Learning by making marginal gains

Learning by making marginal gains
Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning at Kaplan, explains why students really should sweat the small stuff

One reason why problems can be hard to solve is because people look for the one big thing that will make the difference. Consider a student who has just failed an exam by 10 marks. One way of improving would be to identify your weakest subject area and focus on that. However, there may be a complementary alternative, it’s called the aggregation of marginal gains.
Back in 2003, Dave Brailsford became the new Performance Director for the British cycling team, up until then Britain had only won one Olympic gold medal since 1908. Five years following Brailsford’s appointment the British team dominated cycling, winning 8 golds at Beijing and a further 8 four years later in London. But how was this turnaround possible?
Brailsford applied the principle of marginal gains by breaking everything down that went into riding a bike and improving each process by just 1%. The result was that when these small changes were combined there was a significant increase in performance. Some of what he did was seemingly unimportant and included, getting everyone a good mattress to improve sleep, changing diet to maximise energy levels and washing hands properly to avoid infection.
But how would this work for studying? What small changes could be made to improve exam performance? Maybe getting a good night’s sleep, increasing the amount of water you drink, studying 10 more minutes every day or having a bespoke study area.
Each relatively insignificant on its own but together they might add up to 10 more marks!