52 - Optional Part 2 Learning Something New

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 52

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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52 - Optional Part 2 Learning Something New

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Well, let me ask you this now.

When you yourself are faced

with a new concept or

you’re trying to figure out something

brand new and it’s difficult,

what advice would you have in general for

learners to be able to grapple with and

assimilate these new ideas or solve

a new area that they’re first facing?

Well, just like with the test

question that we talked about.

I think there are a lot of different

ways to approach a difficult task.

And in fact, as we were thinking

about talking about this issue.

Rich and I realize that we

approach things differently.

I’m a rather big picture person

more of a global kind of learner.

And so often when I’m looking

at some difficult material,

I’ll take time if I have

something chapter or

if I have some sort of text,

I’ll look through it.

I’ll just skim through.

I’ll read a little at the end.

I’ll pick up a piece here and there and

then begin to dig in a little bit deeper,

but I do better when I sort

of have a general sense of what it

is I’m supposed to be learning.

I might skip to the back and

look at what kind of problems am I

supposed to be able to solve with this.

And so when you’re working in

discipline is where problem solving

is an important part, that can be a way to

get into it to begin to make sense of it.

And the way that I differ from Rebecca

is I’m a strongly sequential learner.

And so I take the first step,

then the next step, then the next step.

But again, I never learned anything

passively, anything nontrivial.

If it’s just a simple fact or

definition of the term, I can read it and

memorize it.

But if it’s really conceptually

difficult whether it’s part of

a problem solving procedure or derivation

that I’m trying to work through or

anything else, the only way I

learn anything is by doing it.

So read this and

then I’ll try to explain it to myself.

When I’ve learned things best of anything

at all is when I’ve had to teach and

I think practically, every teacher

would tell you the same thing.

I thought I knew this stuff.

I got As in all those

courses back in college, but

it wasn’t until I had to explain to these

students that I was teaching that I

found out that I really didn’t understand

it at the level I thought I did.

And so I try to find examples.

I try to find clear ways of

explaining difficult concepts.

And in the course of doing that,

that’s when the real understanding came.

And so this is another strong argument,

among other things for working in groups.

If you’re working with other people and


you’re trying to figure something out and

you get a certain point and

then you try to explain it to the others.

You’re reinforcing your understanding and

they may or may not understand it after

you’re finished figuring out how

to explain it, but boy do you.

And so those two pieces of advice.

I learn by doing things like trying them.

If it’s a mathematical method or procedure

or something in physics or in engineering,

then I try to work out the solution

myself without looking back at the book,

the text or whatever it is.

And when I can do it by myself without

referring back, then obviously,

I know how to do it.

And then to really reinforce

that understanding,

it’s explaining it to someone else.

Put those two things together and

well, at least how I learn.

I think using your resources too,

whatever those resources may be.

You’ve got text, you’ve got things online.

You have people who really understand

that difficult thing that you’re trying

to learn.

And so not being afraid to just go out,

ask questions.

Work with all the resources you have

to try to find what’s going to work for

you to make it clear, to make you

more confident in how you’re doing.


Playing off that,

one of my biggest problems as a professor

is getting students to ask questions.

They don’t want to do it and

it’s not that well, sometimes they’re so

confused that they don’t know what to ask.

But much more often,

it’s a matter of fear.

If I ask a question in class,

it could be seen by my classmates as

a dumb question and we as instructors

can make all of the pretty

speeches we want about how

there are no dumb questions.

All questions are good,

because they teach.

Forget that.

The students are not buying that and

besides, to be perfectly honest,

there are dumb questions.


And we’ve all heard them.

And so the student is reasoning,

if I open my mouth to ask a question,

I could be perceived as dumb by my

colleagues, my classmates, my professor.

If I keep my mouth shut,

I’m risking nothing.

And so they don’t ask and

I also can’t persuade most of

them to come to my office.

I have office hours every week in which

I tell the students, I’m there for you.

I promise I will be there.

I will be welcoming of any

questions that you ask.

I’ll find out where

you’re getting stuck and

you won’t leave my office until you

have the answer to that question.

Maybe for the same fear,

they don’t want to come.

And so they’re not taking advantage of the

resources that Rebecca was referring to.

And if a student can be persuaded

to overcome that fear and just ask,

either in class or

in the office in five minutes,

they can get things cleared up

that they could spend three hours

at home banging their heads against and

not getting clear.

Let me go back to a couple

points I made before.

The best way to get the illusion

of competence when you don’t

really understand something

is to listen to a lecture or

to read a text like a novel or

to read over old homework solutions and

imagine that you understand them,

because you don’t.

The best way to get over the illusion

of competence is to do it.

Solve the problem again without

looking back at the old solution.

Work out the derivation one step at time

without looking back at the textbook or

your lecture notes, or whatever it is.

And when you can do it by

yourself without looking,

get any reference, when you can reproduce

that solution entirely by yourself,

then it’s not an illusion of competence.

Clearly you can do it, because you did it.

But it’s not until you do it, actually

unaided that you can rest that okay,

I’m ready for the test or

whatever it may be.

This can also be a good time for

working with your peers.

Taking turns, explaining,

perhaps a worked out example

in the text explaining it

step by step to each other.

When you start trying to verbalize it,

then you begin to see.

Well, wait a minute.

I I thought I knew how

they made that step.

But when I try to explain it, I don’t.

So what’s going on?

Let’s look at it.

And so I think that working with other

people can really help you in that

way too.

So one of the things that you can do

to make sure you are thinking about

all the different aspects of the subject

that you’re trying to understand and

it’s to set it up,

look at a complex system that might be

used in a problem in your text and

then just think about.

What are the things that a teacher

might ask me to do with this system?

And in working through that,

you begin to think about all of

the elements that need to be in place.

So that’s a great way to study for a test.

It’s also a great way to sort of get

past that illusion of competency.

Because as you’re looking at it and

as you’re working through the example and

what which you think you might be asked,

you’ll uncover some things that maybe you

don’t know as well as you thought you did.

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