Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Book Club)

Book Club: Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick. Harvard University Press. [Goodreads blurb]

The Authors 

  • The Storyteller: Brown, P. C.
  • The Cognitive Scientists: Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A.

Aim: To identify and understand how learning and memory work.

“People generally are going about learning in the wrong ways”

“Learning Is Misunderstood”

Distinction in learning between ‘memorizing’ and ‘thinking’. But a sturdy foundation of knowledge is needed before the ability of imagination and creativity and higher order skills can be undertaken. Think of rote learning as part of the foundation learning. Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive.

Importance of retrieval practice and the use of regular testing to test knowledge. This retrieval needs to require effort for stronger learning. Low stakes testing and providing quizzes are helpful tools the teacher can provide.

Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention.” (pg. 43).

The importance of providing effective feedback which strengthens learning and retention more than testing alone. So feedback is an important aspect in this learning process. Also to provide delayed feedback rather than immediate feedback is a more successful approach.

Mix it up, interleave your study. Different topics and different levels of knowledge. Varying learning or training and the interleaving allows better discrimination skills.

“Interleaving two or more subjects during practice also provides a form of spacing” (pg. 65).

Increasing knowledge and understanding. In nursing education we would focus on the problem solving skills, selecting a solution from a range of possibilities. The nursing educator would likely deem these as the critical thinking skills we try to embed in nurse training. Here the authors describe it as the ‘mastery’ of a subject.

They highlight in medicine the need to train in the environment the doctor will be assessed. So if they are to be assessed completing a physical examination, they can’t just read about it. Practice on a real patient needs to occur for improved performance.

Practice like you play and you will play like you practice” (pg 57-58).

The need for repeated exposure to whatever content is being delivered, otherwise it just adds to forgotten pile of information.

Embrace difficulties by:

  • Encoding- creating mental models.
  • Consolidation- organise and solidify learning.
  • Retrieval- mental rehearsal and ensuring short-term memory is hooked into long-term memory to enable retrieval to occur.

Go beyond learning styles aptitudes by using prior knowledge, intelligence, interests and developing a sense of personal empowerment. Use active learning strategies to effectively learn. Calibrating your understanding by testing and retrieval practice (try low stakes quizzes). Increase your abilities with neuroplasticity and the cognitive strategies for getting more out of your brain.

The Takeaway

  • Take charge of your learning.
  • Practice retrieval.
  • Interleave the study.
  • Importance of varying practice and make it challenging.

This book also highlights the art of storytelling. The main discussion is related to clinical (the storytelling part) to enable the reader to relate to a real situation or even their own experience. Each chapter has ‘the takeaway’ message part to focus the important discussion items (the big-ticket items).

Key words: cognitive; interleave; neuroplasticity; storytelling.

Relevant posts:


Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick. Harvard University Press. [Goodreads blurb]

Review of Make it stick. by Lang, J. M. (2014) The Chronicle of Higher Education

Oakley, B. & Sejnowski, T. (2016) Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. Coursera