years. It is, as we have noted, built right into the intensive learning process of medical school and
graduate school in general. For some reason, however, we don’t incorporate a teaching component
in most undergraduate classes, which is a shame, and it is basically nonexistent in nearly all K-12
schools, which is an open tragedy.
As an engaged student you don’t have to live with that! Put it there yourself, by incorporating
group study and mutual teaching into your learning process with or without the help or permission
of your teachers! A really smart and effective group soon learns to iterate the teaching – I teach
you, and to make sure you got it you immediately use the material I taught you and try to articulate
it back to me. Eventually everybody in the group understands, everybody in the group benefits,
everybody in the group gets the best possible grade on the material. This process will actually make
you (quite literally) more intelligent. You may or may not become smart enough to lock down an
A, but you will get the best grade you are capable of getting, for your given investment of effort.
This is close to the ultimate in engagement – highly active learning, with all cylinders of your
brain firing away on the process. You can see why learning is enhanced. It is simply a bonus, a sign
of a just and caring God, that it is also a lot more fun to work in a group, especially in a relaxed
context with food and drink present. Yes, I’m encouraging you to have “physics study parties” (or
history study parties, or psychology study parties). Hold contests. Give silly prizes. See. Do. Teach.
Other Conditions for Learning
Learning isn’t only dependent on the engagement pattern implicit in the See, Do, Teach rule. Let’s
absorb a few more True Facts about learning, in particular let’s come up with a handful of things
that can act as “switches” and turn your ability to learn on and off quite independent of how your
instructor structures your courses. Most of these things aren’t binary switches – they are more like
dimmer switches that can be slid up between dim (but not off) and bright (but not fully on). Some
of these switches, or environmental parameters, act together more powerfully than they act alone.
We’ll start with the most important pair, a pair that research has shown work together to potentiate
or block learning.
Instead of just telling you what they are, arguing that they are important for a paragraph or six,
and moving on, I’m going to give you an early opportunity to practice active learning in the context
of reading a chapter on active learning. That is, I want you to participate in a tiny mini-experiment.
It works a little bit better if it is done verbally in a one-on-one meeting, but it should still work well
enough even if it is done in this text that you are reading.
I’m going to give you a string of ten or so digits and ask you to glance at it one time for a count
of three and then look away. No fair peeking once your three seconds are up! Then I want you to do
something else for at least a minute – anything else that uses your whole attention and interrupts
your ability to rehearse the numbers in your mind in the way that you’ve doubtless learned permits
you to learn other strings of digits, such as holding your mind blank, thinking of the phone numbers
of friends or your social security number. Even rereading this paragraph will do.
At the end of the minute, try to recall the number I gave you and write down what you remember.
Then turn back to right here and compare what you wrote down with the actual number.
Ready? (No peeking yet…) Set? Go!
Ok, here it is, in a footnote at the bottom of the page to keep your eye from naturally reading
ahead to catch a glimpse of it while reading the instructions above3
How did you do?
If you are like most people, this string of numbers is a bit too long to get into your immediate
31357986420 (one, two, three, quit and do something else for one minute…)