Ep. 87: Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, with author Peter Brown

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash


March 23, 2021

While there are many different learning methods and preferences, scientific research does point to certain common denominators in successful learning, meaning learning that not only acquires knowledge, but also retains that knowledge and applies it to future problems and scenarios. The book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is written by cognitive scientists to clarify what those common denominators of successful learning are so that we can make our own learning and teaching “sticky.” Educators, parents, and lifelong learners, rejoice – essential scientifically backed research on how to learn smarter instead of just trying harder.

Peter C. Brown


I have one of the book’s three authors with me today. Peter Brown is a writer and novelist living in St. Paul, Minnesota. Peter is retired from a career as a management consultant. He is lead author of the best-selling book Make it Stick, which he co-wrote with two cognitive psychologists from Washington University, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel.


  • When learning is harder/effortful, it’s stronger, deeper and lasts longer.
  • We discuss other key concepts in the book, including the importance of retrieval practice, interleaving, the appropriate role of testing, and the illusion of mastery
  • The book also contains Learning Tips for Students, and Tips for Teachers.

 Connect/Other Resources

In-Episode Promo

If you’re a regular listener of this show, you’ve probably heard me talk about my Rolflex Pro. It played a significant role in healing my repetitive use injuries; and I have continued to use it every day for years, both to prevent injuries – and because it feels so good! The Rolflex Pro is a foam roller tool with clam-shaped arms that provide leverage to adjust the pressure to whatever you like or can tolerate. I use it mainly on my arms and neck/shoulder area; but it can be used on any body part because of how it’s designed. I highly recommend it. As I mentioned, I’ve been using the Rolflex daily for years, and recently signed up as an affiliate; so you can help support the show – at no extra cost to you – by purchasing through this link. The Rolflex is eligible for reimbursement from Flexible Spending Accounts and HSAs; it’s also eligible for medical insurance reimbursement in certain situations. More information is on the Rolflex website. (Visit Ep. 80 show notes for a photo of my Rolflex Pro in my workout area in my basement.)


Peter says: As a writer, I sometimes use classical music and opera to help transport me from a thinking state to a feeling state, so that my words come from someplace more spontaneous, driven by the emotions of my characters. In writing my historical novel The Fugitive Wife, I used a 3-disc CD set of great arias from Deutsche Grammophon as background during work on passages where my characters confronted decisions that turned the trajectory of their lives and my story. It’s not the words in the arias, but the depth and musicality of the emotions.

(The Deutsche Grammophon CD set is called Opera Gold. I picked it up on a whim at a bookstore in London, and I see now that the asking price is $902 on Amazon, “one copy left”.) 

Closing Words

In addition to Peter, our thanks go to his co-authors Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel. This is essential information for teachers, as well as anyone else interested in learning smarter instead of just trying harder. If you are listening to this episode before March 31st, and have any interest in the therapeutic use of music for those with dementia, you’ll want to check out last week’s episode. Our guest was a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Aging, which is holding an online meeting on March 31st, to develop evidence-based music therapies for brain disorders of aging. The NIA is looking for input from a variety of stakeholders. The goal is to help develop standards and tools that can eventually be applied to ALL music-based interventions across the life span. This is a free event but you do need to register; the link is in that episode’s show notes. I’m registered and hope to see you there! If you use the concepts from Make It Stick to enhance life with music – or enhance life in any other way – I’d love to hear about it! You can connect with me on email, social media, or my website; all links are in today’s show notes. Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.


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