22 - Overlearning, Choking, Einstellung, and Interleaving

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 22

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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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,

attending lectures,

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,

concepts, procedures.

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

in reality,

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

one discipline,

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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