Tag Archives: learning

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The Myth of Talent

Talent is the idea that a person is born to perform well at a particular task or has an innate increased ability in some field. We look at star-athletes and sports stars and assume that they were always better than their peers. When news channels interview a musician or singers old high school teachers, you always hear the same story “She was always talented, even back then, I knew she was going to be a star.”

We tend to only see the end result and so we attribute their skill to talent.  We completely miss the many years of practice, experiments and failure which help to build a strong skill set. Matthew Syed, author of Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice says:

Expertise is a long-term developmental process, resulting from rich instrumental experiences in the world and extensive practice. These cannot simply be handed to someone.

Author Malcolm Gladwell also explored the importance of practice and how sheer luck and circumstance contributes to excellence in his book, Outliers. He was also responsible for popularising the 10,000-hour rule which states that it requires 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. We don’t see the 10,000 hours, only the resulting skill.

However, 10,000 hours of practice alone, won’t automatically result in mastery or expertise. It’s key that you take part in purposeful practice.

The ten-thousand-hour rule, then, is inadequate as a predictor of excellence. What is required is ten thousand hours of purposeful practice.

You have to always aim for skills which are just slightly out of reach and beyond your current limitations. With this approach, you will fail and fall short repeatedly.

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

Among many other things, Syed’s book highlights that anyone can become world-class in almost any skill if they are willing to put in the time and effort to constantly push themselves to the point of failure until you achieve success. And once you achieve success? Push yourself further and repeat the cycle.

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Learning Memory & Learning

Learning While You Sleep

Throughout the day, we are thinking and using our brains. A side effect to this is that our brains slowly build up toxins which can impair our ability to think and learn.

When we sleep, our brain flushes out these toxins – which is why when you’ve been awake for a long time, or had little sleep you don’t feel as sharp, your brain is full of thought-restricting toxins.

During sleep our pre frontal cortex (thinking brain) rests and allows the rest of the brain to work peacefully. While sleeping our brains often revise what we have learned and forge stronger neural links. However, they also clear away ideas and memories which it feels are less important.

When we’re in REM-sleep our brains are in diffused mode and are more likely to build new connections and generate new ideas during this phase. You can prompt yourself to dream about a certain problem or event by thinking or reading about it before bed and even by saying to yourself that you WILL dream about it.

Alternatively, you could try your hand at lucid dreaming. Essentially being able to direct your dreams by being aware that you’re dreaming. You can do this by keeping a dream journal and writing about your dreams the moment you wake (before you forget).

Another method is to “wake” yourself while dreaming (similar to Inception). Great ways to do this are to look at clocks or writing. If you’re dreaming the writing will change and you can’t really focus on the words, additionally, if you look at a clock, look away and then look back again  the time will have changed.

I often ignored it as a student, but a decent sleep has a huge positive impact on much you’re able to learn and remember. Multiple studies have shown that when students cram for an exam the night before, they tend to perform worse than students with the same level of knowledge and confidence who didn’t cram but got 7.5+ hours sleep.

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Learning Memory & Learning

Power of Analogy on Learning

Analogies and metaphor are used throughout our lives and we’re pre-disposed to using metaphors and analogies to both learn and teach, but most people aren’t even conscious they are doing it.

You know a metaphor is coming when you hear, “Just imagine…” “It’s just like…”, “It’s the same as…”, and “Think of it as…”

Metaphors not only help us to learn and understand better, but they increase the chances of you remembering what you’ve learned. Metaphors are essentially showing that something is similar to another thing. metaphors can be really simple, such as saying that Britain looks like a with wearing a hat. A more complex analogy would be comparing sound waves to ripples in a pond.

Because the images are so strong visually, it tends to stay with you for a long time. Additionally, comparing two separate ideas, creates a neural link between them which will strengthen your memory of both ideas.

Metaphors are incredibly pervasive and I’ve seen countless blog posts and articles online where something mundane, like completing a degree, is likened to an exciting subject, such as climbing a mountain and fighting monsters.

They’re particularly useful when trying to understand a difficult concept that you just can’t wrap your head around.

Metaphors work…but why?

Each piece of knowledge or skill we learn is essentially a network or neurons in our brain. Certain ideas and concepts develops into patterns that are easy to follow and we fall into naturally.

Likening a new idea to one you already understand  allow you to link your existing ideas and thought patterns to new ones. They provide a context for the new idea that makes it easier to understand and relate to. As you learn more about a topic, you’ll begin to revise your own metaphors to become more accurate.

A metaphor works like tracing paper, giving us a scaffold on which to attach our ideas. We can then adjust and adapt our understanding of the concept until the scaffolding is no longer needed.

Many breakthroughs have been made by realising that one concept is similar to another.

One of the reasons that some concepts in STEM fields are so hard to learn is that they’re so abstract that there’s no analogy or metaphor than can accurately represent it.

Good teachers understand the value of metaphor and use it daily to make new and foreign concepts more familiar, relatable and meaningful by connecting the new ideas to something the students already understand.

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