We force ALL of our athletes to enter a competition as soon as humanly possible — usually within the first month or two (at the lastest).
We also have something called “Singlet Sunday” (used to be Singlet Saturday) where you do a mini-self test — you go through at least one lift in contest fashion, only 3 attempts, as if you are in front of a judge. Even our Nemesis program includes a little self-test (your ramp) that helps you check yourself before you wreck yourself (with the intensifier).
In short, at Weightlifting Academy, you’re always being tested. The process is test-practice-test-practice, repeat until death.
This kind of test first, test often approach is not at all common in education settings (like schools), but it IS common in sports — because it works.
It’s also backed up by some of the most up-to-date research on learning.
In the 2010 paper by Doug Rohrer and Harold Pashler
There, Recent Research on Human Learning Challenges Conventional Instructional Strategies they cover THREE areas of learning strategy that are not common in educational practice.
- Learn through testing
- Spacing of practice
Let’s take a look!
There has been a recent upsurge of interest in exploring how choices of methods and timing of instruction affect the rate and persistence of learning. The authors review three lines of experimentation—all conducted using educationally relevant materials and time intervals— that call into question important aspects of common instructional practices. First, research reveals that testing, although typically used merely as an assessment device, directly potentiates learning and does so more effectively than other modes of study. Second, recent analysis of the temporal dynamics of learning show that learning is most durable when study time is distributed over much greater periods of time than is customary in educational settings. Third, the interleaving of different types of practice problems (which is quite rare in math and science texts) markedly improves learning. The authors conclude by discussing the frequently observed dissociation between people’s perceptions of which learning procedures are most effective and which procedures actually promote durable learning.
Learn by (Con)Testing Yourself Before You Rest Yourself
Tests are more than just a way to assess your students. In fact, their greatest benefit may be as a potentiator of learning.
More recent studies… have shown that a combination of study and tests is more effective than spending the same amount of time reviewing the material in some other way, such as rereading it.
Recent research shows that testing not only enhances learning but also slows the rate of forgetting.
There is something about having to retrieve the information from your brain in the moment of testing that is beneficial in the learning process.
Moreover, these authors found that explicit retrieval, as required by a recall task rather than a recognition task, strengthened knowledge better than a multiple-choice test even when the final test itself involves multiple choice—and thus the effect is not attributable to a simple principle that practicing a given type of test best enhances performance on the same type of test.
If you’re worried this won’t work if you work with large groups (like in a classroom), don’t worry!
A number of studies have shown that sizable benefits of testing generalize to classroom-based studies.
The results described above suggest that instructional practices would be more effective if the proportion of learning time that learners spend retrieving information were dramatically increased. Some of the studies discussed here have shown that even simple self-testing methods, such as having students retrieve everything they can recall from a text or lecture, can be more effective than the most commonly used study strategies. However, it seems plausible that technological refinements of these strategies could further enhance the benefits of testing and retrieval.
If this all sounds like the way a good martial arts class is run — Or how I teach weightlifting — you’re on the right track. First, tell the student what they need to do. Then make them DO it. Repeat forever.
Speaking of repetition…
Space(d) Invaders Beat Crappy Crammers
Whether a particular set of study materials should be massed into a single presentation or distributed across multiple sessions has been a key question in learning research for more than a century. Almost invariably, the data show that, if a given amount of study time is distributed or spaced across multiple sessions rather than massed into a single session, performance on a delayed final test is improved—a finding known as the spacing effect.
The argument is taking an IDENTICAL TOTAL amount of practice time (for instance, 10 hours) and choosing to either condense it into one marathon session, or spread it out more. That is NOT the same as comparing 10 hours spread out over 3 weeks vs going for 3 weeks all-day-every-day (accumulating hundreds of hours).
Clearly, in an ideal world, ALL learning would be full-immersion and go on for a very long time — like moving to France for an entire year to learn French — or joining my team and training 5 to 7 days per week like a psycho for years on end 😉 But, in the real world, most students are NOT able to put in more than a fixed amount of time per week. In these cases, it is better to do a little every day than to cram it all into one or two sessions. So if your goal was to learn the snatch, then it’s better to do 20 minutes of technique work EVERY DAY (getting about 2 hours per week), than to do only two sessions, each for 1 hour. Again, if you can do a full hour every day, that’s better than both. But that is not what is being studied here.
But HOW should you space your study time out? Weirdly, there’s a ratio for that.
Evidently, retention is maximized when the gap is some small fixed ratio of the final test delay… The optimal gap seems to be a slowly declining proportion of the test delay, but for practical purposes, a gap of approximately 5% to 10% of the test delay is optimal.
So if you are going to have a test in 100 days, and you just learned something, study that same shit again 5 or 10 days from now.
This goes deeper:
This finding—optimal study gap increases with the duration of the test delay—yields rather concrete advice: If one wishes to retain information for a long period of time, the interval of time over which one studies or practices should be moderately long as well. For instance, if the goal is very long-term retention, or even life- long retention, which is presumably the aim in most educational contexts, then previously studied material should be revisited at least a year after the first exposure—something that happens rather rarely in most educational systems. In brief, sufficiently long spacing gaps have the potential to improve long-term retention
Interleave That Shit: How Learning is Like Knitting a Sweater
If multiple kinds of skills must be learned, the opportunities to practice each skill may be ordered in two very different ways: blocked by type (e.g., aaabbbccc) or interleaved (e.g., abcbcacab).
The second is called interleaving.
Previously this was only studied in motor-skill learning (like in sports):
For example, when baseball players practiced hitting three types of pitches (e.g., curve ball) that were either blocked or inter- leaved, interleaving improved performance on a subsequent test in which the batters did not know the type of pitch in advance— as would be the case in a real game, of course.
But this has been expanded now to include other areas of learning as well. In particular, it suggests that interleaving has the most profound effect on your ability to discriminate between the different things you need to learn. This may have broad implication for mathematics.
This is because mathematics proficiency requires the ability to choose the appropriate solution or method for a given kind of problem, and superficially similar kinds of problems often demand different kinds of solutions.
That’s been looked at too!
Recent studies confirm that interleaving can have powerful benefits in math learning
Despite the empirical support for interleaving, virtually all mathematics textbooks rely primarily on blocked practice, as each section is followed by a set of practice problems devoted to the material in that same section. Consequently, students must solve several problems of the same kind in immediate succession—a degree of repetition that has been shown to produce dramatically diminishing returns (Rohrer & Taylor, 2006). More important, though, blocked practice ensures that students know the appropriate technique or relevant concept before they read the problem. In some cases, in fact, students can solve word problems without reading the words; they simply pick out the numerical data and repeat the procedure used in the previous problems. Thus blocked practice provides students with a crutch that is unavailable during cumulative final exams and standardized tests and in the real- world situations for which they are presumably being trained. It is not surprising if they often struggle when asked to demonstrate a skill they have not previously practiced.
Fortunately, interleaved practice is fairly easily incorporated in textbooks in mathematics (or physics or chemistry). The practice problems in the text need merely to be rearranged, and the lessons remain unchanged.
Why All The Suckatude in School?
If all this shit is so well researched, why aren’t schools implementing it? Why aren’t YOU implementing it as a coach or teacher?
The blame cannot be placed on the logistical costs of these learning strategies, which generally require no more time and resources than do the alternative strategies—indeed, spacing and interleaving require only a change in the scheduling of study events or practice problems. Rather, the underutilization of these learning strategies appears to reflect the widespread (but erroneous) feeling that these strategies are less effective than their alternatives.
In the real world, popularization and culturally spread memes often trump the truth — creationsim comes to mind…
Embrace Failure to Win
The other possibility is that we humans HATE failure. But a testing based procedure for learning GUARANTEES a lot of failure as a learning strategy!
If people tend to judge the efficacy of a learning strategy on the basis of their performance during training, they will choose strategies that sometimes yield sub-optimal long-term learning.
When you fail, or do badly at a “test”, you instantly have an emotionally negative response which tricks you into believing that something is wrong, or not working.
Basically, you’re being a psychological pansy ass!
Too bad. Failure is fun. It’s part of learning. Never trust a boxer who has never been punched in the face. They only fight the easy fights. They suck.
If you ain’t failing, you ain’t trying.
Now go lift something heavy,