Learning and Need

As someone who finds random topics fascinating, I am always challenged to get good at what I want to learn.  Having spent years studying Japanese, and being admittedly not comfortable with spoken casual Japanese, I wonder how to get better at this. Same thing goes for programming, photography, etc.

This has left me pondering on this topic:  How do we get good at our given skills?

Over the years I have found I have been most successful at learning things that solved more problems for me than the act of learning the given skill created. This has some profound implications.  How often have we learned subjects in school, only to learn enough to get us through the exam, and shortly thereafter forget all or most of what we spent so much time studying?  The skills were often not immediately useful, and often they weren’t even useful long term.  Yes granted that a lot of these concepts are all around us every day, but most often the details are looked after by those who make their living taking care of those details.  Example, the engineer who does the math to figure out how much a load bearing beam can handle when engineering a structure.

Whereas often a lot of rote-learning requires a lot of time for artificial memorization, or artificial problem solving.  I have found when the problems become real, and need to be solved, everything seams to magically click.  Moreover the pesky ‘whys’ we always troubled over in school become immediately obvious. If the learning is creating more trouble than it is solving, often the learner becomes burned out and the effort ceases.  Another good intention left unfinished.

What I propose as a solution to this is that we spend more time figuring out the problems we need to solve when we set out on learning, so that we can better match what we are learning to what it can do for us.  Fair example with computer programming, there are great movements to make coding part of computer literacy programs. Without specific problems that coding solves, this will be remain an obscure skill that only few master.  Rather we should teach people how algorithms and computing code can take a very tedious labor intensive repetitive task and set the machine loose on it.  This leaves us with more time to focus on other tasks, skills, hobby’s where our limited time can be better spent.

I know there are exception cases where people learn despite the fact that learning was harder than the problem it solved.  It would be a good conversation point on how these people persevered despite the circumstances.

How has learning made your life easier.  Or how has learning made your life harder?

-Chris

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3 Replies to “Learning and Need”

  1. This is a good point: “…when the problems become real, and need to be solved, everything seams to magically click.” As soon as we think: “what’s the point?” our mind is surely answering with “there is no point” and ceases to absorb what we are trying to learn. Some students seem to have it easier and the process of learning seems to be reason enough.

    1. Yeah. It always amazes me when students have no problem learning something. I know when I look back at some of the topics from high school they make more sense to me now than they did back then. It also has a lot to do with thinking from problem-solution approach as opposed to solution no real problem approach. Another benefit is having Youtube and other resources now to see people explain how the theory connects to practice.

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