Seven Tips and Some Great Apps for Mastering Knowledge: Technology-enhanced learning

Some students and professors are heading “back to school”. With Covid, learning with technology has become more important than ever. So today, Smile published an original article of mine: Technology-Enhanced Learning: 6 Ways to Master New Info. Here, I summarize and extend that article.

The tips are:

  1. Be organized.
  2. Be prepared.
  3. Take notes mindfully.
  4. Review and elaborate your notes.
  5. Make connections.
  6. Practice productively.
  7. Keep learning about cognitive productivity.

For professors too

Most of my R&D is oriented towards knowledge workers and higher ed students. (Basically I try to understand and help adults who want to thrive with knowledge.) I wrote the post mainly for students. However, it’s also relevant to professors because professors are students too! They continuously need to improve their own abilities to learn. And professors ought not only to teach content to their students; they should also teach them technology-enhanced learning strategies.

Tips you can act on

Rather than write a vague blog post, I wrote the strategies in such a way that you can act on them. And I mentioned noteworthy software. But if you want more details, check out the links in the blog post, or my Cognitive Productivity books.

Linkable apps

The fifth tip above is to make connections. From the Smile article:

In order to understand material, one needs to make mental connections between it and other information. You can record some of these connections by copying and pasting links to information resources directly in your notes.

So every one of the apps and SaaS mentioned in that blog post can be linked through automation on macOS, as explained technically here.

The post mentions the following linkable software:

Information managers

Bookmarking services

Note-taking software

Test-enhanced learning software

  • Anki spaced repetition app (flashcard editor and player)

And of course, I mentioned Hook which is a truly universal bookmarking and linking app.

Tip: If the software you have in mind for learning uses a database (rather than exposing its data in files on the Finder) and does not even support a Copy Link function, then how are you supposed to connect the data? If it’s a well-designed file-based app (like BBEdit) then Hook can give you a URL for any of its files.

I also mentioned TextExpander which can help you take meaningful notes while focusing on the gist. And PDFPenPro which enables you easily to insert hyperlinks in your PDFs (even links to files, using Hook).

Other software

Obviously, I could have mentioned a lot of other apps! The fact that an app is not on that list does not mean it’s not useful! The goal of the post was simply to convey learning tips and illustrate them with specific apps, rather than to provide a compendium.

But if you’d like a long list of linkable apps, check out Linkable apps.

Productive practice tips and software: from Anki to Remnote

The sixth tip is to practice productively. Productive practice is a concept I described in detail in my Cognitive Productivity books. I’ve also blogged about it here. It combines and extends the very well researched notions of deliberate practice, test-enhanced learning, testing effects and more. The goal of productive practice is not merely to help you remember stuff. It’s to help you keep information alive in your mind, and to be transformed by it, such that you can use it when you need to.

The end goal is thus deliberate transfer of learning. As I point out in my books, echoing Mark McDaniel of Washington University in St-Louis and others, that is the “holy grail” of formal and self-directed education. ‘Transfer of learning’ has many facets; the goal of productive practice is manifold: to help you develop skills, habits and even attitudes. It’s hard. And there’s no silver bullet.

I certainly don’t claim “do this set of activities, and you will get all these wonderful results”! What I’m saying is that in order not to fool yourself that reading information is enough for you to learn it, and in order to move towards the valued direction of transformational learning, it is helpful to engage in systematic practice that aims to produce “mindware”. Mindware is a concept developed by David Perkins of Harvard University and Keith Stanovich of OISE. (I have modernized the concept.) Technology, if used wisely, can help. My books explain why and how.

In my Cognitive Productivity books, I used Anki as an example of software that can be used for productive practice. I did this not because it is perfect. In fact, Anki was not designed with the concept of productive practice in mind. (It’s based on simpler notions from cognitive psychology). I used it because it was then the most powerful software for test-enhanced learning and can be “shoehorned” into a productive practice app.

Now, however, there’s new software on the block: Remnote. In my next blog post for Smile, I will write about productive practice in more detail. I will mention Remnote there.

Seventh tip: Keep learning about learning with technology

The seventh tip is actually in the Smile post, as follows:

One of the main purposes of higher education is to help you learn how to learn with technology. No one becomes a learning wizard overnight. Everyone should keep working at it, even after they graduate. The payoffs are huge: being in control, feeling less stressed, and becoming increasingly effective.

I wrote about cognitive productivity for Smile last month. If you read that post, you’ll see that cognitive productivity is not a traditional notion of “productivity”. The focus is really on using knowledge (that’s the “cognitive” side) for manifold purposes:

  • creating great products (including new knowledge);
  • solving problems;
  • delivering services; and
  • transforming oneself.

The focus is not mainly or primarily on efficiency, though obviously efficiency is included, but on productiveness.

It’s not a ‘stern’ notion. It’s an integrative notion, including our “emotions” and motivation. So there’s a wellness aspect to it too.

I plan to write for Smile once a month for a year, on topics related to “cognitive productivity”.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.