Passing out dead trees helps learning?

A colleague sent a Twitter message this morning linking to Bob Sutton’s Work Matters blog on the topic of “Evidence-Based Study Tips: Nine Ways To Help You Learn” that had a few interesting points.  The one that stood out to me was number 8, on providing handouts of ones lecture notes before the talk to increase retention of the subject matter.

The original paper with the study is located here.

Some thoughts:

As Bob points out in his original post – this is a preliminary study that serves to move the conversation forward about how providing dead trees to learners before the lecture might help.   One of the things we know about learning is that background or building prior knowledge helps students learn more at a faster rate.

The idea that we have of preventing our students from getting the materials ahead of time is just silly.  Our jobs as facilitators of learning means just that – getting our materials to our learners in as many ways and with the lowest barrier to entry as possible.

We can’t really think that what we know will be uttered for the first time in history to our students when we speak it.  Even if they don’t understand it fully yet, students could certainly start building their academic vocabulary by reviewing the materials.

Here’s where I swerve off the road a bit (a.k.a mini-rant).   Instead of printing our dead trees, how about sharing your stuff in a wiki, blog, Moodle course, Scribd, Slideshare, Google Docs?  I’ve been to so many conferences where you get a big pile of dead trees to carry around that are minimally helpful in my learning.

Pile of dead treesPile of dead trees

Recently, I attended a couple education conferences where I was greeted by stacks of handouts that sort of matched the presentation.  The presenters said something to the effect of, “I’m going to go out of order a bit and added some slides from what you have in the handouts, just so you know”.  I think I saw a couple of the linear-sequential attendees heads explode.

If I get a 30 page PowerPoint deck from a presenter, how do I share that with my colleagues?  Yep, I rip the staple out and make more copies – but only if the machine doesn’t eat them on the way through the document feeder.  Oh – and if the handout is spiral or comb-bound… fuh-gedd-about-it!

How about I get a link to the online places – then how do I share what I have learned?  I can forward the link via email, share the link with my PLN via Twitter, post it to LinkedIn, Facebook. You get the idea.

So presenter people – put your stuff online so people can learn better.  It’s really easy.  If you want to print stuff, then make sure it matches what you are doing.

Citation:  Marsh,  E. J. and Sink, H. E. (2010), Access to handouts of presentation slides  during lecture: Consequences for learning. Applied Cognitive  Psychology, 24: 691–706. doi: 10.1002/acp.1579

photo © Adrian van Leen
for CC:PublicDomain

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Passing out dead trees helps learning?

by Ron Houtman time to read: 2 min