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Feb 02, 2017 11:00 AM EST

Brown University Study: How 'Overlearning' Can Help You Achieve Mastery


Overlearning means to continue studying or practicing a certain skill even after an individual has already mastered it to reinforce the learned skill. Psychological studies emphasize the importance of overlearning when it comes to the retention of material and the execution of tasks. In fact, a new study by Brown University claims that a person should continue to practice a little longer even after you think you have already mastered a skill.

According to Science Daily, this so-called "overlearning" promise performance gains because it helps protects that learning from interference that could undermine the mastery achieved. This is because overlearning cements the learning very well which could even interfere in the effective learning of a second task. It is as if the learning becomes locked down so that the first task is preserved.

The researchers have explained that it could be because of the temporary shift in the balance of the two neurotransmitters that take control of the neural flexibility in the region of the brain where learning takes place, Futurity reported.

Takeo Watanabe, corresponding author of the study said that based on the results, just a short period of overlearning can make a drastic change to a post-training plastic that can disrupt new learning. These results were derived from a number of experiments where Watanabe and his team asked a total of 183 volunteers to engage in a task of learning to detect which one of the two successfully presented images showed a patterned orientation. The training only took 20 minutes and the initial 60 volunteers have mastered the task.

They did the same thing on a second experiment only that they extended the break between tasks and extended it from 30 minutes to 3.5 hours. What the researchers found was that the volunteers who trained for the task for 16 blocks were observed to have inhibition (protecting the first training but closing down on the second) compared to those who only trained for 8 blocks.

Watanabe concluded that even if the skills focused on a visual learning task, overlearning is still important and can still be applicable to other kinds of learning such as motor tasks, because it will increase the chance that what you have learned will never be gone.

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