Developing Deep Knowledge

Source: Huffington Post, Aug 2012

ognitive science research demonstrates that the acquisition of “deep knowledge” of a subject — knowledge that is stored in our memories long-term and that can be flexibly applied to new situations as well as familiar ones — depends on two conditions.

First, we have to think about the meaning of the information. As the University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham has put it, “Memory is the residue of thought.” We remember what we think about — and plagiarists have thought about their topics only long enough to select an appropriate passage to copy. (This first prerequisite of acquiring deep knowledge — thinking about the meaning of the information — also helps explain why rote memorization is so ineffective. There’s no meaning for our minds to grasp in a dry list of facts, and so these facts often fail to find a hold in memory.)

The second condition for acquiring deep knowledge is making connections among the various pieces of information we’re learning, and between this new knowledge and the knowledge we previously possessed. Here again, plagiarists have given themselves little opportunity to discover connections or to bind the new information to their memories by tying to things they already know. Students who plagiarize in an ungraded course are getting away with nothing at all: no lasting memories, no profound understanding.

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