22 - Overlearning, Choking, Einstellung, and Interleavingدوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 22
22 - Overlearning, Choking, Einstellung, and Interleaving
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When you’re learning a new idea, for
example a new vocabulary word or
a new concept or
a new problem solving approach,
you sometimes tend to practice it over and
over again during the same study session.
A little of this is useful and
necessary, but continuing to study or
practice after you’ve mastered what you
can in the session is called overlearning.
Overleaning can have its place.
It can produce an automaticity
that can be important when you’re
executing a serve in tennis or
a perfect piano concerto.
If you choke on tests or public speaking,
overlearning can be especially valuable.
Did you know that even expert public
speakers practice on the order
of 70 hours for
a typical 20-minute TED Talk?
Automaticity can indeed be helpful
in times of nervousness, but
be wary of repetitive overlearning
during a single session.
Research has shown it can be
a waste of valuable learning time.
The reality is, once you’ve got
the basic idea down during a session,
continuing to hammer away at it during the
same session doesn’t strengthen the kinds
of long term memory connections
you want to have strengthened.
Worse yet, focusing on one technique
is a little like learning carpentry
by only practicing with a hammer.
After awhile you think you can fix
anything by just bashing at it.
Using a subsequent study session to repeat
what you’re trying to learn is just fine
and often valuable.
It can strengthen and
deepen your chunked neuron patterns.
But be wary; repeating something
you already know perfectly well,
is, face it, easy.
It can also bring the illusion of
competence that you’ve mastered the full
range of material, when you’ve
actually only mastered the easy stuff.
Instead, you want to balance your
studies by deliberately focusing on
what you find more difficult.
This focusing on the more difficult
material is called deliberate practice.
It’s often what makes the difference
between a good student and
a great student.
All this is also related to
a concept known as Einstellung.
In this phenomenon,
your initial simple thought, an idea
you already have in mind or a neural
pattern you’ve already developed and
strengthened, may prevent a better idea or
solution from being found.
We saw this in the focus pinball picture,
where your initial pinball of thought
went to the upper part of the brain,
but the solution thought
pattern was in the lower part.
The crowded bumpers of the focus mode and
the previous patterns you
built can create a sort of rut
that prevents you from springing to a new
place where the solution might be found.
Incidentally, the German word
einstellung means mindset.
Basically you can remember
einstellung as installing a roadblock
because of the way you were
initially looking at something.
This kind of wrong approach is
especially easy to do in sports and
science, not to mention other disciplines,
because sometimes your initial
intuition about what’s happening or
what you need to be doing is misleading.
You have to unlearn your
erroneous older ideas or
approaches even while
you’re learning new ones.
One significant mistake
students sometimes make
in learning is jumping into
the water before they learn to swim.
In other words, they blindly start working
on homework without reading the text book,
viewing online lessons, or
even speaking with someone knowledgeable.
This is a recipe for sinking.
It’s like randomly allowing a thought to,
kind of pop off in the focus mode pinball
machine, without paying any real attention
to where the solution truly lies.
Understanding how to obtain real solutions
is important in learning and in life.
Mastering a new subject means learning
not only the basic chunks, but
also learning how to select and
use different chunks.
The best way to learn that is by
practicing jumping back and forth between
problems or situations that require
different techniques or strategies.
This is called interleaving.
Once you have the basic idea of the
technique down during your study session,
sort of like learning to ride
a bike with training wheels,
start interleaving your practice
with problems of different types or
different types of approaches,
Sometimes this can be
a little tough to do.
A given section in a book, for
example, is often devoted to
a specific technique, so when you flip
to that section you already know which
technique you’re going to be using.
Still, do what you can
to mix up your learning.
In science and math in particular it
can help to look ahead at the more
varied problem sets that are sometimes
found at the end of chapters.
Or you can deliberately try
to make yourself occasionally
pick out why some problems call for
one technique as opposed to another.
You want your brain to become used to
the idea that just knowing how to use
a particular concept, approach, or
problem-solving technique isn’t enough.
You also need to know when to use it.
Interleaving your studies,
making it a point to review for a test,
for example, by skipping around through
problems in the different chapters and
materials can sometimes seem to make your
learning a little more difficult, but
it helps you learn more deeply.
Interleaving is extraordinarily important.
Although practice and
repetition is important in helping
build solid neural patterns to draw on,
it’s interleaving that starts
building flexibility and creativity.
It’s where you leave the world
of practice and repetition, and
begin thinking more independently.
When you interleave within one subject or
you begin to develop your creative
power within that discipline.
When you interleave between
several subjects or disciplines,
you can more easily make
interesting new connections between
chunks in the different fields, which can
enhance your creativity even further.
Of course it takes time to develop solid
chunks of knowledge in different fields,
so sometimes there’s a trade off.
Developing expertise in several fields
means you can bring very new ideas
from one field to the other, but
it can also mean that your
expertise in one field or the other
isn’t quite as deep as that of the person
who specializes in only one discipline.
On the other hand, if you develop
expertise in only one discipline,
you may know it very deeply but
you may become more deeply entrenched
in your familiar way of thinking and
not be able to handle new ideas.
Philosopher of science
Thomas Kuhn discovered that most
paradigm shifts in science are brought
about either young people or
people who were originally trained
in a different discipline.
They’re not so
easily trapped by einstellung, blocked
thoughts due to their preceding training.
And of course there’s the old saying that
science progresses one funeral at a time
as people entrenched in the old
ways of looking at things die off.
Finally, don’t make the mistake
of thinking that learning
only occurs in the kinds of subjects
you acquire from teachers or books.
When you teach a child how to
deal effectively with a bully, or
you fix a leaky faucet, or you quickly
pack a small suitcase for a business trip
to Hong Kong, all of these illustrate the
outcomes of important aspects of learning.
Physicist Richard Feynman was inspired
in his Nobel Prize-winning work
by watching someone throw a dinner
plate into the air in a cafeteria.
Mike Rowe of the television
shows Dirty Jobs and
Somebody’s Gotta Do It
shows how important and
exciting learning can be in a variety
of different, non-academic disciplines.
I’m Barbara Oakley.
Thanks for learning about learning.
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