Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

By Robert Cooney 

As Free Open-Access Medical Education (FOAM, #FOAMed) gains widespread acceptance and use, we have begun to see educators sharing resources on the science of learning.

Now, hot off the presses, arrives “Make It Stick”; a book that puts all of the latest and greatest education psychology literature together under one cover, and does it in a readable fashion!  Kudos to Brown, Roedinger, and McDaniel for such an accomplishment. Together, the authors investigate common assumptions about how we learn.  Chapter by chapter, the authors illustrate concepts that improve learning, yet these concepts are often neither used by learners nor supported by teachers.

Examples include:

  • Retrieval practice and the magic of the testing effect
  • Massed practice vs. spaced repetition, interleaved practice, and varied practice
  • The importance of effort (desirable difficulties) and failure in effective learning
  • Recognizing “illusions of knowing,” how we lie to ourselves, and what to do about it
  • Learning styles and why to focus on performance instead
  • Neuroplasticity, the growth mindset, deliberate practice, and other cognitive enhancers

The book concludes with a chapter that outlines how students, lifelong learners, teachers, and coaches can use the principles to support and enhance learning.

Of the 10+ books I have already read this year, this book has just earned my #1 recommendation.  With luck, I hope to provide a copy to each of my learners and faculty members and explore its’ concepts together.  The techniques have the potential to vastly improve learning over many of our current methods in medical education.