Make It Stick Action Plan

How to put Make It Stick into action, by Peter Brown (April 2019).

  1. The science of learning:
    1. Retrieving learning from memory helps make it stick; reviewing does not.
      1. Why? The mental effort to recall strengthens the new material’s connections in the brain and makes it easier to recall again later.
      2. Re-reading and other forms of review do not help learning stick.
    2. Desirable difficulties in learning are ones that help to...
        1. Create understanding of new material
        2. Strengthen connections in memory
        3. Create cues to recall it later


          1. Trying before being taught how (to solve a problem; answer a question; etc.), then getting corrective feedback.
          2. Elaborating to create meaning. (“Why?” “What if?” “How does it fit what I already know?”).
          3. Spacing out learning & retrieval attempts.
          4. Mixing up practice of problem types.
      1. Intuition leads students to low-value strategies that feel productive but are not.
        1. Re-reading, massed practice, and practice that’s blocked by problem type create illusions of mastery.
        2. Spaced and mixed practice at recalling and applying learning are more effective but less often chosen because the added difficulty is interpreted as “I’m not getting it.”
        3. Students should be asked to demonstrate learning. Frequent low-stakes quizzing helps students discover what they do and do not know, and helps lock-in learning and carry it forward.
    3. What to do:
      1. Teach students the science of learning.
      2. Model effective strategies in class and homework:
        1. Coach students about illusions of knowing, and how to use elaboration and self-quizzing to become stronger learners and to reveal what they don’t yet know.
        2. Assign active-learning exercises that help students create their own understanding of new material (get ideas from peers, and from Peter Brown’s PowerPoint slides).
        3. Space topics over the term of the course (i.e. circle back as new material is covered, so that older material is refreshed and connected).
        4. Mix up practice problems in class and in homework instead of blocking by type.
        5. Quiz often (reach back to earlier material to help students carry it forward).
        6. Make exams cumulative.
      3. Be transparent about why you are using these strategies, and encourage students to adopt them in all of their courses.