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Ep. 115: Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. - Learning as a Gift, Skill, and Choice

July 09, 2020 Sucheta Kamath, Barbara Oakley Season 1 Episode 115
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Ep. 115: Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. - Learning as a Gift, Skill, and Choice
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Ep. 115: Barbara Oakley, Ph.D. - Learning as a Gift, Skill, and Choice
Jul 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 115
Sucheta Kamath, Barbara Oakley

Nothing is more invigorating than watching a young mind at work. Fascinated by curiosity and deeply enthralled in untangling its pieces, learning brings joy and satisfaction to both the teacher and the learner. But how does one make sure that the learner falls in love with learning? How much of that is the responsibility of an educator versus a parent versus a student himself? And what are the ways to lay out a blueprint for increasing learner autonomy and locus of control so that it directly influences a student’s personal achievement?

On this episode, award winning educator, professor of engineering, and co-creator of the largest online MOOK Coursera class called “Learning How to Learn,” Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., discusses the neural scaffolding involved in information processing, memory formation, and learning. Dr. Oakley’s insights expands upon the quote by Brian Herbert, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”

About Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.
Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; the Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University; and Coursera’s inaugural “Innovation Instructor.” Her work focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Dr. Oakley’s research has been described as “revolutionary” in the Wall Street Journal—she has published in outlets as varied as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. She has won numerous teaching awards, including the American Society of Engineering Education’s Chester F. Carlson Award for technical innovation in engineering education. Together with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she co-teaches Coursera – UC San Diego’s “Learning How to Learn,” the world’s most popular massive open online course.

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

Nothing is more invigorating than watching a young mind at work. Fascinated by curiosity and deeply enthralled in untangling its pieces, learning brings joy and satisfaction to both the teacher and the learner. But how does one make sure that the learner falls in love with learning? How much of that is the responsibility of an educator versus a parent versus a student himself? And what are the ways to lay out a blueprint for increasing learner autonomy and locus of control so that it directly influences a student’s personal achievement?

On this episode, award winning educator, professor of engineering, and co-creator of the largest online MOOK Coursera class called “Learning How to Learn,” Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., discusses the neural scaffolding involved in information processing, memory formation, and learning. Dr. Oakley’s insights expands upon the quote by Brian Herbert, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”

About Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.
Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; the Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University; and Coursera’s inaugural “Innovation Instructor.” Her work focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Dr. Oakley’s research has been described as “revolutionary” in the Wall Street Journal—she has published in outlets as varied as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. She has won numerous teaching awards, including the American Society of Engineering Education’s Chester F. Carlson Award for technical innovation in engineering education. Together with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she co-teaches Coursera – UC San Diego’s “Learning How to Learn,” the world’s most popular massive open online course.

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to the podcast. Good to be with you, Todd. How are you this morning?

Producer: I am doing great. Looking forward to this conversation. We have been trying for a couple weeks to get together with this lady, it’s going to be a great conversation.

Sucheta: Truly! This topic is of deep interest to me. I share so much about learning how to learn and teaching children, adolescents, and adults how to learn to learn because once you know how to learn, you can learn anything. Just to tie with some of my personal experiences, I speak five languages but I will not take great credit for it because most of that learning language experience comes from immersion, and both my sons are multi-lingual, I would say. One, of course, through schooling but then one has learned Spanish, one has learned French. My firstborn is deeply interested in language learning and linguistics, so he has dabbled into Arabic and now, he’s learning Hindi. So, as I was getting ready for this podcast interview with our very special guest, I sent him this wonderful TED Talk that our guest talks about called Ben the Irish Polyglot – Ben Lewis who taught himself multiple languages, and so my son texted me back and he says, “Mom, these are my takeaways.” He says, “Mom, it was a good TED Talk. Basically, don’t treat learning language like a subject of study. Don’t get bogged down by rules, grammar, etc. Just try to speak as much as possible and make mistakes. Language is a communication tool – you should treat it just as such.” It was so cute because I truly appreciate this approach that when you are taking on something new and difficult, it is going to be challenging, but don’t be so threatened by challenges, and that’s the message of our guest today. She is very fondly known as a female Indiana Jones. It’s a great pleasure to have Dr. Barbara Oakley.

She is a Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. She is a distinguished scholar Global Digital Learning at McMaster University and a Coursera Inaugural Innovation Instructor – those who haven’t subscribed to this course, I highly recommend – when it first came onboard, I think in 2006 – I’m not remembering – I took the course right away, so I was one of those two million people now, I guess, who have taken the course and benefited from her and her co-presenters’ wisdom. Dr. Oakley’s work focuses on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Her research has been described as “revolutionary” in the Wall Street Journal – she has published in outlets as varied as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the New York Times. She is an author and a co-author of two of my favorite books that I’m using them as Bibles. This new book is The Mind Shift which is fantastic, I highly recommend, and then also some incredible guide for students to learn to learn.

So, it’s a great pleasure and honor to have you, Dr. Oakley. How are you?

Dr. Barbara Oakley: I am doing very well, good today. It’s a very, very windy day here in Michigan and I’m just so glad to be on the show.

Sucheta: Thank you, so this podcast talks about executive function, self-regulation, and I’m curious about when did my guests begin to attune with their own strengths and weaknesses as learners and thinkers? So, from everything I read about your journey, you say that as a child, you were turned off by math and science as subjects not worth learning, but by the formal title you hold as a female Indiana Jones, I am extrapolating that you were quite curious and self-driven. Is that true about you as a child? Tell us about your own understanding of your strengths and weaknesses in spite of facing challenges in learning math and science.

Dr. Oakley: I think part of it is growing comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable and I think that if you can do that, you could make a profound difference in how your life unfolds. A lot of times in learning new things or doing something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, it’s quite uncomfortable and if you learn how to just kind of box that up – in other words, just do a little of it, and you don’t have to say, old my gosh, I’ve got to learn this new thing and I’ve got to be spending 18 hours a day doing it, but just put it in a little box, you only need to do it for 20 minutes a day or whatever you choose, and doing so, that could help you to really move forward with things that are first quite difficult, and the things that are hard, they are always uncomfortable when you first start but once you begin building that or scale up that neuroscientific framework for whatever you are learning, it’s surprising and it begins to become more and more comfortable.

Sucheta: Yes, and I think that’s where you have really taken that understanding and shared with the millions of people. Let’s start with learning itself: how do you define learning and what’s the distinction between learning and learning how to learn?

Dr. Oakley: I define learning as creating sets of neural connections in long-term memory such that you can draw on those sets of links and access them when you need information or you need to figure something out. Learning how to learn involves stepping back and learning about how you can more easily create those sets of links in long-term memory. That is metacognition and it is a hot area of research, but essentially, what it means is learning all sorts of tips and tricks, and tools that help you get information more easily in long-term memory in a way that you can withdraw that information when you critically need it.

Sucheta: It’s interesting that in the field of education, we focus so much on learning but learning how to learn almost falls by the wayside, and why is this not an intuitive part of education?

Dr. Oakley: So, for a long time, we thought we knew how people learned but we really didn’t know because we could not look inside people’s brains. It’s only been in about the last 15 years or so that we have figured out or begun to see how the brain actually learn, so a lot of information about how we learn effectively is based on kind of very old-fashioned rules and ideas that often have nothing to do with how we really do learn most effectively, so it’s understandable that educational systems often didn’t teach about how to learn because a lot of what we did know about how we thought we learned was incorrect. Nowadays, we do know a lot more. Neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists have done fantastic research that really helps us to know better about how to learn effectively, but a lot of this information haven’t really made its way out into the school systems yet, and you have to also just remember that everybody thinks their subject is the most important subject and that should be taught in all educational systems, and of course, I know different, I think that learning how to learn is sort of the mother of all subjects that people should know, there is what, the US school districts, there is a something like, I don’t know, 13,000 school districts all kind of [inaudible]. It’s really hard to mandate from on high. Yes, everyone will be learning how to learn and as soon as you might mandate that, you’re going to have all these people with different vested interests in their approaches to learning how to learn, so I can well understand that that’s a factious business with for ordinary people living their lives trying to be productive, trying to learn more effectively, there is great information out there that is solidly based on neuroscience and that’s what I highly recommend that people look into. [Inaudible], like the last few weeks alone, we’ve had to 50,000 new sign-ups on learning how to learn, so since it came out in 2014, we have had nearly 3,000,000 learners, and it’s so funny because it’s quite different than if the school of education had any course online, and would’ve had two weeks and how babies learn, four weeks on theories of education, two more weeks on history of education, and then maybe towards the end of it, little bit beyond just the theory of learning which itself is often not practically useful, that would help people to learn, but people just flock is something that like are learning how to learn or switch was very inexpensively made it uses all the techniques within the course to actually help you learn more effectively while teaching you how to learn more effectively, and people absolutely love that. I spoke at Harvard and I was shocked at the room was packed, and come to find out, our one little course may or less than $5000 mostly in my basement had an order of the same number of students as all of Harvard’s massive open online courses put together make for millions of dollars with hundreds of people, so that it just tells you, people are –

Sucheta: Hungry.

Dr. Oakley: They are hungry, starving for fresh information about how to learn effectively –

Sucheta: And most relevant information.

Dr. Oakley: Yes, and you don’t have to have some highfalutin fancy production in order to – I mean, people kind of like corny, made-at-home –

Sucheta: And I like your sense of humor.

Dr. Oakley: Oh, well, it’s funny because we got this email from this one 12 year old little girl and she says, “I never understood that college professors could be so witty,” and I’m like, “Yeah, well, we were witty because we are trying to script it in and make it look like you are very witty even if it took a lot of time to think that way.”

Sucheta: So, this is another interesting question along the lines of learning and thinking, but what is more difficult, teaching yourself how to learn or teaching someone else how to learn, and why so?

Dr. Oakley: Oh, you can’t make a blanket statement on that because it all depends on like if you’re trying to teach yourself, are you very interested in it? Because if you are not, it’s not going to be very easy for you to tech yourself this, and likewise, when you’re trying to teach someone else, are they very interested in it? Because if they’re not – and are you interested yourself in teaching about things? One thing I do have to point out, so I have great respect for tiger mothers who really want their children to learn all sorts of different things, and so they’ll have their children enrolled in language courses and sports, and learning musical instruments and all sorts of things. I so respect that and at the same time, for me, I’m too late that to be a tiger mother, so I’m like a tiger mother with one paw. I’m like, [inaudible], I will make my children do one thing, only one thing, and so I can get them to try out all these different musical instruments and whatever else they might want to try, but if they didn’t want to do it, there was one thing I would make them to, and I decided to buy one thing would be 20 minutes of extra math practice using a program called Kumon. There is an equivalent – a sort of equivalent but it’s much more up-to-date online which is called Smartick, but girls to 20 minutes of extra math at the end you might think, well, how do you motivate your kids to do that? Well, I motivated them using every means at my disposal including threats, rewards, and all sorts of things, but whatever seemed to work at the time. My daughter was just reminded me that when she was like in her early teens, I think we decided that she would get a certain monetary reward if she completed some of these packets. All of a sudden, we’re like, paying all this money out, but the thing is that people often say, “Oh, don’t give rewards because that won’t build intrinsic motivation.” Well, that’s just not true. A lot of times, you have to get the practice, the basic scaffold in, and whether you do that by getting a reward or not getting a reward, or whatever, doesn’t matter so much as just getting that basic scaffold in because with our kids – so, our older daughter was the perfect example of the awful child at math. I mean, she was totally pathetic. It was hard to get anything into her brain. She was really quite slow with it, and she just graduated from her residency in medical school at Stanford, that little bit of extra practice made an enormous difference for her. She would’ve been one of those – [inaudible] in math as opposed to feeling very comfortable because she got that extra practice, and our younger daughter, the one that we gave the material rewards to who should never have liked it, she loved art, became an artist and now is going back to get her graduate degree because she’s realizing that starving artist life is somewhat hard, and so her graduate degree is in statistics which she loves, so it’s all turned out very well.

Sucheta: So, you make a great point about individual differences within learners and kind of tailoring of teaching that needs to happen, and sometimes, people are not really careful in paying attention to those differences, and then if particularly, buying too much too quickly into the student’s resistance or difficulty, or complaint saying, “I’m not a math person,” so you leave them out of math. I do not have a buy in. When I just like you as a parent, some of the strategies that are my understanding of the neuroscience and I inculcated that I believe that you have to have a certain amount of experience to know whether you like it or not, but in order to gain that experience, you cannot reject a new learning because it’s difficult, so in my house, we have a rule to do something for two years, so for example, they started tae kwon do, and so of course, anything that requires practice is boring or unwilling, or difficult, so we said, okay, well, we are going to do tae kwon do for two years, and then you can decide whether you want to continue for 17 years or you want to say, “Okay, I have done enough, I have some experience and discipline,” and that really helped in our family, that turned out to be a good commitment, like how to stay committed to something that just requires a lot of song and dance, showing up for practices, having to do some homework, having to have the culture of that particular discipline of tae kwon do, that really helped a lot.

Now, that brings me to this next question, you kind of alluded to this, is how is neuro-scaffolding involved in one’s learning and how do we understand the concepts that are unfamiliar or we haven’t heard what kind of preparation the brain needs in order to acquire new knowledge, and what goes on at the brain level when we process information from working memory into kind of creating concept of linking and eventually, transferring that information into long-term memory? Sorry, this is a long-winded question.

Dr. Oakley: It’s an extremely complex question which I will try to answer in so far as I can. So, when you are learning, your brain has two major learning systems are good one is the neocortex and the that is where most of the links of long-term memory are stored. The other is the hippocampus and in the hippocampus is this sort of temporary holding space. What happens is, when Ursula learned something, like let’s say you are listening to a lecture and you are getting some information out of it, what’s happening is that information is going into both those learning systems, both long-term memory and hippocampus, so neocortex and hippocampus, but in the neocortex, the traces that are formed are very faint, they are barely there. In the neocortex, the links, the neurolinks are stronger, they are much stronger. The [inaudible] about the hippocampus is itself, it can’t hold that much information before it starts to kind of overwrite things and information will begin falling out, which in essence in the very important, if you really want to learn something, to transfer what you’ve got in hippocampus to your long-term memory, so what’s often happening is when you’re learning something, both systems are tuned in, they are both catching some information but remember, the neocortex is really think, it’s not very good at staff, and when you take a little break, so let’s say you get up, you go to the bathroom, go have a glass of water or take five, 10 minutes, something like that, what happens is your hippocampus is not getting new information at that time, and it turns around and it sends signals onto the neocortex. It’s like, “Hey, guess what, remember that stuff that you were hearing before? Well, here it is again and they are going to tell it to you even more,” and so what the hippocampus is doing is transferring and consolidating the information that you already picked up. Now, what is often happening when you’re learning is your hippocampus is picking up that information up and what it has a break, it’s sending that information on and you can almost think of it this way: the first time that information lands in the hippocampus, it’s like a flock of birds that comes up and it goes to rest on that branch, and then when you have a moment to take a break, what happens then is those birds take off again and then they fly and they rearranged themselves, that they put themselves on the new branch. This rearranging is consolidation, and the more you begin to learn facts or learn information, and start to see the bigger picture, the more that the information that’s been rearranged in long-term memory has this kind of a new framework of consolidated schema that you can hang information more easily off of, so it’s that rearrangement of information as it goes into long-term memory or into the neocortex, and it’s kind of constantly rearranging itself that gradually forms this wonderful framework, and this is why let’s say, I hear this sentence, [foreign language], well, if I didn’t speak Russian, I’d hear that sound and go, ugh, well, what does that mean? But if you have the framework already, you can remember that sentence, you know what it means, and so forth, so you already have the schema involved in those sounds and what those sounds mean. So, creating schemas palpably and is a very important part of what we do when we form long-term memory, and the intertwining between working memory, the hippocampus, and long-term memory is so complex that there is still very much that we don’t really understand, but that is sort of a quick overview of my understanding, at least, of what neuroscientists do at present understand.

Sucheta: What’s so lovely about your explanation, even this visual imagery, I think, like the first time information is flying through one system to another, it’s like a flock of birds but it’s disorganized, scattered, there is no pattern and there’s no net to hold them all together in one place, but the simple repetition for the internal opportunity given or afforded a break allows that information to organize itself on a branch like birds resting, and then you can look at those birds and say, “Ooh, that looks like a family because there is a ma bird and a daddy bird, and the two little birdlings,” or whatever, that ability to view the pattern is what eventually is making meaning in the larger context of prior knowledge is all about, and I love this visualization because I think even if this sample sizes explained to children, they can understand why they should give a break, and during the break, they should themselves with more information that’s irrelevant to learning. One of the things that I care a lot that children particularly with ADHD, for example, they should do 20 minutes of work and then take 10 minutes of break, the problem that happens, the 10 minutes of break is really not breaking from the monotony of learning, so that you can be entertained but it is literally allowing the internal mechanism to kick in while you hang back, so I appreciate this kind of approach to quickly just explained this aspect, so thank you for sharing that.

That brings me to another very interesting process involved in learning, is motivation, and you kind of said earlier, learning is not made equal for all, not all topics will be of interest to all, but during formal years of learning, it is mandatory that you learn everything, whether that interests you or not, so what is the relationship between motivation and learning, and can a learner who is not interested in the topic or ideas, or subjects use some type of self-motivation trickery to engage in learning because it’s mandatory, because it’s essential for continuing to the next level of learning?

Dr. Oakley: Absolutely. You can devise mental tricks to help you motivate yourself in learning. One of the best motivators in my experience, however, is external motivation to the extent that let’s say that you don’t want to study, you’re not really much interested in anything and you’re kind of like, “Oh, help me, I want to become more interested but I just don’t have any interests, so make me – somehow, wave a magic wand and make me more interested in things.” Sometimes, people will ask this kind of thing and my answer is often kind of a tough love sort of answer which is, well, don’t let yourself go to school if, let’s say you’re at the University and you’re studying something and you just don’t care about it. Instead, just drop out and then go work at McDonald’s for a while, and you will find that either you like this or it will give you a strong motivation to actually make more of your studies when you do study. I cannot tell you how many engineering students I have had, for example, were in their 30s and terrible students. They had gone to college when they were 18, they should not have done that. Unfortunately, the University system encourages people who really have no place – I mean, they shouldn’t be being encouraged to go to college – they are simply not ready for it, and so they have been encouraged, and then, of course, they dropped out and gotten debt, and all that kind of stuff, but then later, when they got married, had a family, and needs beyond themselves, they suddenly realized that oh my gosh, you know what, I should learn some of this stuff, and they actually do really well because they are very much motivated. I think letting real-life motivate you – there’s lots of different ways to learn and we shouldn’t trick ourselves that the only way that learning takes place is by going to the University or learning in school. There’s many different ways to learn and we shouldn’t expect that all people had always loved the typical academic approaches to learning. Of course, that’s my predisposition, but maybe people have other things they need to be learning at certain stages in their life, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize their needs and that we are not going to be able to fill those kind of needs sometimes as academicians.

Sucheta: Yeah, and I think as you are saying, the external motivation, sometimes, that can be more enticing for – I mean, the option of like, go and work in McDonald’s is more experimentable for people who are in college. In high school, that’s much harder, but I do suggest to parents that maybe a parent’s idea that their son or daughter should take AP class and that they are not interested or not able to handle it, so the real solution there is to take a regular math or a regular science, and that can’t do any harm because of the child is able to succeed at the level they are, that can also add great learning experience, so sometimes, it’s also a balance between the parents and children, particularly the parents – students don’t have complete economy on their learning choices, I guess.

Dr. Oakley: My hero in science is Santiago Ramón y Cajal who was an absolutely terrible student in high school and was actually kicks out of several schools and he eventually won the Nobel Prize and is not considered the father of modern neuroscience, and he said, “I was no genius,” but she said, “I’ve worked with many geniuses and of the problem with geniuses is they tend to make assumptions, jump to conclusions, and then when they are wrong, they are not used to being able to fix the mistakes because they don’t make a lot of mistakes.” So, if you are just a sort of a normal student would just takes normal classes, it is still very possible that you can do better in the long run than the super geniuses who are taking the way advanced classes and so forth, so yes, I think your words of wisdom to parents about just taking the regular progression of classes, I mean, it worked well for me. I’m now a PhD, professor of engineering and I certainly was not in the superstar high school classes. In fact, I was busy flunking my math and science in high school.

Sucheta: Which is very hard, so I called those people opposite of you as PIH, Peak in High School.

Dr. Oakley: Yes, and there are many of them.

Sucheta: Exactly, we don’t want that kind of burnout. So, you say hobbies often bring valuable mental flexibility and insight. If you are lucky, these insights can spillover, enhance your job, but even if they don’t, your brain can be getting a workout. I love that quote and I’m a big fan of hobbies and personal development on one’s own time and learning doesn’t happen only in the four walls of school, so my question is, how can a learner fall in love with learning and how much of that is the responsibility of an educator and how much of that is a responsibility of a parent?

Dr. Oakley: That’s a really tough question to answer because ultimately, it all has to go on to the students. I mean, the student himself needs to have the wherewithal or the desire to learn, and let’s say the student has real attentional difficulties, so that’s a learning-disabled student who has real problems focusing. Do we say, “Oh, well, that’s just your fault that you are not”? I mean, everyone is different, and unfortunately, I do think that you can build the attentional systems that you do have. Notice, I don’t say ‘you can improve your working memory capacity’ because as far as we know, about the only thing that can improve working memory capacity in general is just to go through schooling system, and that does – like if you are illiterate and have never gone through school, you will not have a single working memory capacity as a person who has gone through a schooling system, but if you have gone through schooling, you can’t make your working memory bigger. What you could hold in mind temporarily, so I felt that great teachers can do a lot to enhance students’ desires to learn about different topics. Parents can also help. I reflect on – I mean, there are some miserable, horrible parents by my lights and who practically caused child abuse by over just pushing and pushing, and pushing on a certain topic. I think that research shows that that is, for many students, real cause of burnout that they don’t do well in the long run that way, but there are a few who still prosper under those circumstances, Beethoven, Mozart, and so forth, and so it’s, I don’t know, it’s such a complex thing but a great teacher, great parents can really help motivate typical students to go beyond what they could’ve done in other circumstances.

Sucheta: Yeah, and to your point, I feel there is a way of modeling good practices if the parents are themselves curious people, their curiosity can be very infectious. If the parents have hobbies, they have been lifelong learners, that their children are watching, watching their father every Saturday, Sunday being in their garage, tinkering with a car or their mother planting a garden as season changes. We have done that a lot my household actual learning many languages, puzzles, experimenting with booking, putting on a show, those kinds of things, we have done. I myself believe that learning doesn’t happen in the four walls and educators are not the only teachers.

Lastly, I think, which I hear you talk a lot about as well is as you are saying, what does a learner’s responsibility look like when the learner is nine years old? And that nine-year-old learner, to me, is a commitment to do something, sticking with it even when things are a little bit annoying, a little bit boring. I feel in this culture, one practice that children are not getting a lot of is bearing boredom. I think they are allowed to exit boredom too quickly and that can be anti-thesis good learning habits because learning is hard, and if it is too hard, it is immediately going to be translated by the brain as boring, I don’t have to do it, I don’t like it, I don’t have to do it, so it’s kind of creating some mental state and mindsets, I guess. So, this brings me to the next question about the role of attitudes, and you talk a lot about this, and mindsets, and what ways they influence learning, and in what ways they limit limitlessness of learning.

Dr. Oakley: Oh, whoa, that’s a good question. I’m trying to think, so certainly, if you believe you can’t do it, you’re going to have more problems trying to do it, but there’s a problem though, Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset is essentially, you should teach kids to approach things with an open mind that you can change and thus, you can do it. Problem is that when you really look very carefully at teaching about this approach kids, doesn’t make that big of a difference at all, like at all. In fact, there was a study done of how well students did on a pre-college type test and they found that it didn’t matter whether you had a growth mindset or you didn’t have a growth mindset. It just was – the students did equivalently, didn’t – and so, my mind is not really made up on how important it is to have a growth mindset. I think just having a teacher who models enthusiasm for the material, you could get kind of draft into it yourself. You were speaking earlier about how you try to modeling your family this enthusiastic open approach to learning. Sometimes, I’m surprised when I look at old movies from our household. I’ll be sitting there with our doctors going, “Isn’t this fun? This is so exciting!” and I’m like, way over the top with enthusiasm and excitement, but that’s really how I was a lot of the time. It just didn’t get them – so yeah, I think a good teacher and a good parent can just model enthusiasm and excitement or a topic and kind of drug a kid willy-nilly into getting enough practice where they start getting it and then they start getting used to it too because think about it, I mean, bicycle, who wants to learn to ride a bicycle? I don’t want to learn how to ride a bicycle. I mean, you fall down, you skin your knee, there’s all these things that could happen, but every kid sees that but they also want to learn to ride a bicycle because they know that there’s something really good that comes out at the end of this short uncomfortable.. Well, learning is like that. It’s just that the period of learning sometimes much longer and the kids don’t see the success of riding along beautifully, and so the kind of have to be dragged along, sometimes unwillingly through the more painful parts before they can begin to start seeing how they can fly.

Sucheta: This reminds me of that you talk about this enthusiasm, like “Yay!” I’m a speech and language pathologist and a therapist, so a lot of my training was about very high level of enthusiasm to kind of influence of those who are struggling and having difficulties, so “Isn’t this great?” or animating everything, and then once I had my own children, it just became a doing therapy with your own children, but I remember one of the things that has really made a remarkable influence on my children who are now 21 and 24, they are back and story and the front and outcomes, connecting the whole, the big picture, so I’ll give you an example. I taught my children middle school, I think, how to make cookies, chocolate chip cookies, I used to make them. There was a David Leibowitz – I hope I’m saying it right – but his chocolate chip recipe, it’s a very precious recipe and it was hard to find, and how it came about, and so I told them the story of this chocolate chip cookie recipe, then we started making it, and then eventually, we kind of sad, imagine, we are writing a letter to Mr. David and telling him what the cookie turned out to be. Each time we tried it, kind of giving them a little report card and giving feedback which we never been, but it kind of became this, so you are the history student when you read the back story of the cookies, you are the chef, then you are the chemist, you are the physicist or whatever, then you are a writer, then you are an evaluator, you are a critic. When you clear all these roles and then you are, of course, eating the cookie, so you’re just a simple, amazing consumer, but I think just having to walk the kids through this experience of shifting habits in the midst of having an experience was a very powerful way to get them engaged, that is so interesting now that I’m seeing, because we are recording this during COVID-19 quarantine time, my son how to is very interested in learning how to cook more complex recipes he does, he will ask me the back story of a recipe, like “When did you learn it, mom? Who taught you? Is this your grandma’s recipe or is this your mom’s recipe? Why is it called this way? How do people in North India do it differently? I guess the restaurant recipe is different than this, in what ways is it different?” So now, he has become very interested in the experience of immersing himself in that learning how to learn, I guess, and it’s so wonderful because to me now, he can run with the baton by himself. There is no me propelling him to do anything, which is not that I was trying that but isn’t that what you are talking about, that self-sustainability when you teach a man how to fish, they can fish and enjoy the fishing? That is the power of learning how to learn, I feel.

Dr. Oakley: Well, it absolutely is, and your son is the perfect example of that.

Sucheta: So, how can teachers harness ideas from the neuroscience of how brain learns to the benefit of their students’ education and what are the general principles effective for learning and generalizing new knowledge in meaningful ways?

Dr. Oakley: So, working on a book for teachers right now called Uncommon Sense Thinking, at least in its title form.

Sucheta: I love it.

Dr. Oakley: So, it would be coming out from England Random House, and so I’ve tried to get those key ideas laid out in a way that teachers can digest them, but another way that people can learn more about how students learn effectively simply by going to the Learning How to Learn for Youth massive open online course. There’s the regular one, Learning How to Learn, which is on Coursera via [inaudible], and then there’s [inaudible] for Youth, which is on Coursera via Arizona State University, and the books [inaudible] that is called Learning How to Learn, and it just has all of the key ideas about how your brain learns effectively.

Sucheta: Thank you, Barbara, for mentioning those resources and we can’t wait for your book to come out. It’s going to be incredibly beneficial for all the teachers, and you have to promise me you’ll come back to talk to our teacher listeners, but I think these two resources that you talked about, I will be linking in the show notes for people to surely explore for the use learners and the resource guide that you have created.

In closing, how are you doing in terms of your lifelong quest for learning how to learn? Is there anything you are doing special for your own satisfaction and kind of a little joy?

Dr. Oakley: Oh! Well, okay, so since we’ve got the lockdown, normally, my whole attitude is to do things that make me feel uncomfortable. I travel all over the place, some always doing everything, so I am in little puppy heaven right now, a complete lockdown. It’s an introvert’s heaven, and so I am working on my book and very happy.

Sucheta: Well, we cannot thank you enough for being here with us sharing your wisdom and knowledge, but most importantly, thank you for taking the time in 2014 to put all that together. I know your story about the basement and the green screen, and little antics that you put out thinking that I don’t even know if anybody’s going to watch and look where we are, so I think that was something that needed to have been done, and the way you did it is really very empowering and powerful, so thank you, and it was such a joy to talk with you today, so thank you for being here.

Dr. Oakley: My pleasure.

Producer: Alright, that’s all the time we have for today. If you know of someone who might benefit from listening to today’s show – a teacher, principal, coach, parent, or student, we would be most grateful if you would kindly forward it to them.

So, on behalf of our host, Sucheta Kamath, today’s guest, Dr. Barbara Oakley, and all of us at ExQ, thanks for listening and we look forward to seeing you again right here next week on Full PreFrontal.