Nicholas Soderstrom, Ph.D. speaks on his findings towards new ways of teaching and learning


Brian McKenna, News Reporter

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While some students may find themselves settling for short-term performance in the classroom, there is no shortcut to learning in the long run. Nicholas Soderstrom, Ph.D. and author who recently spoke at the College of DuPage explained that although a student may ace a test he or she studied extremely hard for, that doesn’t prove the information was learned.

Soderstrom, who is also an Assistant of Psychology Professor at Dickinson College specializes in Cognitive Psychology–the study of “attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and thinking.”

“How many of you remember being taught to learn?”

Beginning his presentation with a simple question, Soderstrom introduced the root of the problem his research has been tackling for years now, calling his methods “unintuitive learning strategies,” Soderstrom aims to break current classroom norms and prove their faults.

Categorizing his “methods” into four different types–retrieval, spaced, interleaved, and variable, he refers to these as “how our brains work in retaining information.” And while only one professor attributed his time at grad school to being “taught how to learn,” the rest of the room could not recall similar experiences.

“Why is it that we don’t know how learning works?” Soderstrom asked the full BIC classroom which resulted in an unsurprising silence–a question nobody has probably asked themselves in regards to school.

Soderstrom explained, “we expect students to learn, but we don’t teach them how to.”

He also told us teachers are given an equally short end of the stick. Soderstrom stated that 59 percent of teacher textbooks do not mention “fundamental teaching strategies” once, and only 15 percent include one page or more.

“Becoming maximally effective teachers and students require we learn how to learn.”

One of the psychology professor’s biggest points was the difference between learning and performance.

“Learning is the goal of production,” he said emphasizing his previous points, “performance is what we see in the current moment.”

Soderstrom exemplified this by comparing it to basketball, saying that having one outstanding game is a reference to performance–it is how you did only for that game, while learning is stretched out for an entire season of well-performed games, much like doing well on one test versus doing well on all of them.

“Performance fluctuates,” Soderstrom pointed out, also saying it “doesn’t necessarily lead to long term production.”

“Motivation and attitude are important,” Soderstrom reminded the room as professors and students alike took notes on his unorthodox strategies. He explained that while his research and methods have shown success, variables such as motivation and attitude are important in implementing and carrying out his teachings.

His presentation was subtitled, “Leveraging desirable difficulties to enhance learning: when the path to more resistance is best” and he certainly attributed resistance to successful learning.

“Difficulties lead to better long-term learning,” such as trying to understand concepts and similar struggles students will face in the classroom, but Soderstrom insisted these difficulties “transfer to knowledge.”

In short, he emphasized that “short-term pain equals long-term gain,” continuing with, “it’s not always about the product but the process of getting there.”

Soderstrom’s latest book dives deep into his four strategies of how students can learn better and display outstanding amounts of success as a result.