I’ve nearly finished with Coursera’s Learning How to Learn course. Here are the big ideas I’ve picked up along the way:
We remember what we think about.
I first heard this from reading Daniel Willingham’s work. It keeps coming up. This is important because it seems straightforward and intuitive, but it’s actually not so easy to align our learning and teaching to this principle.
Getting good at something requires thinking about it over many weeks/months/years. At the same time, there’s only so much you can do in a single day.
Again, this isn’t a new idea, and research on spaced repetition, interleaving, etc. has been telling us this for a while. But if I take a critical look at how I learn, my learning isn’t always set up to value this kind of extended thinking and practice. And as far as I can tell, there’s not much we can do to rush the process.
No matter how well-designed the learning task, it is virtually always possible to do it in a way that doesn’t require good thinking/learning habits.
This is another tough one to deal with, because finishing a task feels so good, and making new connections and thinking hard is so uncomfortable. It’s difficult to be accountable to yourself and other people to make sure that you’re practicing the right things in the right way. And it’s ever so easy to cheat.
It’s difficult to monitor/control how learners are thinking and learning.
I need to keep sitting with this for a while, because it has pretty big implications for teaching and assessment. This idea ties in to loads of the things we teachers talk about — metacognition, motivation, assessment, revisions, the content vs. skills debate, and so on.
A big part of being good at something is the ability to have aspects of the current task remind you of things you’ve already done.
People who are good at a discipline have a vast knowledge base and are great at making connections. One thing I’ve been thinking about is: how do people develop that expertise?
Making new mental connections is uncomfortable, even painful.
For me, there’s a certain joy that comes with learning new things at a very superficial level, but practicing real proficiency is so difficult. That’s a big part of what leads to procrastination.
Even thinking ahead to focused practice can be uncomfortable.
I’ve only recently realized this about myself. This is one of the main things that leads me to procrastinate. I know how hard it’s going to be to start a task that I’ve planned for later in the day, so I spend the whole day torturing myself thinking about how uncomfortable it’s going to be to start. It’s not just studying — it’s similar to the feeling I get before jumping into cold water, or sending an email I’ve been putting off. That also might be one of the reasons that taking a class can help people learn — you know the class is happening at the appointed time, so there’s no point fretting about it, and you can’t put it off, because it’s definitely going to happen. I think it’s might be better to just set the time for doing it, and put off thinking about it until then. When it’s time to start, just start.