What do most people misunderstand about the learning process? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
In my experience the most commonly held initial beliefs about how learning works go something like this...
The novice learner's perspective: I am really interested in X, I really enjoy learning more about X, this must be the way to learn everything! Let me try applying this method to Y...
When learners become teachers, mentors, or supervisors, the above beliefs often turn into...
The novice teacher's perspective: I am really confident about how much I know about X, I learned it the hard way, so now let me tell you all the things you need to know and do to learn it like I did.
Unfortunately, while these perspectives appear to be fairly common, they are also fairly limiting. They survive and thrive on confirmation bias. If you have a love for a particular topic or task, you'll work hard on that task, and you'll enjoy it. You will put more attention on it, you'll engage both the emotional reward centers and logical processing centers of your brain and effectively you'll anchor to a process as being the key to your learning when it was actually the specific topic, task, or teacher that really got you excited.
There's also the personalized learning fallacy. This is when someone believes something like "everyone learns differently" which leads to them becoming distracted by theories like learning styles and multiple intelligences. So rather than focusing on the ways in which they and everyone around them can share a common learning experience that will have universal value for the entire community of learners, they focus instead on differentiating themselves (or their students) from others. As far as I know, that differentiation has shown to be less valuable than universally applicable research-backed practices like formative feedback, guided reflection, and access to supportive peers, mentors, role models, and mental models.
Therefore, to avoid the novice learner's belief ("I learned X, so I can only learn things like X or using a technique like I used for X.") and the personalized learning fallacy ("everyone learns differently"), I recommend the following more nuanced, but super-empowering perspective.
The experienced learning scientist's perspective: Everyone can leverage a few basic techniques to learn just about anything. The timeline for me to learn X may be extended by my lack of experience in topics related to X. So in an effort to accelerate that timeline, can I leverage my experience in topics related to Y, analogizing those relationships to X? Let's find a community of practitioners and some engaging resources online and find out!
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