The Science of Learning

Learning about learning — Pretentious concept or functionally viable

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and people I know are maturing (great to witness btw, I see you there; talking about mental health and socially redeeming issues — gold stars for everyone) or the community itself is becoming more active, maybe I’m mixing more in the right circles, but there’s constant dialogue on social media about utilising skills and art. People are showcasing what they do, and what’s even more impressive is the response they’re getting. I’m young; but I can confidently say this is the most supportive I’ve ever seen the culture. The attitude is changing towards young people trying to pave their own path and even better — their vision for progressing themselves.

A lot of this is to do with the internet *I know I talk about the internet a lot but it’s literally the biggest thing we’ve had since possibly the wheel or fire*. The internet is a global conversation where anyone can pitch in or listen at any point; that breeds opportunity. Lots of opportunity. The internet also has no signs of slowing down (this is swerving into a topic for another post but yeah, you get it. Internet is cool as hell and it’s here to stay).

Now the reason I mentioned all this seemingly irrelevant butterflies, rainbows, and positivity stuff is because it sets the scene for a very exciting time. We’re currently in the foreword of a revolution. We have the resources, we definitely have the talent/ability, and we’re finally gaining the unity. People are starting to understand that helping others around them improves their life too (even better some people are trying to help because of the goodness in their soul — extra gold starts for you). Now is the time to be learning new skills and to be applying the knowledge you have to better yourself. The odds are in your favour and for one of the first times ever you have a platform where people actually want to see you succeed.

Learning is always good. In fact it’s an evolutionary imperative — a lot of the time we don’t even decide what we learn. Everything we see teaches us something new and we’ve already learned many lessons we’re unaware of. Do you check chairs can hold your weight every time you sit down? No. Because you’ve learned to trust them. It’s what they’re designed for. Why wouldn’t they hold your weight? We need to be conscious of what we learn because learning via inappropriate channels can make us ignorant and only give us one side of a story.

The study of learning about learning comes under Metacognition. Metacognition borrows from the greek word ‘meta’ meaning beyond and basically translates to ‘thinking about thinking’. The key points I’ve identified in my research are:

  1. We learn new ideas by relating them to scenarios we know and then committing this to our long term memory.
  2. Repetition gives our brain practice retrieving data from our long term memory and helps us retrieve said data when needing to apply it.
  3. Problem solving requires a deep understanding of the subject matter and it’s structure and relies heavily on background knowledge.
  4. Learning requires committing information from short term memory to long term memory. Short term memory has a limited capacity and overloading this can be counter productive.
  5. Acknowledgement of thinking is important to understand conclusions reached and best ways to mentally progress through a situation.

One of the most important things which is often overlooked is that learning isn’t just about remembering information. Anybody can remember, that doesn’t make you any more intelligent — it makes you more knowledgeable. Intelligence is determined by how you apply the knowledge that you have. To transfer skills people need an in-depth understanding of a problem and it’s components — this allows you to see patterns and to relate things you’ve learned to the situation that you’re in. Although these are the basic principles of learning everybody is different and some will be more effective than others. Learning how to learn is one of the most important things you’ll ever learn (lot of learns there) because it gives you the power to find power (it’s like the cheat wish where you wish for more wishes, everyone wants that).

I can’t tell you how to learn for yourself, and frankly I wouldn’t anyway because it would defeat the point, but what I can tell you is that you should be analysing what you do. Not expecting you to be conscious of everything — but you should be analysing why you reach conclusions and how you came to them. Understanding yourself is paramount to progression. By understanding yourself you can apply that knowledge to other systems and find the best scenario for you to flourish. We’re living in a time where we have much more opportunity than our parents did, we should use it.

I want to end this post by talking about one of my favourite things about learning. Learning is exponential. Everything you learn lets you learn new things, and at a faster rate. I’m 21 at the moment, but I’ve learnt more in my 21st year than I have from 17–20 combined. I used to feel overwhelmed when trying to understand certain concepts or thinking too big. But if I keep learning at the rate I am — I won’t recognise myself by 35. Who knows, maybe I’ll understand the concepts to a level I’m happy with, maybe I’ll learn I don’t care that much and that other things are more important. Either way I’m curious and if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that learning is only limited by imagination and information — and as life would have it, we were born in the information age.

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