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A key strategy for getting better at things is hill-climbing : try different things, keep doing the things that work, stop doing those that don’t.
It likely explains how we get better at many things simply by doing them repeatedly. Where this strategy runs into trouble, however, is when you need to do something worse before you can do it better.
Interestingly, learning itself seems to be one of these situations. The actions that improve your short-term performance on a task don’t always create much long-term improvement. Since short-term effects are easier to notice, this can create a trap.
Psychologist Robert Bjork addresses this issue by calling for desirable difficulties : actions that appear to work worse in the short-term but work better in the long run. These include:
2. Variability .
3. Testing .
The exact mechanisms behind the value of desirable difficulties are still being debated.
This theory says that successful access to hard-to-recall memory boosts retrieval strength more than if the memory was easier to access.
There’s another possible benefit to practice variability.
The issue with this blocked approach is that it doesn’t let you practice telling apart the different types of problems because, in each case, it’s obvious.
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