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Cognitively Charged Learning for the 21st Century

4 ways to utilize ChatGPT to improve knowledge acquisition.

Key points

  • Cognitive science advancements have provided invaluable insights into the learning process, offering methods to optimize learning.
  • ChatGPT, when combined with evidence-based learning techniques, can greatly enhance students' learning and retention.
  • The fusion of AI and cognitive science can empower learners to adapt and thrive in an evolving world.

In the last two decades, cognitive science has made remarkable progress in unraveling the mysteries of how we learn, uncovering numerous approaches to optimize and enrich the learning experience. Through neuroscience, psychology, and education research, scientists better understand how the brain processes and retains information. Effective learning involves different processes, including attention, motivation, memory, and metacognition. By leveraging cognitive science principles, we can create a more efficient and effective learning experience for students of all ages, addressing individual needs and optimizing educational resources.

Artificial Intelligence as Learning Enhancement

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent in our daily lives, from social media algorithms to virtual assistants. It is, therefore, crucial to teach kids how to lean into new AI capabilities to optimize their quality of life. Within the educational realm, incorporating artificial intelligence in conjunction with cognitive science can revolutionize the learning landscape and allow students to more readily access tools to enhance their learning across various subject domains.

Combining ChatGPT with the cognitive science of learning can give students a powerful means to enhance their learning and retention of academic material. Here are four scientifically backed learning strategies that can be augmented with ChatGPT:

1. Retrieval practice. Retrieval practice involves actively recalling information from memory rather than simply reviewing or rereading the material. It requires the learner to try to retrieve previously learned information, which strengthens neural connections and reinforces memory consolidation. Research has shown that retrieval practice is more effective for long-term retention than passive review methods, as it promotes deeper processing of the material and helps identify knowledge gaps. Students can use ChatGPT to generate questions about their course material and practice answering them.

Biology example: Use ChatGPT to generate questions related to the different systems of the body (e.g., circulatory, respiratory, digestive) and practice answering them. For example: "What is the function of the circulatory system?" or "What is the role of the pancreas in the digestive system?"

2. Interleaving. Interleaving is a learning strategy that involves alternating between different problem types, topics, or skills during a study session rather than focusing on a single subject for an extended period. This approach contrasts with blocking, in which a learner practices one type of problem or skill before moving on to the next. Interleaving fosters a deeper understanding of the material, encouraging learners to recognize and apply the appropriate strategies for various problems or topics.

Research has shown that interleaving can improve long-term retention and knowledge transfer to new situations. It promotes the ability to differentiate between concepts and problem-solving techniques by constantly requiring learners to switch between them. Although interleaving might initially feel slower and more challenging, it ultimately leads to better learning outcomes than blocked practice. ChatGPT can generate a mix of problems or questions related to different topics, which students can then practice interleaving.

Mathematics example: Use ChatGPT to generate a mix of problems related to different equations (e.g., linear, quadratic, exponential) and practice interleaving. For example, solve a linear equation, then a quadratic equation, then an exponential equation, and repeat.

3. Elaboration. Elaboration is a learning strategy that involves connecting new information to existing knowledge, making the new material more meaningful and easier to remember. By associating new concepts with familiar ones, learners create a richer mental network of interconnected ideas, which enhances understanding and retention. Examples of elaboration techniques include explaining concepts in one's own words, generating examples that illustrate a concept, creating analogies or metaphors to relate new ideas to familiar ones, and asking and answering "how" and "why" questions about the material.

Engaging in elaboration fosters deeper processing of information, making it more likely to be stored in long-term memory. Additionally, elaboration helps learners identify connections between different topics, facilitating knowledge transfer to novel situations. Students can use ChatGPT to generate summaries, explanations, or analogies related to their study material.

History example: Use ChatGPT to aid in generating summaries, explanations, or analogies related to historical events or periods. For example: "The French Revolution was like a pressure cooker that exploded due to years of economic and social tension."

4. Spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves reviewing material at gradually increasing intervals rather than cramming all of it into a single study session. This strategy is based on the spacing effect, suggesting that spreading out learning sessions leads to better long-term retention than mass practice or short-term cramming. By incorporating spaced repetition into their study routine, learners can enhance retention, improve understanding, and maximize study time. Students can use ChatGPT to generate flashcards or quizzes related to their course material and practice spaced repetition.

Foreign language example: Use ChatGPT to generate flashcards or quizzes related to vocabulary words, verb conjugations, or sentence structures and practice spaced repetition. For example, practice vocabulary words in a particular theme, such as food or travel, and review them at increasing intervals over time.

How to Learn More Effectively in the 21st Century

The fusion of cognitive science and artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the educational landscape in unprecedented ways. As we venture into a new era of cognitively charged learning, it is crucial to remember the words of futurist Alvin Toffler: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." Embracing the synergistic power of AI and cognitive science in education will equip students and educators with the tools to learn more effectively and adapt and thrive in an evolving world.

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