side, one slice at a time, and stacked so that there is never a larger slice on top of a smaller slice.

The professors carried out 2 experiments.

First, people were asked to shift the tower, then they were asked to explain the way they did it to another person. People explaining typically used gestures to do this, as this is much easier. Those gestures were either one-handed or two-handed, and this made a major difference.

The professors changed the weight of the smallest slice so it could no longer be moved with one hand – it now required two. People who had demonstrated with two hands found no problem with this change. But for those using one-handed gestures, it took longer, and the more the gestures had been one-handed, the longer the puzzle took.

To confirm that gestures affect learning, the professors carried out the second experiment. This had the same start as the previous one, using a top slice that could be moved one-handed if the person so chose. This time, people were not asked to explain their solution, so there were no gestures. The tower puzzle was completed a second time, then the professors swapped in the top slice requiring two hands.

Whether people had previously moved the top slice one-handed or two-handed made no difference. Both groups did the puzzle in the same time.

So the process of gesturing cements learning, whether right or wrong.

The professors pointed out the potential of this. Gesturing yourself while learning, or building this into teaching when others are learning, is an easy way to accelerate learning, even for subjects such as mathematics. Just make sure you get the right gestures!


January 6, 2011 - Posted by | Brain, Learning, Success

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