The 85% Rule for Learning - Scott H Young - Deepstash
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Learning needs a mixture of success and failure

Learning needs a mixture of success and failure

If you're always successful, you won't know what to improve. If you always fail, you won't know what works.

We learn the quickest when the success rate is 85 percent.


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How to apply the 85% rule

How to apply the 85% rule

Imagine you're studying for a test by doing practice problems.

  • An easy way to solve the problems would be with an open book and worked examples.
  • The most difficult would be to work on novel problems with the book closed.

The 85% rule suggests that learning is best when we practice tasks that we can succeed at roughly four-fifths of the time. If you're getting one out of every five problems wrong, you may need extra help. If you're getting nearly all the problems right, you need to move to more difficult ones.


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Optimal learning and a sweet spot for difficulty

Theories of optimal learning show that we learn best when it is not too easy and not too hard.

  • The zone of proximal development states that we maximise learning when tasks are slightly beyond what we can do.
  • The zone of learnability shows that If texts are too easy, you won't invest much effort in creating a mental model. When it is harder, the struggle forces you to retrieve background knowledge.
  • The model of deliberate practice argues that when a skill becomes automatic, we plateau at levels of ability far below our potential.
  • Learned industriousness states difficulty plays a role in motivation.


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