Last week, I discussed why using the retrieval-practice method is such an effective learning method, especially for newbies trying to get into real estate—who are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information there is out there. Today I will discuss a few more techniques from the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Reedier, and Mark McDaniel. Incorporating these techniques can seriously aid any newbie (or seasoned investor for that matter) master what they need to know about real estate investing faster and more effectively.
Mix It Up
Is it better to just plow through something for hours on end? Or mix up different approaches and topics when trying to master something? Well, it turns out that it’s not just a “different strokes for different folks” situation. There is a right answer to this question, and we can turn to baseball to find it:
“Part of the Cal Poly team practiced in the standard way. They practiced hitting forty-five pitches, evenly divided into three sets. Each set consisted of one type of pitch thrown fifteen times. For example, the first set would be 15 fastballs, the second set 15 curveballs, and the third set 15 changeups. This was a form of massed practice. For each set of 15 pitches, as the batter saw more of that type, he got gratifyingly better at anticipating the balls, timing his swings, and connecting. Learning seemed easy.
“The rest of the team were given a more difficult practice regimen: The three types of pitches were randomly interspersed across the block of 45 throws. For each pitch, the batter had no idea which type to expect. At the end of the 45 swings, he was still struggling somewhat to connect with the ball. These players didn’t seem to be developing the proficiency their teammates were showing. The interleaving and spacing of different pitches made learning more arduous and feel slower.
“The extra practice sessions continued twice weekly for six weeks. At the end, when the players’ hitting was assessed, the two groups had clearly benefited differently from the extra practice, and not in the way the players expected. Those who had practiced on the randomly interspersed pitches now displayed markedly better hitting relative to those who practiced on one type of pitch thrown over and over. These results are all the more interesting when you consider that these players were already skilled hitters prior to the extra training” (Brown 80-81).
The Key is Interleaving
They call this process interleaving. Basically, practicing one thing over and over again and then moving on to the next is less effective than practicing one thing, then practicing another, then coming back, and so on. One example they give of a company that does this well is Farmers Insurance with its week-long training program:
“The learning unfolds through a series of exercises that cycle through the principal topics of sales, marketing systems, business planning, and advocacy of the company’s values and its brand, returning time and time again to each, requiring that participants recall what they have learned earlier and apply it in a new, enlarged context” (242).
If you have any employees and want to provide some training for them, this would be a good thing to keep in mind.
It’s important to note that this technique also plays hand-in-hand with the retrieval practice I discussed in my previous article. By leaving one topic for another, only to come back to it, it forces you to retrieve that information again. And each time you retrieve it, you cement it deeper and deeper in your long-term memory. So instead of focusing solely on learning about valuing real estate, start there and then go on to learning about mailing campaigns—then come back to learning about valuing real estate. After that, go on to learning about budgeting rehabs—then come back to valuing real estate. Next, move onto mailing campaigns again before digging into screening potential tenants, and so on and so forth.
The class that gives out easy A’s may be tempting, but you should take the more difficult class instead. Don’t take the path of least resistance; life is meaningless without at least some struggle. And it turns out that your memory is also all but useless without some struggle.
The authors note that the brain learns by first “encoding,” or converting “your perceptions into chemical and electrical changes that form a mental representation of the patterns you’ve observed.” Then it goes onto “consolidation.” In other words, the “brain reorganizes and stabilizes the memory traces.” Consolidation is done much more effectively if you have to really work to understand the problem at hand. This is one reason that passive learning (i.e. watching TV, at its best) is inferior to active learning (i.e. a discussion or test).
The baseball example noted above is actually an example of both interleaving and embracing difficulty. It’s much more difficult to hit a pitch when you don’t know what that pitch is going to be. But this more difficult practice is also far more effective. It also ties into the retrieval-practice method. It’s easier to sit in a class listening to a lecture than it is when an exam will be at the end. But those who have an exam at the end of the lecture will remember more than those who don’t. As the authors put it, “It’s the effortful process of reconstructing the knowledge that triggers reconsolidation and deeper learning.”
So while it may be tempting to simply sit back and listen to a podcast and hope that expertise will enter your mind through osmosis, to really learn a subject you need to embrace its difficulties. Don’t worry if you can’t understand something. If you have to struggle to understand it, in all likelihood, that means that when you finally do understand it, it will actually stick. The more active and challenging the approach you take to learning, the faster you will learn.
Learning harder is learning smarter!
Do you have any experience with this type of learning?
I’d love to hear from you below!