Have you ever seen an online article promising something like this?

Brain hemispheres
Five Amazing BRAIN HACKS to make learning quick and easy
The internet is full of “hacks” that promise to make learning something new: EASY.
You might find yourself wanting to tap on those headlines, thinking…
Asian woman, thinking.Asian woman thinks: "Maybe there is some secret technique to make learning easy!"
Maybe all you need is the right lifehack to...

unleash your brain power.

10 times the brain power!
Or maybe you just need to buy the right product to transform learning from a difficult slog into smooth sailing.


Is there any truth to this idea?

Should learning be easy?

Well, let’s see what research tells us.

Then we’ll look at some not-so-secret learning techniques that definitely do work.
Finally, we’ll see how you can use this info to help you choose the tools you use to learn.

Research suggests

that the most effective techniques for learning take continued practice…
Make mistake: first part of learning process.Get feedback: second part of process.Rethink: 3rd part of process.Try again - fourth part of process.
…where you make mistakes, get feedback, revise your strategy and keep trying.

It turns out you can't take the "hard part" out of learning.

Learning something new is usually difficult, and you can't get around that.


There’s not “one simple trick” to make learning easier.

Learning is a journey.

Curved road over hills.

And that’s not a bad thing!

Curving road with "Start" line for runners.
If you’re running a race, you might wish for a magic button...
Curving road over hills.See runner instantly transported to finish line.
...that can take you straight to the finish line.
But then why run the race in the first place?

And while research has confirmed that learning is usually hard…

It also offers us tips for making learning more efficient and effective.

Here are a few:


You've probably heard

“Practice makes perfect.”

...but that's not exactly true.
10,000 hours of practice…
doesn’t help much if your practice is bad.

HOW you practice is critical.

and bad practice can actually make you worse!
A better way to think about it is:

“Good practice makes better.”

So what does “good” practice look like?

One of the most important parts of practice is

Testing your skills.

In education, this is generally called assessment,
and it is a critical part of the learning process.


is a way to measure something, and it doesn't always mean passing or failing a test.

Assessment could be...
Runner with timer stopwatch.

timing your run,

Piano student working with teacher

recording yourself playing a piece of music,

Young woman doing a quiz.

or taking a quiz.

But assessment alone isn’t enough to improve learning.

You also need


...which is the information you get back about how well you did,
Runners stopwatch.

your time in a race,

Piano teacher gives student feedback on sheet music.

the mistakes you made in your musical performance,

Quiz problem with corrections added.

or the corrections on your quiz.

We often think of assessments as the tests you take to pass a course.
That’s called a “summative assessment,” which measures achievement.
A final exam with incorrect answers marked and a grade.
Like a final exam.
Here, we’re talking about something different:
“Formative assessment,” which gives you feedback to guide your learning.
Instead of a final exam, it’s like a daily assignment.
A writing assignment with helpful feedback in the margins.
Formative assessments give you the space to make mistakes and get feedback, so you know how you need to improve.

So what does good feedback look like?

Imagine you’re using a language-learning app like this.

Make a choice and let’s look at the feedback you get.
Tap the picture that matches the word.
el dinero
Button icon showing dinner.
Button icon showing a drink
Button icon showing money
No, the word for dinner is “la cena.” But “dinero” does sound like dinner, which can be tricky.
No, the word for a drink is “una bebida.”
Yes, “el dinero” means money. Nice job!

Good feedback is:

You get feedback quickly, so you can use it.
so you can understand quickly.
telling you exactly what you did wrong - or right.
And It’s Goal-oriented.
It’s tied to a learning goal, with the aim of helping you improve.
Phone app shows progress on your goal.
Order meal in Spanish
Keep Going!
Soon you'll have all the words you need to order dinner.

You could say that learning is all about mistakes.

You need to make mistakes to get feedback.
So learning needs to be difficult enough that you make some mistakes, so you can get feedback and improve.
Since learning takes hard work, it’s important to be able to push through the challenges.

For that you need


In psychology, motivation is whatever drives someone to pursue a goal.
When we’re talking about learning,

motivation is the desire to keep working at something,
even when it’s difficult.

Young woman working at computer on her programming skills.She thinks: "This is hard, but I want to be able to program!"
Motivation is tricky business, whether it's staying motivated yourself, or motivating students if you’re a teacher or parent.
There are many things that can interfere with motivation.

But there are also strategies based on learning science research that can help build and sustain motivation.

Here are four:

 1.  Chunk your work.

“Chunking” means breaking material into bite-sized pieces, so you can make progress in small but regular increments.
Animation: a goal is chunked into 3 parts:
Goal: Order dinner in Spanish
Food vocabulary
Question verbs
Conversation practice

 2.  Be realistic.

Although high expectations are good, keep them realistic: Remember it’s a journey, and don't set yourself up with the belief that you’ll master something new quickly.
Woman using language app thinks: 
I'll be alble to order a whole meal in Spanish by ... not tomorrow. No, next week is more realistic.

 3.  Track progress.

Make sure that feedback and assessment activities show off progress. Seeing how far you’ve come is motivating!
tracks your progress
Order meal in Spanish
Part 1: Vocabulary
Part 2: Question Verbs
Part 3: conversation practice

 4.  Adopt a growth mindset.

It helps to remember that many of your abilities are developed through practice, not inborn.
Woman learning Spanish on her phone.Woman thinks: the more I work on this, the better I'm getting at learning Spanish!

So, to recap:

Research tells us that “brain hacks” for easy learning don’t really work, because the best learning requires:




and motivation.

These concepts can also help you choose effective learning tools.

To look at how, let’s use the concepts of assessment + feedback to evaluate an interactive online learning tool you use, or are considering using:

Think of a tool, and type it’s name here:

Got it! Scroll down to rate your tool.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
OK, now answer three questions about the tool you’ve chosen:
Note: The following tool-assessment quiz is not fully accessible. Users can consider each question and how well their chosen tool supports assessment and feedback best practices. Question one Does it help assess your progress as you use it? Question two Does it give you timely, concise, and specific feedback that helps you improve? Question three Does it show you progress on your learning journey?

1. Does it help assess your progress as you use it?

2. Does it give you timely, concise, and specific feedback that helps you improve?

3. Does it show you your progress on your learning journey?


Your tool: