Practice! Practice! Practice! How overlearning solidifies skill mastery in the brain

by Irene

Don’t you wonder sometimes why students seem to forget something you have just taught them?  If you have read my book or attended one of my presentations, you will know that one of my ‘best practices’ is frequent repetition and review.

I just read a very interesting article on a new study that “looks at the power of practicing well beyond mastery.”  It discusses the importance of overlearning a skill in order to solidify it in the brain.  Researchers have been investigating, via Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS), how it is that skills, previously ‘learned,’ seem to disappear when new material is introduced.  It has to do with the plasticity of the brain and how older learning is overwritten by new learning unless the older skill has been overlearned.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

  • “If you overlearn the skill, your brain state changes very rapidly from being plastic to being stable,” said Watanabe [one of the researchers and a professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University]. Which in turn means that your brain has more time to lock in the skill preventing it from being overwritten.
  • If you’re a teacher and you want to make sure that your students get a foundation in a basic topic before moving onto a more complex, related topic, it may make sense to overlearn the first topic before tackling the second with the goal of revisiting the latter at a later date.

Here is the link:

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