Wednesday, August 15

Secrets of the Super-Learners (Graig Lambert)

URL: http://bsc.harvard.edu/PDFs/superlearners.pdf (PDF.1.69 MB)

This article by Craig Lambert discusses some interesting secrets behind the mind of a super learner or what I like to call a potential or evolving genius. Also, to become a great teacher you must first learn the art of learning (or Learning how to learn, unlearn, relearn, etc.), and the more passion you have for learning (and welcome criticism) the more likely you will improve your ability to become a great educator.

So,what are the secrets of the super-learners (discussed in the article)?
  • Wonder - I remember a friend of mine more than two decades ago used to joke "I am Stevie Wonder and I wonder where I am" (That might sound like an insult to a blind person, but that phrase some how has been lingering in my thoughts for decades, and perhaps there is a reason for it, or perhaps not.). However, the quality of always being curious and wanting to find out more about something is critical. In other words, one continues to ask Why?, How?, What?, Where?, When?, Which?, etc. trying the get a deeper understanding of something (e.g. Life and Death) . Interestingly, often when you think you got the answer, you realize that you haven't got it. What do you do? Give up, accept it as it is or continue searching for it?
  • Humility - "One primary trouble with the American educational system is its concern with answers, as opposed to giving students questions", says C. Roland Christensen. Actually, we should not even give the students the questions, and instead facilitate them to figure out the questions themselves (and guide them if necessary). It might take a longer time (Time Vs Process), but to be a great learner (and teacher) you must master the art of asking questions (zooming in on the root cause, problem, or issue), because you surely do not want to answer correctly to the wrong question. Jorge Dominquez puts it nicely by saying, "the student who is a better learner will have a clearer sense of his or her own weaknesses." James Wilkinson goes on to say that "good learners know what it is that they don't know, and can ask questions about it." So, do you show humility and recognize that you are not always right? Or is your ego too big to be wrong? Actually, I should be asking these questions to myself.
  • Synthetic Thinking - Super-learners aren't passive; they don't simply absorb information but actively reconstitute it into meaningful patterns. Professor Starch emphasizes that "Good learners see the difference between relevant information and irrelevant information". Yes, they are also good at distinguishing between facts and opinions, recognizing fallacies, and are good at analytical or critical thinking.
  • Patience - Wilkinson argues that "there is a myth that good student have photographic memories and don't work hard...Actually they are quite hard-working, but don't feel that they have to understand everything the first time through...(do not give up until the AHA-moment). Allthough, there is nothing wrong in being impatient to learn, you just got to realize that you sometimes need to be patient to get it right (or reach a deeper level of understanding).
  • Relishing Mistakes - "Good learners make lots of mistakes, just as poor learners do, but they learn from their mistakes." Have you ever heard the famous or infamous statement "The secret to my success is failure". Actually, if you have not failed during your studies, you simply have not tried hard enough (or "You have no guts!" in plain English). Coming to think of it, the word "Failure" is relative, and has only real meaning when we put a criteria to it. In other words, some might scream of joy for a B+ result, while others might want to jump of a building (Disaster!). However, what is important is that the thought of failure should not stop you from trying to reach your targets. As a great Malaysian Army General said recently, "Do it now!" (Which I find more stimulating than Nike's "Just Do It!").

Yes, this article is simply juicy, because it engages my mind to think deeper about what it takes to be a super learner. If we want to become a super teacher, we must first master the art of learning (or at least understand more about ourselves and how we learn). Also, our dear Schools, Colleges and Universities, must not see student failure as a burden, but an opportunity to help students to succeed. The key is not whether we fail or succeed during our studies, put how much effort and attitude we put into it. If the effort and right attitude is internalized into the students' mind (becomes a habit) during the learning process, he or she will eventually succeed (Trust me!). Hmm, again another funny word ("Succeed" or "Success"), where the criteria I suppose is continuously changing or adjusting (as we succeed). Interestingly, when we meet our initial target, it might feel like failure, because our targets have evolved.

So, are you a super-learner?

Let's end this post with Michelangelo's famous quote "I am still learning!" :)