The Power of Overlearning
It can help to work on something you already know how to do
By Victoria Sayo Turner https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-overlearning/
When you want to learn something new, you practice. Once you get the hang of it, you can hopefully do what you learned—whether it’s parallel parking or standing backflips—on the next day, and the next. If not, you fall back to stage one and practice some more.
But your brain may have a shortcut that helps you lock in learning. Instead of practicing until you’re decent at something and then taking a siesta, practicing just a little longer could be the fast track to solidifying a skill. “Overlearning” is the process of rehearsing a skill even after you no longer improve. Even though you seem to have already learned the skill, you continue to practice at that same level of difficulty. A recent study – below suggests that this extra practice could be a handy way to lock in your hard-earned skills.
Overlearning refers to the continued training of a skill after performance improvement has plateaued. Whether overlearning is beneficial is a question in our daily lives that has never been clearly answered. Here we report a new important role: overlearning in humans abruptly changes neurochemical processing, to hyperstabilize and protect trained perceptual learning from subsequent new learning. Usually, learning immediately after training is so unstable that it can be disrupted by subsequent new learning until after passive stabilization occurs hours later. However, overlearning so rapidly and strongly stabilizes the learning state that it not only becomes resilient against, but also disrupts, subsequent new learning. Such hyperstabilization is associated with an abrupt shift from glutamate-dominant excitatory to GABA-dominant inhibitory processing in early visual areas. Hyperstabilization contrasts with passive and slower stabilization, which is associated with a mere reduction of excitatory dominance to baseline levels. Using hyperstabilization may lead to efficient learning paradigms.