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Preparing to Learn

Learning to Learn

Your path for most effective learning is through knowing

    • yourself
    • your capacity to learn
    • the process you have successfully used in the past
    • interest, and knowledge of, the subject you wish to learn
  • It may be easy for you to learn physics but impossible to learn tennis, or vice versa.
    All learning, however, is a process, which settles into certain steps.
  • These are four steps to learning. 
    Begin by printing this and answering the questions. 
    Then plan your strategy with your answers, and with other "Study Guides"

    Begin with the past:
     What was your experience about how you learn?  Did you

    • like to read?  solve problems?  memorize?  recite?  interpret?   speak to groups?
    • know how to summarize?
    • ask questions about what you studied?
    • review?
    • have access to information from a variety of sources?
    • like quiet or study groups?
    • need several brief study sessions, or one longer one?
  • What are your study habits?  How did they evolve?  Which worked best?   Worst?
    How did you communicate what you learned best?  Through a written test, a term paper, an interview?
  • Proceed to the present:
    How interested am I in this? 
    How much time do I want to spend learning this?
    What competes for my attention?
    Are the circumstances right for success?  
    What can I control, and what is outside my control? 
    Can I change these conditions for success?
    What affects my dedication to learning this?
    Do I have a plan?  Does my plan consider my past experience and learning style?

    Consider the process, the subject matter:
    What is the heading or title?
    What are key words that jump out?
    Do I understand them?
    What do I know about this already?
    Do I know related subjects?
    What kinds of resources and information will help me?
    Will I only rely on one source (for example, a textbook) for information?
    Will I need to look for additional sources?

    As I study, do I ask myself whether I understand? 
    Should I go more quickly or more slowly?
    If  I don't understand, do I ask why?

    Do I stop and summarize?
    Do I stop and ask whether it's logical?
    Do I stop and evaluate (agree/disagree)?

    Do I just need time to think it over and return later?
    Do I need to discuss it with other "learners" in order to process the information?
    Do I need to find an authority, such as a teacher, a librarian, or a subject-matter expert?
    Build in review:
    What did I do right?
    What could I do better?
    Did my plan coincide with how I work with my strengths and weaknesses?
    Did I choose the right conditions?
    Did I follow through; was I disciplined with myself?
    Did I succeed?
    Did I celebrate my success?

    Effective Habits for Effective Study
    Study is like the heavens' glorious sun  (William Shakespeare)

    You can prepare yourself to succeed in your studies. Try to develop and appreciate the following habits:
    Take responsibility for yourself
    Responsibility is recognition that in order to succeed
    you can make decisions about your priorities, your time, and your resources
    Center yourself around your values and principles
    Don't let friends and acquaintances dictate what you consider important

      • Put first things first
        Follow up on the priorities you have set for yourself, and don't let others, or other interests, distract you from your goals
      • Discover your key productivity periods and places
        Morning, afternoon, evening; study spaces where you can be the most focused and productive.  Prioritize these for your most difficult study challenges
      • Consider yourself in a win-win situation
        You win by doing your best and contributing your best to a class, whether for yourself, your fellow students, and even for your teachers and instructors. If you are content with your performance, a grade becomes an external check on your performance, which may not coincide with your internally arrived at benefits
      • First understand others, then attempt to be understood
        When you have an issue with an instructor, for example a questionable grade, an assignment deadline extension, put yourself in the instructor's place. Now ask yourself how you can best make your argument given his/her situation
      • Look for better solutions to problems
        For example, if you don't understand the course material, don't just re-read the material. Try something else! Consult with the professor, a tutor, an academic advisor, a classmate, a study group, or your school's study skills center
      • Look to continually challenge yourself
        Partially adapted from the audio cassette by Steven Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

    Thinking like a Genius

    The first and last thing demanded of genius is the love of truth (Goethe)

      • "Even if you're not a genius, you can use the same strategies as Aristotle and Einstein to harness the power of your creative mind and better manage your future."

      • The following eight strategies encourage you to think productively, rather than reproductively, in order to arrive at solutions to problems.  "These strategies are common to the thinking styles of creative geniuses in science, art, and industry throughout history."
      • 1.  Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives that no one else has taken (or no one else has publicized!)
        • Leonardo da Vinci believed that, to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways.  He felt that the first way he looked at a problem was too biased.  Often, the problem itself is reconstructed and becomes a new one.
      • 2.  Visualize!
        • When Einstein thought through a problem, he always found it necessary to formulate his subject in as many different ways as possible, including using diagrams.   He visualized solutions, and believed that words and numbers as such did not play a significant role in his thinking process.
      • 3.  Produce!  A distinguishing characteristic of genius is productivity. 
        • Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents.  He guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas.  In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis found that the most respected scientists produced not only great works, but also many "bad" ones.  They weren't afraid to fail,  or to produce mediocre in order to arrive at excellence.
      • 4.  Make novel combinations.  Combine, and recombine, ideas, images, and thoughts into different combinations no matter how incongruent or unusual.
        • The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based came from the Austrian monk Grego Mendel, who combined mathematics and biology to create a new science.
      • 5.  Form relationships; make connections between dissimilar subjects.
        • Da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water.  This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.    Samuel Morse invented relay stations for telegraphic signals when observing relay stations for horses.
        • Think in opposites. 
        • Physicist Niels Bohr believed, that if you held opposites together, then you suspend your thought, and your mind moves to a new level.  His ability to  imagine light as both a particle and a wave led to his conception of the principle of complementarity. Suspending thought (logic) may allow your mind to create a new form. 
        • Think metaphorically. 
        • Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, and believed that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts.
      • 8.  Prepare yourself for chance.

    Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else.  That is the first principle of creative accident.  Failure can be productive only if we do not focus on it as an unproductive result.  Instead:  analyze the process, its components, and how you can change them, to arrive at other results.  Do not ask the question "Why have I failed?", but rather "What have I done?"
    Adapted with permission from:  Michalko, Michael, Thinking Like a Genius: Eight strategies used by the super creative, from Aristotle and Leonardo to Einstein and Edison (New Horizons for Learning) as seen at http://www.newhorizons.org/wwart_michalko1.html, (June 15, 1999) This article first appeared in THE FUTURIST, May 1998

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