Review: The New Science of Learning by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek

book cover

It was a pleasure to review this relatively short book with a wealth of information, instructions, and cleverly-chosen guidelines all pointed in one direction which is to help university students of all ages and backgrounds to become successful learners and facilitate their academic endeavors.

Chapter 1 starts with a look at cramming (“learning” without remembering), transference of learning, and connections with what has already been learned. The authors emphasize that being successful at university depends on becoming an effective learner, not being smart. “The one who does the work does the learning.”1 Each chapter in this book has a summary and a list of references. Chapter 2 addresses sleep2, naps, and breaks. Within neuroscience there is a discipline on the science of memory and sleep.3 A great deal of this chapter deals with sleep and how it is essential for learning process.

Chapter 3 describes how exercise and movement are important in improving learning process. Just a few hundred thousand years ago, men moved about 10-20 km a day and women about 10 km a day. When one exercises a brain-derived neutrophilic factor- BDNF4 is produced thatfacilitates learning processes. Chapter 4 discusses how using all of your senses helps learning since the human brain has developed for us to learn in a multisensory mode.6 The use of pictures and images together with concept maps is elaborated in figures 4.1 and 4.2.

Chapter 5 mainly describes patterns and learning since the human brain is viewed as “a pattern-seeking device.”7 Playing chess and use of patterns by chess masters and chess grand masters is described. Chunking information, familiar movie patterns and similarity can be used in the learning process. Chapter 6 covers memory, including how you can prepare for the next day’s learning, and remembering what we think is important. Further cramming, learning, and distributed practice are addressed. Your brain remembers better emotional content than neuronal content8.  Myths about multitasking are debunked nicely describing how human brain is best being focused on single learning task at a time.9,10  There is a short review on caffeine, sugar, and memory along with stress and memory.

I would say the most important chapter in the book is chapter 7 where a student’s mindset toward learning is explored. There are two types of mindset, fixed and growth.11,12 There is a section describing how to develop a growth mindset.12

Chapter 8 covers “paying attention”. Of course you can learn only by paying attention. Types of attention are described, and learning, attention, boredom, daydreaming are discussed. Strategies for enhancing attention are given. How important is paying attention is illustrated best by Sir Isaac Newton. When asked to explain his genius he responded, “I owe more to patient attention than to any other talent”.13

Chapter 9 presents employment and college success, becoming a lifelong learner, time and practice, preparing to learn, money matters, what is not in this book, and finding balance in your life.

The appendix gives a short expose on cooperation and teamwork, peer study groups, group study guidelines, finding a mentor, and finally living a balanced life. At the end of this delightful and highly recommended book, an index is provided.


  1. Doyle, T. Helping student learn in a learner-centered environment: A guide to facilitating learning in higher education, Stylus, Sterling, VA, 2008.
  2. Stickgold, R. Sleep-dependent memory consolidation, Nature, 2005, 437, 1272-1278.
  3. Maas, J. and Robbins, R. Sleep for success, Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2011.
  4. Cotman, C., Berchold, W., and Christie, L. A. Corrigendum: Exercise builds brain health; Key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation, Trends in Neurosciences, 2007, 30 (10), 489.
  5. Ying, Z. Vaynman, S., and Gomes-Pinilla, F.  Exercise induced BDNF and synapses to specific hippocampal subfield, Journal of Neuroscientific Research, 2004, 76 (3), 356-362.
  6. Shams, L., Seitz, A, benefit of multisensory learning, Trends in Cognitive science, 2008, 12 (11), p. 411.
  7. Ratey, J. A. A user’s guide to the brain, New York, Pantheon Books, 2001.
  8. Perrin, M., Henaff, M., Padovan, C., Faillenot, I., Merville, A., and Krolak-Salmon, P. Influence of emotional content and context on memory in mild Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2012, 29 (4), 817-826.
  9. Foerde, K., Knowlton, B., and Poldrack, R. Modulation of cometing memory system by distraction, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 2006, 103, 11778-11783.
  10. Dux, P. E., Ivanoff, J., Asplund, C. L. O., and Marois, R. Isolation of a central bottleneck of formation processing with the time-resolved fMRI, Neuron, 2006, 52 (6), 1109-1120.
  11. Dweck, C. S. Mindset: The new psychology of success, New York, Random House, 2006.
  12. Dweck, C. S. Mindset: Powerful insight. Positive Coaching Alliance. 2009.
  13. Rosen, C. Myth of multitasking, New Atlantis, 2008.
Publication information
Alt. Title: 

The New Science of Learning

Pick Attribution: 

Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, October 1, 2013