In this issue of The Brilliant Report: Against personalized learning; how money worries make us less intelligent; shaping our tools to fit the brain; and using the social brain to promote learning.
Why personalized learning doesn't work

I often see people in the education world (especially the online education world) assuming that if information is made available to students, they will use it to teach themselves what they need to know. This assumption reflects a deeply flawed understanding of how learning happens among novices (and that’s what children, and many adults, are). Learning is most effective and enjoyable when it is carefully sequenced and scaffolded.

That's the starting point for my most-commented-on and most-retweeted post from this past week. Other posts considered how money worries make us less intelligent (including the finding that money worries burden many more of us than researchers previously recognized); why we need to ensure that our schools and workplaces are "cognitively ergonomic"; and how we might "hijack the social brain" in order to improve learning among teenagers. Which do you find most interesting?

Against Personalized Learning
A couple of years ago, educator Benjamin Riley kicked up a fuss with a blog post provocatively titled “Don’t Personalize Learning.” Personalized learning, of course, is a very popular notion; as he slyly noted, it’s “a head-nodder phrase”: “Sprinkle the word into virtually any conversation or speech regarding education, and you’ll typically see at least a handful of heads nodding in the room in happy agreement." But this apparently benign approach, Riley goes on to argue, actually rests on several assumptions unsupported by evidence: [READ MORE HERE]

How Money Worries Make Us Less Intelligent
In their 2013 book Scarcity, economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir demonstrated that not having enough of what we needs saps our ability to think and problem-solve effectively. As they write in the book: “Because we are preoccupied by scarcity, because our minds constantly return to it, we have less mind to give to the rest of life. This is more than a metaphor. We can directly measure mental capacity or, as we call it, bandwidth. We can measure fluid intelligence, a key resource that affects how we process information and make decisions. We can measure executive control, a key resource that affects how impulsively we behave. We find that scarcity reduces all these components of bandwidth—it makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled": [READ MORE HERE]

Shaping Our Tools to Fit the Brain
We all have experience with things like ergonomic chairs: seats that are designed with the human body in mind. The designer of an ergonomic chair has to have a solid working knowledge of the human body and how it operates in order to build a chair that will be comfortable, supportive, and appealing to sit in. The same is true of the technological tools we use: the people who design them have to have a solid working knowledge of the human brain in order to build an app—or a website, or a software program—that feels “comfortable” for the brain to use, that doesn’t cause undue confusion or strain: [READ MORE HERE]

Using the Social Brain to Promote Learning
A recent brain-imaging study showed just how powerfully teenagers are influenced by their peers. That's not necessarily bad news, however: “If your teen’s friends are displaying positive behavior, then it’s fabulous that your teen will see that behavior and be influenced by it,” said study author Lauren Sherman, a researcher at UCLA. Sherman's observation lines up with a favorite idea of mine: “hijacking the social brain to improve educational outcomes,” to borrow a phrase from Dan Ames, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Matthew Lieberman. I wrote about Lieberman’s research in a piece for Scientific American Mind, “Peer Pressure Has a Positive Side.” In the article, I noted that “our schools focus primarily on students as individual entities.” But, I asked, “What would happen if educators instead took advantage of the fact that teens are powerfully compelled to think in social terms?" [READ MORE HERE]

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In this week's Brilliant Report: personalized learning; money worries; cognitive ergonomics; and the social brain:

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All my best,


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