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Perceptual learning, by contrast, does not depend upon explanations of the underlying concepts. Instead, the program used to teach the straight-line equation may flash up a graph and ask which of three alternative written descriptions conveys the same information. Or it may show an equation and ask which of three graphs it describes. After each selection, students are told whether they were right or wrong, and the key elements that define the correct match are highlighted in different colours.
At first, the students may have to guess. But as they progress they attain "mastery" levels and, from time to time, are shown what percentage of answers they got right and how long they are taking, on average, to respond. This feedback seems to tap into the psyche of the video game generation. "It's just fun," says Christopher Allen, another member of the class who found himself trying to answer as quickly as he could. "At the end, the amount of time it took was about a quarter of what it was originally."
Most importantly, as students learned the patterns they gained a deeper understanding without having to make a conscious effort to memorise anything. "It takes on new meaning," says Haimer. "There's nothing to forget, because there's nothing to remember."