Thinking, Learning & Activities – September 27, 2020

🤔 💬 Thinking About Problems – Efficient and Effective Learning

(This is an issue I have but I think other people have it to so the writing below is somewhat directed at other people).

I think that I and other people misuse certain learning-related techniques (like note-taking). I think that school causes this problem. I think this is a serious problem and can be a difficult one to fix.

In school you often try to copy down what the teacher says pretty verbatim so you can have reference material for the test. You also try to cram the contents of textbooks so you can regurgitate them for the test. You’re not focusing on things like what concepts you’re actually having trouble with or interested in. You’re just doing pretty rote note-taking and memorization. In the school context, this approach makes some sense.

This approach works badly if you try to learn stuff on your own initiative. One of the problems with following this approach is increasing the cost and reducing the usefulness of trying to do things like taking notes. If you’re not selective and focused, you can get overwhelmed and tired. You make your learning more expensive (in time, energy, and effort) and less productive. That’s really bad. So this seems like an important thing to try to address.

Notes, flashcards, summaries, and other study tools are for you. You must keep this in mind. This stuff is for your benefit and your learning. So if you don’t see the point of using one of those tools for a particular passage, chapter or book, then don’t.

If you try to learn things while doing stuff you think is pointless, you will be less effective. I think that I and others do activities that we associate with learning in some way. This is a bit like cargo-culting. The activities can be good in the right context – the context being that you are actually using them in an effective way to accomplish a goal that you actually want to accomplish. But if you’re doing them out of habit without a clear reason why, that’s bad.

It is important to have a first-handed judgment about the utility of some activity that you are doing as part of your learning. Don’t take it on authority that, for example, making flashcards when trying to learn a language is a good idea. Rather, try it out some and do it if you have the experience that making flashcards is helpful. Also think carefully about the scope of the activity. You might only need to make flashcards for some vocabulary or conjugations you find particularly difficult, rather than everything.

📖 🤔💬 Thoughts on a Book – Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

From Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics:

After spending years assuring people that the whole game in meditation is just to begin again, it turns out I was mouthing the words without truly absorbing their significance. It reminded me of how my two-year-old son, Alexander, would walk around the house, repeating our disciplinary injunctions: “Be careful!” he would cry as he was knocking over a lamp. Or “No circles!” as he whirled like a dervish. And my favorite: the singsongy “No, no, no!” as he inched his hand toward the electrical sockets.

I thought this was interesting. The “disciplinary injunctions” are apparently not doing the job that they were intended to do. The author does not appear to be treating this as a serious issue, though. It is a serious issue. Parents should be able to convey to their child why actions like sticking one’s hand in an electrical socket is a bad idea. Orders are apparently ineffective at this. The child’s life is at stake but the parent does not appear to be re-examining their ineffective methods.

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