Day 2 - Interrogating mnemonics over 20 hours / by Andreas Kopriva

Hello everyone! 

For day 2 of our 7 day perusal of the wonderful world of learning I watched a couple of TED talks and read a few articles which predominantly focus on the success rates of different types of learning. 

First up, Simon Oxenham in an overview of a paper published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, summarizes ten techniques used to improve learning. Ordered in terms of efficacy, from lowest to high, these are : 

  1. Summarization
  2. Highlighting 
  3. The keyword mnemonic 
  4. Imagery use for text learning
  5. Rereading 
  6. Elaborative interrogation 
  7. Self-explanation 
  8. Interleaved practice
  9. Practice testing 
  10. Distributed Practice

Practices 1 - 5 rate low in terms of efficacy, 6-8 moderate while Practice testing and Distributed Practice rate the highest. I urge you to go and check out the article, as Simon's summaries are very well put together and he does go into a certain degree of depth without being too overwhelming. If you'd like to go through the entire paper feel free to do so by clicking here

Basically, according to the stated list - items 1-5 are probably the most common methods most students use. Personally, I can say that as recently as a few months ago, I rewrote, re-read, summarized and highlight all the notes I had taken for Statics and Architectural Technology to prepare for the exam. I had also employed visualizing (so #4) trying to figure out what was actually happening in a beam under strain.

Items 6-8,  the moderately successful methods, are something that I haven't really practiced that much throughout the years, or at least not in the way they're presented here. Elaborative interrogation revolves around creating explanations about why something may be true or not, and is highly correlated with the amount of knowledge one already may have on the subject, as that largely determines how good the questions you ask yourself will be. Personally, I have reflected on a number of issues, and have carried out a sort of self-interrogation/inner dialogue in an effort to comprehend a subject. 

Self-Explanation revolves around explaining your steps in solving a problem. I can relate to this as it's something that I engage in at uni regularly when explaining decisions made while building/designing an architectural construct. I can further contextualize this in other fields that I have experience with - such as trying to come up with a story for a short movie where dialogue with a friend/associate helps see the subject in a slightly different light and begin understanding it a bit better. 

Interleaved learning is based on studying problems in different fields a bit more haphazardly. I interpret this as drawing on a sort of universality of knowledge and finding connections, creating metaphors and contextualizing a particular problem in a different way so as to see if from a different perspective. 

The most successful methods though appear to be self-testing and distributed practice. Practice and intermittent testing is a fantastic way to learn in my opinion. Sites such as Digital Tutors, for example, or the majority of MOOCs out there,  include mini quizzes and tests which really help cement some of the fundamental principles covered in each small module. I haven't yet tried making my own tests but there is a form online which appears to be a useful starting point. Check out the pdf here.

Distributed practice is also something that I can vouch for as I implemented it while learning to play the classical guitar a decade and a bit ago. I saw the best results when I would have a piece broken down to small chunks which I would practice daily for a week until the next lesson. By the time we would have reached the end of the piece, I would have most of it memorized. 

Related to the above, I checked out the TED talk by Marc Chun embedded below which, among other things,  focuses on the concept of transfer, meaning the application of former or parallel knowledge to new problems. Through an entertaining paradigm, this is tested out by either being provided with a tool which you may apply to a possible problem (007 with Q's provided gadgets) or by focusing on the end result and figuring out a way to make that happen (MacGyver  - I want to blow up that boat but all I have is some chocolate and a rock). 

The summary for today then would be that I have gained a better understanding of how different systems may be employed which help to facilitate learning a bit better than methods I have gotten used to over time. Furthermore, I tracked down another TED talk which I found to be pretty awesome and which, in a way, inspired this whole project. I've embedded it below:

Throughout this talk, Josh mentions the whole 10,000hr thing that we have mentioned here in the past and about how it was transformed from an observation by Dr. Ericsson about expert level performance in a very narrow field of disciplines (chess, violin playing and a few competitive sports) to the necessary amount of time to learn anything through Gladwell's Outliers book. The success of the book lead to a global game of telephone where this shift from scientific observation (narrow skill set practiced by elite performers) was generalized to pretty much learning anything. 

As Josh states in the talk above, this really isn't true. Through an efficient learning methodology, pretty much anyone can become competent in something in around 20 hours. His method involves 4 steps : 

  1. Deconstructing the skill - deciding exactly what you want to learn and break it down to more manageable chunks 
  2. Learning enough to self-correct - through acquiring some basic knowledge you gain the ability to self-edit yourself during practice
  3. Removing barriers to practice - insulating yourself from distractions which would hurt your practice session
  4. Practice for at least 20 hours - overcoming the frustration barrier that early failure brings out

He then wraps up the talk by stating something I sincerely agree with by stating that learning a new thing is not an intellectual challenge but largely an emotional one. We appear to be so terrified of failing and not being good at something that we'd rather not try. 

Through this small project, I'm trying to see exactly how much can be learned in a small period of time, and possibly, how that may affect my outlook and life in general through these explorations. 

Tomorrow I'll be looking into a few more similar talks and articles and will be approaching Edward de Bono's vast knowledge pool on lateral thinking . 

Until then - ferret.