Saturday, December 14, 2013

Learning how to Learn

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”~ Alvin Toffler
"I want to give you a yardstick, a gold standard, by which to measure good schooling.  The Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine, will teach you how to build a three thousand square-foot, multi-level Cape Cod home in three weeks' time, whatever your age.  If you stay another week, it will show you how to make your own posts and beams; you'll actually cut them out and set them up.  You'll learn wiring, plumbing, insulation, the works.  Twenty thousand people have learned to build a house there for about the cost of one month's tuition in public school."~ John Taylor Gatto 
As my friend JD pointed out in an email yesterday, people of my generation are quickly learning why old men used to yell at the kids to "get off my lawn".  Their focus narrows, their world becomes smaller, and the world starts leaving them behind.  My father worked on TV's for 30 years, last Christmas my brother talked him into ditching the VCR and getting a DVR.  At 80 years old, he has yet to tape a program on the DVR, he can't figure out how it works.  I'm 45 years old, and the bitcoin thing is a mystery to me, so is nanotech, so are all my son's games like Minecraft and XBox.  Get off my lawn, with all your crazy talk about flying cars and robot's!

When thinking about how you and/or your family need to prepare for a world where change is coming exponentially, not incrementally, and where knowledge is becoming obsolete incredibly fast, I would suggest we've got to learn how to learn differently that we were taught.

Part of the ability to do so is technological and that's the easy part... at one time if you wanted to learn Algebra there were one, or maybe two, people in your neighborhood/city/community who could teach it.  Most often they were affiliated with the designated learning place in your community - the school.  Now, there are thousands of resources to learn Algebra, or history, or a foreign language, or anything else,. at your fingertips.  But, the great challenge is... the way we were taught to learn.

I flunked out of college when I first went... some six years later I graduated Summa Cum Laude.   I thought, I had learned how to learn.  In fact, I learned how to take test and study for those test.  The lessons I learned were really two:  First, I memorized more writing, than listening - so I copied my notes, the notes of good note takers, and rewrote key pieces of the text books.  Second, I learned to find out what the teacher/professors position was and spit it back to them on the test and in conversation. Neither of which, I'm convinced, are what it really takes to learn quickly and efficiently.  But, both were pretty effective at getting better grades on test.

Tim Ferriss is a leader in the field on learning skills quickly - listen to this podcast with him, Bryan Callen, and Hunter Maats discussing meta learning.  Tune into Tim's new show - The Tim Ferriss Experiment, buy his books. - One of the thing Tim talks about a lot is the Pareto Principle - "(which) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes."  Tim suggests that learning 80% of most things is good enough to be 'literate' in that skill, and in some cases takes much less time that you think it will.  We've learned in sports, and in the classroom, to drill, drill, drill in order to learn something... there may be some truth in drill, drill, drill... but you've to be sure it's the right drills, and very often it isn't mere repetition that gets you the 80% of knowledge you need about any subject.  But, my 11 year old still comes home from school with pages of math problems, and many people still go to the driving range and pound golf balls till their hands are red and callused.

What does the platform look like to make learning how to learn, and rapidly learning new skills look like?  They're not teaching it anywhere in k-16.  Access to learning opportunities has been the easy part, now we need to build systems that work on the most important piece - teaching people how to differentiate what's important and learn new skills at the same pace as innovation.

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