Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[oped of the day] Let’s use cognitive science insights for better learning


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Teaching and education methods based on neuroscience

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.


Insights about how the human brain gathers and stores information have been accumulating for over a hundred years. But there’s a gap in mainstream education: good pedagogical practice—applying cognitive science has often taken a back-seat to convenience, scale and tradition. 

Better learning – redesign of existing education systems

    • We learn best in about 10-minute chunks
      • This is related to the way we form short-term memories in the brain. 
      • If learning exceeds that time, the mind begins to wander.
      • Lectures need to be extremely short to be effective. 
      • Recorded lectures, enabling viewers to pause, rewind or speed up a video, offer personalization, where students can learn at their own pace.
      • Learning through regular in-person lectures does not offer this flexibility.
    • Testing effect – When a learner is tested frequently about the material that she has just learnt, learning is better
      • For example, a learner who is given weaker cues for the test, and therefore struggles more to recall material, will learn better.
    • Spaced practice – Testing is best when spaced out over weeks or months.
      • This flies in the face of a prevalent approach of mass practice, in which a student might address a number of problems at the end of a chapter in a short span of time. 
      • This applies not just to academic learning, but also to sports and motor driving.
    • Fourth, content is best absorbed when topics are interspaced with one another.
      • A common practice in education is to take up topics in blocks: multiplication one day, say, followed by division a week later. 
      • Research points to the benefits of interleaving practice. 
    • Fill in the blankNovices have fewer predefined schema to digest new information. They suffer from high cognitive load because the working memory available is limited.
    • Tactile experience – in which a student physically feels angular momentum, or gestures to capture a phenomenon, have been shown to result in better learning than if the learning is purely abstract. 
    • Prototyping technologies such as 3D printing, Lego Mindstorms, the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi, App Inventor, and even the programming language Python, enable hands-on learning. 
    • Project-based learning, problem-based learning, and task-oriented learning are all techniques that give students more agency and purpose. 
    • Techniques such as game-based learning can lead a student through a series of tasks and create an environment where learning occurs naturally. An example is World Without Oil, an alternate reality game that leads players through a post-oil world, forcing them to think about the implications of an oil shock.


We know far more about how we learn today than we did some decades ago. Yet, we are not applying these insights to education. Modern schools and universities must adopt newer pedagogical models and break away from centuries-old norms.

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