Why ‘learning by doing’ is crucial for your growth?

This is how everyone should approach knowledge acquisition. But why?

There is a reason why engineers are well trained to solve problems. They acquire their engineering skills by first ‘doing’ multiple smaller projects in most of their classes. Whether the outcome is a successful one or a total flop, it doesn’t matter. What matters most is that student goes through the process of ‘learning by doing’.

Why taking action is more important then just passive listening or reading?

The reason ‘learning by doing’ is important is because true learning begins when you apply what you hear or read. The act of ‘doing’ questions the blurry concept that was initially seeded in your brain. That is why most people struggle when they first want to use their newfound knowledge. It hasn’t yet solidify.

A concept is like a seed when it first enters your brain. In the case of a real seed, you’ll need to shower it with water and sunlight for it to germinate. Likewise, for a new concept to take root in your brain, you need to constantly try to apply it and practice using it in different scenarios. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. When you have used a new concept sufficiently, it becomes a skill you have mastered. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it in his book Outlier, mastery takes ~10,ooo hours of practice.

Definition of a new concept

When lecturer regurgitate what they know out to their students, they can never be comprehensive enough to cover everything that is required for a full understanding. A good lecturer might be able to bring across an idea very successfully to students that most would thought they had understood a great deal of it. Even so, come application time, most students struggle with it. Why is it so?

One reason being each concept is an amalgamation of multiple smaller concepts. For instance, the understanding of the concept of addition in mathematics requires first the understanding of numbers and operators on numbers. Without these prior knowledge being fully understood by students, it is almost impossible to make sense of what addition really means.

Concept as rules

Another reason is that when a concept is applied to different scenarios, that same concept yields different results. This is because each concept has certain rules attached to it. When operating in a particular scenario, you will yield a certain result. Back to the same example of addition, when you perform the operations 1+1=2 and 1.5+3=4.5, you’ll realize that the addition sign yields different result in each case. However, each outcome does follows a certain set of pattern when used with the addition operator. The pattern actually follows the rules of addition, or what we term the concept of addition.

Most often, the rules are not spelt out comprehensively due to time constraints allocated for a lecture, or there are too many rules attached to a concept for students to remember or absorb. Lecturers will normally just go through one or two examples of applying a new concept to aid in students’ comprehension. As a result, it becomes hard when they first try to use that concept in a new scenario that was not covered in class.

In research, to come out with a new finding, researchers need to first learn the state-of-the-art. This sometimes means repeating what others have done. Often, this is not easy as authors don’t reveal everything or they expect their readers to know most of the well known concepts in the field. Especially for budding scientists or researchers trying to repeat the latest technology, it turns out to be an extremely daunting task as they realized there were many smaller associated concepts that were not understood yet.

Figuring out the rules

When you begin to apply the concept, that is when you start to figure out subtleties or minor blindspots that are not spelt out clearly at first. Some of these subtleties might require you to read another reference book to expose unstated rules, or to consult the lecturer after his class, or to watch a Youtube video that expose the hidden truth, or to just simply google on google scholar for an answer… the list goes on.

In closing…

Learning by doing is by far the most efficient and effective way to test your understanding of a concept. If you can’t use the concept to solve an intended problem, you haven’t fully grasped the concept just yet. So keep working at it until you are able to achieve full comprehension. Good luck!

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