Four Ways to Make Learning Last

Nick Soderstrom

Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicholas Soderstrom. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Professor Reveals the Secrets to Learning

by Nicola Shackman '17 and Craig Layne

Assistant Professor of Psychology Nicholas Soderstrom’s new book, College Smart: How to Succeed in College Using the Science of Learning, is a prescription for better learning habits. In it, he uses clear, simple terms to help you understand breakthroughs from the science of learning that can help students study smarter in college and beyond, improving comprehension, test scores and boosting lifelong learning. He even explains why tests are great learning tools.

Here are four of Soderstrom’s tips for better learning:

1. Learning is hard—make it harder

No, really. Soderstrom advocates for “desirable difficulties.” It is easy to settle into your patterns of studying, but Soderstrom notes that testing yourself, spacing out your study sessions, mixing up your problems and even studying in different places will actually help your retention rate.

2. Leave the laptop behind

Typing your class notes verbatim could actually be hurting your chances of absorbing what’s being said during lectures. Handwriting notes forces your brain to synthesize ideas, Soderstrom says, and leads to a deeper understanding of the material.

3. Mindset matters

Maybe you’ve been told you’re a “visual learner” or that you have a certain “learning style.” Soderstrom says there’s no scientific evidence to back these claims. What’s more important, he says, is your mindset. Your belief about yourself and your abilities has been proven to impact your performance in college, at work and in life.

4. Conversation counts

Argue with somebody. Keep it friendly, but open yourself up to be challenged by your peers and colleagues who may have comprehended something differently than you did. Soderstrom says the collective understanding that you will come to by the end of the conversation can strengthen your own grasp of the information you’re trying to learn.

Extra Credit

In the video below, Soderstrom explains why testing is critical to learning and why you should be taking tests early and often.

Learn more

Published March 27, 2017