Learning for Less Effort
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
You can more than double your rate of long-term retention of units of learning which substantially involve understanding, by one simple easy practice at the conclusion of that unit.
This is part of a series of articles to you concerning the overlap between creativity, problem-solving, and learning. This piece stands, however, on its own. Heading into the summer season with its time of vacations and of schedules changing around, our emphasis in this series is on how to create far more and better learning with far less effort, faster. Any time is an excellent time to make that most superb of investments - in yourself and in building your skills and competencies.
Most of you reading this have reached a kind of equilibrium in your life. Surrounded as you are by the cultural, scientific, technological and practical riches of our world civilization, you’ve assumed - on the basis of the institutionalized teaching and learning that you’ve experienced to date, that most of this unprecedented plethora of available resources is beyond you, more effort than it is worth or that seems practical. ( And that most matters are as uninteresting as school has made them seem.) - And so you set limits on your life.
Whereas, ifinstead of depending for your learning on the poor methods with which most schools around you are teaching, you bring with you your own best methods for learningyou get to enjoy a very different, far more rewarding, outcome. This present article is about simple, easy, reliable use of one of those best methods.
Turning Creativity and Effective Problem-Solving Methods Into Methods for Better Learning-With-Understanding:
Both the creative solving of problems, and learning, are the acquisition of new perceived options and resources, enlargements of the behavioral repertoire available for use and experience. Nearly all of what helps the one to happen, helps also the other. ( And nearly all of what hinders the one hinders the other alsoeven though most schools squelch creativity in the name of pursuing learning!)
Starting sixty years ago with the work of Alex Osborn and building with that of Sidney J. Parnes, the world-wide creativity movement discovered that, through temporarily suspending judgement and rapidly pouring forth as many ideas and options as possible, one could notice, perceive, access, and make use of a far greater proportion of his own creative ideas and perceptions. Everyone HAS these, but most of us have been so squelched down over the years that we ignore these and don’t even notice them happening until we are given special methods for so doing.
One of the original methods, "brainstorming," was so successful that its name became a household wordeven though relatively few people even now really know what "brainstorming" means or how to do it.
It’s obvious in retrospect that practice of methods on the brainstorming principle can enable one TO notice, perceive, access and make use of a far greater proportion of his own perceptions, concepts, appreciations, awarenesses and understandings in whatever context, in whatever unit of learning, especially such contents of learning as involve understanding.
Greater Relevance and Associative Power for Learning:
The paragraph just above shows the basis for a most amazing statement we can now safely make: Not only does practice of 15-20 minutes of Freenoting, our version of and descendant of brainstorming, at conclusion of each major unit of learning - be that lecture, seminar, text, chapter, topic within a chapter, a technical article or other kind of learning episode more than double your rate of long-term retention of information....
You actually get more learning from that unit than the author or lecturer put into it!
How in the world could that possibly be?
How can you get more from such a unit than its source put into it? Well: consider what learning is, and is not. Learning is not the one-to-one transfer of information from one skull to another. What you learn from any context is determined by what YOU, the learner, bring to the table.
Not only motivation, not only method, but your previous relevant understandings and experiences THROUGH which you digest current matters and make them meaningful to you.
The more you bring to each unit of learning, especially the more challenging units or the ones most requiring understanding, the more you get from them. Learning is not the transfer of information, it is the activation and assembly and building of information, skills, perceptions, appreciations etc. as clusters of meaningful relevance.
Jean Piaget led the way in discovering that one’s ability to understand is controlled in large part by the understandings he already has and can relate to what’s going on.
Free-associate and Freenote15-20 minutes in the context of a major unit of learning, at that unit’s conclusion, and
How to Freenote:
Won’t it be neat if you discover that, regardless of how the schools around you teach or don’t teach, that you can learn pleasantly, meaningfully, easily, quickly, rewardingly, usefully and well, over a far wider range and richer content of learning than you ever believed was possible for you?
I suggest you begin the process this very minute. You’ve just read this "Part II" letter, which I have the gall to call it part of a "unit of learning." To complete this "unit of learning," read or review the instructions for Freenoting, in either of the articles cited just above.
Then Freenote, rapidly without pause, everything that comes to mind for you in the context, for 15-20 minutes.
Where to start? Anywhere you please, it's your associations that are springing to mind. But a good challenge might be what comes to mind when you look again at Point # 4 above, and flow from there.
Objective: to see how much more YOU can discover, in context of this letter, than I have put there. Bon Appetit!
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