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Daniel T. Willingham: Outsmart Your Brain


Daniel T. Willingham

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Kelly connects with University of Virginia psychologist Daniel T. Willingham to talk about his new book, “Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning is Hard and How You Can Make it Easy.”

At the heart of this book is the fact that we don’t really teach our kids how to learn.

“You're never taught things like how to learn from a lecture, how to take notes, how to study for a test, deal with procrastination, deal with anxiety, plan your time. All these things aren't taught because we have surveys of college students. We asked them, how do you plan your time, and who taught you to do it that way? And by far, the most common answer is well, no one really taught me. I just kind of, you know, figured it out, or I watch YouTube videos, or my friends do it that way, that kind of thing.”  

You write in the book, “Wanting to learn has no direct impact on learning.”

“The finding is that wanting to remember something has no impact. You can't directly control memory the way you can control your body. If you decide I want my arm to move up, you can move your arm up. And that feeling of will, that feeling of control is very closely associated with actually moving your arm. But saying I want to remember this, just doesn't do anything at all.”

You also talk about the fact that we’re not taught to listen – particularly in a lecture format.

“What makes listening in some circumstances easy is usually absent in a lecture. Usually there is a complex message that you're expected to get out of this. It does require that you knit together some new complex ideas and put them into a whole that's larger than any individual idea. And furthermore, it's not going to be in a familiar format. It's not going to be in a story structure, but it is going to be structured, and you are expecting, if you're a good listener, to actually figure out what that structure is.”

Photo credit: Adam Mohr

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