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learning

Seven principles of learning

This is a short summary of a post by Scott Young that itself summarises the learning principles presented in Why don’t students like school, by Daniel Willingham. I’ve added the book to my reading list based on Scott’s recommendation.

Here are the principles from Scott’s post (with some of my own comments in italics):

  1. Factual knowledge precedes skill. Before you can understand complex ideas or be creative you need a sound knowledge base. See spaced repetition as an example of how to improve here. Anki is a useful app for this.
  2. Memory is the residue of thought. We remember what we think about. You can improve this skill by looking away from what you’ve just read and paraphrasing the text in your notes. It’s important not to simply copy the words (i.e. rewrite them) but to put them into your own words. Hypothesi.is will enable you to do this for most content that you access through the browser.
  3. We understand new things in the context of what we already know. This makes it difficult to learn abstract concepts, since we need to use metaphor and analogies to connect related ideas. Mind mapping might be a useful tool to think about in this context. Also, see the first principle.
  4. Proficiency requires practice. You need to be proficient in basic skills before you can progress to more complex ones. Focused repetition with feedback (see deliberate practice) is important.
  5. Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training. Knowledge creation (research) and knowledge acquisition (learning) are different and therefore require different approaches. We’re not training people to become academics so we need to be sure that they can learn before we teach them how to create new knowledge.
  6. People are more alike than different in how we learn. Don’t spend too much time thinking about learning styles because learning styles aren’t real.
  7. Intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work. The genetic component of intelligence, combined with a sustained, nurturing learning environment, can see a relatively small advantage compound over time. And this doesn’t need to be in the form of complete lifestyle changes. Small, consistent changes in our habits can result in massive changes over time in how we live and learn.