The world-renowned Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada has issued a report that appears in the August 24, 2011 online edition of the journal Psychology and Aging that shows evidence that older brains benefit more than younger ones from memorizing and learning things the old-fashioned way – through trial and error.

The findings will undoubtedly challenge professional educators that believe making mistakes as we learn hinders memory performance in older adults, and passive learning (where the correct answer is provided for them) is better for older brains to process.

“The scientific literature has traditionally embraced errorless learning for older adults. However, our study has shown that if older adults are learning material that is very conceptual, where they can make a meaningful relationship between their errors and the correct information that they are supposed to remember, in those cases the errors can actually be quite beneficial for the learning process,” said Andreé-Ann Cyr, the study’s lead investigator.

As a doctoral student in Psychology at the University of Toronto, Cyr conducted the research in collaboration with senior author and scientist Dr. Nicole Anderson of the Rotman Research Institute, who specializes in cognitive rehabilitation research with older adults.

Researchers compared trial-and-error (TOL) learning with errorless learning (EL) in two separate studies on groups of healthy young and older adults. The younger adults were in their 20’s, while the mean age of the older adults was 70. EL is considered passive because it does not stress the brain by providing the answers to questions posed during the learning process. TEL allows the older brain to build new bridges (scaffolds) that makes new links to other neuro-connectors to access the correct information.

In both studies, participants were better able to remember the learning context of targeted words if they learned through the trial-and-error process as opposed to the errorless method. Older adults’ performance was approximately 2.5 times better with the TEL method than their younger peers.

The implication from these may benefit older adults in the classroom, as well as those undergoing rehabilitation from strokes or memory problems, says Cyr.

Future studies will be needed to determine how various learning materials and memory tasks will benefit memory in aging. Studies like this will hopefully clarify the best way to go about harnessing the way the brain processes learning, and the best method to use to enhance memory.

This article was shared by Ron White, memory training expert, memory keynote speaker and two-time USA Memory Champion.



Medical Press – Learning information the hard way may be best ‘boot camp’ for older brains: