The principles that guide the design of each Stikky book have deep
roots in learning research
Our key principles are:
- Small units: sequences are composed
of small steps, each of which is easily grasped (and the sequences themselves
require less than 30 minutes to complete)
- An illustration on every page
- Frequent testing of what has been
learned with instant feedback
- Regular reward either explicit
('congratulations') or implicit (the reader accomplishes something they
consider an achievement)
- Self-pacing with guidance ('this
should take around 20 minutes')
- Task-orientation ('how do I find which way is north?')
- Similarity of the learning environment
and the real-world environment, so cartoons, abstractions or simplifications
are used sparingly and quickly removed to avoid forming crutches
- Motivational elements ('which
will prove important later') which were designed with the help of a
- Expanding rehearsal: the interval
between re-testing of specific knowledge gradually lengthens (eg, pause
- An awareness of 'mental modules':
that certain abilities are innate in humans (such as counting and language)
and others have to be learned (algebra, tap dancing)
- The 'santa claus' effect: it is
acceptable to bend the truth of non-essential points to make a significant
simplification that can be easily unlearned later (eg, the Big Dipper
is not a constellation)
- A high criterion: readers are
expected to have perfected material before moving on ('if you are unsure,
now is a good time to go back')
- 'We are all rocket scientists':
the belief that just about anyone can learn just about anything given
enough time and if the material is presented in small steps, so the
fault is more likely to be in the presentation than the learner.
Some of these concepts derive from software usability (task-orientation
and similarity of environments). But most derive from extraordinarily
successful learning models of the 1960s and 1970s such as Keller's Personalized
System of Instruction and Bloom's Learning for Mastery (and less successful
models from even earlier, notably Skinner's Programmed Learning).
Stikky is, as far as we are aware, the first application of these ideas
in a commercially-available How To format.
Despite great excitement, largely driven by B F Skinner, Programmed Learning
did not prove significantly more effective than traditional learning methods
(Kulik, Cohen Ebeling, 1980).
Some of its principles, though, informed later and more important methods:
- Small units of 'frames'
- Overt responses
- Immediate feedback and correction
Learning for Mastery
Bloom's Learning for Mastery (Bloom,
1968/81)is based on the rule that students are only allowed to
progress from one module to another after mastering it completely. A student's
aptitude determines how much time they need to master a unit, not the
likelihood that they will ever be able to master it. Other than this rule,
Learning for Mastery is flexible in how it is actually implemented.
A meta-analysis by Block and Burns (1977)
found Learning for Mastery had an effect equivalent to moving the average
student in a class into the top 20%. In addition, the approach had a positive
impact on students' interest in a subject and, understandably, their self-confidence.
A very large trial in Korea produced similarly dazzling results (Kim,
Personalized System of Instruction (PSI)
Keller's PSI is also based around the mastery criterion (Keller,
1968)and the following:
- Small units, around two hours
- Written materials and written
- Unit tests with fast feedback
provided by a 'proctor'
- At least 90% score required before
- Lectures for motivation purposes
A meta-analysis by Kulik, Kulik and Cohen (1979)
found that PSI students achieved final examinations results 8 percentage
points higher than conventionally taught students.
Research also independently confirmed the value of small units, fast
feedback (delayed feedback reduced effectiveness) and high mastery criterion-but
the main value of proctors and self-pacing was found to be that students
Levin, Anglin and Carney (1987)
review research demonstrating the (not particularly surprising) finding
that illustrations significantly aid learning.
A number of studies, for example Melton (1963),
show that the greater the separation between subsequent repetitions of
a learned item, the greater the productivity of learning, assuming the
delay is compatible with correct recall. The same effect has been encapsulated
in a 'smart flash cards' software application, Supermemo.
Applying this concept in a book that demands around an hour of the reader's
time proved a challenge. It resulted in the 'pause point' at which, unusually,
the reader is asked to stop reading to allow time between rehearsals.
Evolutionary psychologists developed the concept of innate mental modules
that would have conferred a survival advantage in the evolutionary environment
of 200,000 years ago. Steven Pinker (2002)
provides a tentative list including intuitive physics, spatial sense and
language. The theory (not yet research) suggests that learning material
that is closely related to these factory-fitted modules will be much easier
with implication for learning step size.
(The material on educational methods and research above draws heavily
on Ken Spencer's excellent pages: Information
Technologies and Student Learning.)
To comment on this article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links to more articles for educators and learning theorists here.
J H Block and R B Burns (1977), 'Mastery Learning',
in L S Shulman (Ed) Review of Research in Education, Volume 4,
F E Peacock, 3-49
B S Bloom (1968/81), 'Learning For Mastery', The
Evaluation Comment, 1(2), in B S Bloom (Ed) All Our Children Learning,
F S Keller (1968), 'Goodbye Teacher', Journal
of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 79-87
H Kim (1971), 'Mastery learning in the Korean middle
schools', UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Asia, 6(1)
C C Kulik, P A Cohen and B J Ebeling (1980),
'Effectiveness of programmed instruction in higher education: a meta-analysis
of findings', Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 6(2),
J A Kulik, CC Kulik and P A Cohen (1979), 'A
meta-analysis of outcome studies of Keller's personalized system of instruction',
American Psychologist, 34(4), 307-318
J R Levin, G J Anglin and R N Carney (1987), 'On
Empirically Validating Functions of Pictures in Prose', in D A Willows
and H A Houghton (Ed) The Psychology of Illustration, Volume 1,
A W Melton (1963), 'The situation with respect to
the spacing of repetitions and memory', Journal of Verbal Learning
and Verbal Behavior, 2, 1-21
S Pinker (2002), The Blank Slate, pp220-21,