Work Your Mind

Figuring something out on your own may be the best way to learn

April 25, 2012

Students who struggle with new information are likely to remember it.

Here’s something to think about the next time you ask your teacher for help: struggling with schoolwork on your own can help you learn. According to a recent study, the more you struggle while you are learning new information, the better you can remember it later.

This theory might surprise you. When teachers are presenting new information, they often give students lots of help. But a new study shows this may not be the best way to support learning. “Don't be too quick to get help when learning something new,” education expert Manu Kapur told TFK. “Try to work on it yourself even if it means trying different ways.”

How to Learn

Many teachers give extra help to students learning new information.
Many teachers give extra help to students learning new information.

Kapur came up with the idea that struggling can lead to better learning. Then he tested it out on students in Singapore. He separated students into two groups. In the first group, students were asked to solve math problems with the teacher’s help. In the second group, students were asked to solve the same problems by helping one another, instead of getting help from the teacher.

With the teacher’s help, students in the first group were able to find the correct answers. Students in the second group did not solve the problems correctly. But they did come up with a lot of good ideas.

The students were then tested on what they had learned. The group without any help from a teacher scored much higher than the group who had help. Kapur said working to find the answers helped students understand the process, not just the solution.

Kapur’s advice for kids is to put a lot of effort into learning something new rather than going to your teacher for help. “Simply doing a little work or nothing at all won’t work,” says Kapur. “The struggle needs to be a genuine attempt to figure out or solve a problem in as many ways as possible.” 

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