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Program Details

2018 Science of Learning Symposium

Thursday, October 11
9:00 – 11:45 AM
Low Memorial Library

Join us at 9:00 AM in the Low Library Rotunda for a light breakfast. The day’s formal agenda kicks off at 9:30 with moderated presentations by leading researchers and experts in the fields of cognitive psychology and metacognition including Janet Metcalfe, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, Robert A. Bjork, Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Sian Beilock, President of Barnard College and author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Discussion will follow, led by Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles and Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London.

Metacognition and Curiosity

Presenter: Janet Metcalfe, Columbia University.

Curiosity is related to people’s metacognitive assessment that they ‘almost know’ or are on the ‘verge of knowing.’  For instance, when people are in a metacognitive tip-of-the-tongue state they (a) are extremely curious to know the answer, (b) have an exaggerated neural response when the answer is provided, and (c) show greatly enhanced learning.  A second example of ‘almost but not quite knowing’ is associated with test errors that people make with high confidence that they were correct. Again, people are very curious upon learning they were incorrect. When given the answers, they show an exaggerated neural response and learning is enhanced: they hypercorrect. Metcalfe will propose that when the to-be-learned materials are in people’s ‘region of proximal learning’ — not too easy nor too difficult — they will be most curious, will engage with those materials more ardently, enjoy studying more, and learn more effectively.

Why Don’t the Trials and Errors of Everyday Living and Learning Teach Us How to Learn?

Presenter: Robert A. Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles.

A variety of findings from research on metacognitive judgments of learning have demonstrated that people are prone to both mis-assessing and mis-managing their own learning.  In various studies, participants have often predicted that they will perform better on a later test after experiencing less-effective conditions of study or practice than after experiencing more-effective conditions—and, when free to choose how to study to-be-learned materials, participants often choose less effective techniques over more effective techniques. Such findings are truly puzzling, given that the participants in such experiments have had years of schooling and years of studying, which one might think would given them, over time, a good appreciation of what activities do and do not support learning. In this talk I speculate on why it is that people do not come to fully understand the unique functional architecture that characterizes how we learn and remember, or fail to learn and remember.

Academic Performance under Stress

Presenter: Sian Beilock, Barnard College.

For many people, the desire to perform their best in academics is high. Consequences for poor performance, especially in examinations, include poor evaluations by mentors, teachers, and peers and lost educational opportunities. However, why do poor performances occur in those very situations where students are set on doing their best? What cognitive and neural processes drive less-than-optimal outcomes when the pressure is high? And why do some people thrive while others fail in high-stakes situations? Beilock will discuss behavioral and brain imaging work that examines how students’ knowledge and general cognitive abilities interact with social and emotional factors (e.g., a student’s fear of test taking) to impact performance across a range of academic areas. She will also highlight how current research in psychology and neuroscience can be used to enhance learning and performance in the classroom—especially for students who are chronically anxious about taking tests.


1:00 – 4:45 PM
203 Butler Library

1:00 – 2:45 PM | Turning Tests into Desirable Difficulties: How to Assess Learning in Ways that Enhance Learning

Workshop facilitated by Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles. Commentary by Janet Metcalfe, Columbia University.

To many educators and learners, tests are considered to be a kind of necessary evil.  Teachers see administering and grading tests as a burden and students see them as ordeals to be endured.  For those and other reasons, the word test is often regarded as a bad word, but a variety of research findings have demonstrated that tests, especially low or no stakes tests, can be effective tools for enhancing learning—even when no corrective feedback is provided—and, furthermore, can often be more effective than additional study in terms of fostering long-term retention.  My goals in this Workshop are to show how tests can be used in ways that enhance students’ long-term learning and transfer and, more broadly, to provide a picture of some unintuitive aspects of how the human memory and learning system works. More specifically, my goals are to have participants leave the workshops with an appreciation of the distinction between learning and performance, especially that assessments administered during the instruction process itself tend to measure performance—not learning; and that forgetting plays an important role in learning.  As part of this discussion, I also want to provide an overview of a framework, entitled The New Theory of Disuse (NTD) that captures the distinction between learning and performance, provides a rationale for why forgetting enables learning, and indicates how the concept of “desirable difficulties” can be used to guide the construction of tests that enhance learning while assessing it.

3:00 – 4:45 PM | Activating students as owners of their own learning: Metacognition in the classroom

Workshop facilitated by Dylan Wiliam, University College London. Commentary by Robert A. Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles.

Although many authors define it as something that teachers do to students, formative assessment’s greatest impact comes when it supports students in becoming more active in their own learning. The workshop will begin by showing how a focus on the roles of teachers, learners, and their peers in three key processes of learning—where the learner is, where the learner is going, and how to get there—results in a definition of formative assessment as consisting of five key strategies:

  • Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and success criteria
  • Eliciting evidence
  • Providing feedback that moves learning forward
  • Activating students as learning resources for one another
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning

The workshop will then focus on the last of these five strategies, and show how metacognition and other aspects of self-regulated learning can be thought of as central elements of the strategy, and provide participants with a number of practical classroom techniques that can be used with students through their college careers. The workshop will conclude with suggestions for teachers on how they can support their own learning, and that of their colleagues, through the use of regular meetings focused on the idea of teacher professional development as habit change rather than simply as knowledge acquisition.


A reception to follow the session.