Thursday, March 25, 2010

Deferred Learning

If you are in the Cincinnati area, I will be giving a program on teaching effectiveness next Tuesday, March 30, (followed by a panel discussion) at Northern Kentucky University. I think it should be a lot of fun. I love to talk about teaching. It is open to the public. If you would like the place and time, drop me a note at

Over 2,000 years ago, the poet Horace wrote “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” which translates as “Seize the day, trusting tomorrow as little as possible.” Yesterday, I talked with my students about “deferred learning.” That is the strategy of doing as little work today as possible with the promise that you’ll do a whole lot more work tomorrow (or, more specifically, right before the test). In college, deferred learning is a very popular strategy. “I’ll do it tomorrow” is never far from the lips of most students.

But, let’s be realistic. If a student is going to be tested based on memorization, isn’t this the best possible strategy? Memory tends to fade pretty quickly over time so, for a memorization style test, isn’t it best to memorize as much material as possible the night before the test?

Let’s carry this one step further. From kindergarten on through college, aren’t most tests really based on memorization? So, can you blame a student for using a “deferred learning” approach? They have been well trained over the years; this is a strategy that does work to get good grades. Deferred learning is human nature, I will grant you that, but isn’t it also a result of many years of training by our schools, including their current college?

I want to help my students pick up a different strategy that I refer to as “understand and review.” Before they leave a topic, I want them to actually understand what we are doing – right then. Do the learning today (right now) and don’t put it off until tomorrow. If they do that, the study process for the test should be merely reviewing what they already understand. That review is just to freshen up the knowledge in their brains.

Okay, how does a teacher get a student to learn material as it is covered and not defer the learning process? One thing that I like to do is write a short question right after class and send it to them by email. I always start it off with “if you properly understood what we did today in class, you should be able to work the following problem in 5-10 minutes. I’ll leave the answer on my door for 48 hours so you can check your answer. Before our next class, I want you to make sure that you learned today what I wanted.”

For example, in class tomorrow, we will talk about depreciation: straight-line, double-declining balance, half-year convention. After class, I will probably send a question somewhat like the following to my students by email. If they can answer these questions, then I think they have a pretty good handle on what we covered in that class. They have established a real understanding rather than relying on deferred learning.

Company A buys a machine for $100,000 on April 1, Year One. It has a five-year life and a $20,000 salvage value. It is sold on October 1, Year Three for $79,000. The company uses straight-line depreciation and the half-year convention. Company B also buys a machine for $100,000 on April 1, Year One. It has a five-year life and a $20,000 salvage value. It is sold on October 1, Year Three for $79,000. The company uses the double-declining balance method and does not use the half-year convention. Answer the following questions:
--What does the recognition of depreciation have to do with the matching principle?
--What gain or loss will Company A report at the time of sale?
--What gain or loss will Company B report at the time of sale?
--Why is there a difference in the gain or loss reported by the two companies?
--What is the rationale for using the half-year convention?
--What is the rationale for using the double-declining balance method of depreciation?

“Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” I want my students to learn this stuff right now. I want the students to understand this material when we cover it. I do not want the students to defer the learning process.

1 comment:

  1. I am constantly trying to impress upon my Managerial Accounting students, the difference between how/what and WHY.

    At some point EVERY CLASS I will say, in an exaggerated tone, something to the effect that "all the memorizers can do this now, but they'll be in trouble on the test because I will change ONE itsie bitsie little thing and they will explode because they don't know WHY. Same thing out in the workplace - the memorizers will do good for a while, but as soon as they get something just a little different, they will explode because they only know what and how, but don't know WHY they are doing it."

    My students get a 3 X 5 card to bring with them to exams. I can always spot the "deferred learners" on Day 1 -- I'll say "the memorizers are going to want to hear this so they can write it on their 3x5 card" and, on cue, those students will immediately write down verbatim the next thing I say. The "WHY" students just listen more carefully.