If you have spent any time reading blogs or papers on teaching strategies in the past few years, you have probably noticed a strong backlash against drill & practice, in favor of “constructivist” activities and “project-based learning.” The actual memorizing of facts, many argue, is an outdated educational practice, since anyone could just google a fact on-demand or look it up on Wikipedia nowadays. The mantra is that we should focus all school activities on the acquisition of skills as opposed to knowledge.
Yet there are numerous cases in which having knowledge immediately at the tip of your tongue can have tremendous social and professional value.
For example, last night at a networking event, when I casually asked a Nigerian entrepreneur how much of his business was conducted in English versus in his native Yoruba, he immediately became more engaged in our conversation. It was as if the simple fact that I knew that Yoruba was spoken in Nigeria seemed increase my social credibility with him, and therefore our rapport.
The same goes for professional settings. If I am a pharmaceutical salesman talking to a doctor about a specific digestion drug, and he asks if it has any effect on the process of peristalsis, it will look quite unprofessional if I have to pull out my medical dictionary to look up the word. Those facts need to be ingrained in my brain so I can access them immediately!
Of course, most constructivist educators will argue that real-life simulations, on-the-job training, and project-based learning are more effective at learning new concepts than rote memorization. The problem is that no single cost-effective constructivist activity will guarantee that you will be exposed to all the concepts you need – or that you will fully remember the facts that you are exposed to. If you actually want to acquire a full range of knowledge about a given topic, the most guaranteed and efficient way to do so is to study deliberately using the time-honored practice of repetition – specifically confidence-based repetition.