Active learning

I just learned the toe drag scoop which is probably my greatest shot at ever pulling off the Michigan move in inline hockey. Of course any 12 year old player can probably do this. Then again it’s been years since I was 12.

Learning is most effectively achieved when three conditions are present

  • Quality instruction – You probably experienced the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher. They come in four flavors. The best teachers teach the right subject well. Good teachers teach the right subject poorly. Bad teachers teach the wrong subjects poorly. The worst teachers teach wrong subjects well (very dangerous!) A bad strategy is still bad no matter how well it is executed. The main goal of education is not a degree or a collection of facts but the ability to think and learn on your own. It is hard to exaggerate just how valuable this skill is!
  • Practice – You may have talent, but without practice it goes unused. There is nothing sadder than seeing a talented person trying to get by on talent alone. If you are trying to learn something whether that is solving differential equations, locking out 200 pounds overhead, or investing, do you practice. If you do not practice, you do not learn anything. One of the things I try very hard to do is to leave no stone unturned and eliminating what-ifs whenever possible. If there is an opportunity to do something, I do it. The last major move was moving into an RV.
  • Active feedback – Despite practice, many people do not become better. This has become really obvious to me after watching the sample of people I started playing with around the same time. Some improve constantly, others stagnate despite playing as much as the improvers. Improving requires active feedback. Active feedback relies on analyzing your mistakes and learning from them. The more conscious you are, the more feedback you generate on your actions, the faster you learn. We are talking up to orders of magnitude here. You really see this during warmup. The stagnaters skate around a bit to get warm, stretch, and then start taking shots at the goalie. The improvers show up early, practice stickhandling trying to make up moves, skate backwards, and try to aim their shots consistently making small corrections when something does not work. (For neural adaption it often helps to sleep on. This goes for kinetic learning as well as intellectual problems).

This implies the following lessons for personal finance, sports, or whatever you are trying to improve.

  1. You must either find an instructor or a guru or even better, you must develop your own leadership philosophy and be capable of researching the missing parts.
  2. It is not enough to just read about things. You must use the things. The more you use them and the greater variety of things you try out, the better you become and synergizing and evaluating them.
  3. You must learn from your mistakes.

A strategy comprised of these three ingredients is very effective.

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Originally posted 2008-11-10 07:41:00.