The Rocket Fuel for Your Learning
Want to know what outside factor has the biggest impact on learning? That’s what we’re covering today!
It’s tempting to think that learning is all about reading books and making flashcards, but that’s usually not enough (unless you’re just trying to memorize facts, which I hope you aren’t restricting yourself to).
True learning requires information from some kind of external (as to the learning itself) source: feedback. But there is some nuance to consider here, because not all feedback is created equal.
There’s inherent feedback, which is feedback you get naturally from your senses. The pain you feel when you belly flop on a high dive is an example of inherent feedback.
Then there’s augmented feedback, which comes from artificial sources, such as the voice of another person. For example, a coach telling a basketball player that his last shot was lousy.
The feedback rabbit hole actually goes pretty deep, so I’m just going to feed you what you can digest in one email. For now, let’s just focus on these 2 top-level types of feedback.
Many activities provide inherent feedback that can generate a ton of learning, especially at the beginning. But the feedback that will help your learning the most is augmented feedback.
Getting helpful augmented feedback can be tricky. There are many potential sources of external information, and most of them are not going to be high quality.
You need to find a tutor/mentor/instructor/etc. who has a handle on how to provide decent feedback.
Here are a few tips for recognizing someone who knows what they’re doing:
1. They don’t provide instant feedback. Believe it or not, it’s better to let a learner get some inherent feedback for a few seconds before stepping in. While there isn’t a consensus on what causes this, it’s likely because the delay gives learners a chance to process inherent feedback first.
2. They don’t spend all their time harping on your poor performances. Studies have shown that this style of feedback is less effective in improving performance. It’s also a complete drain on motivation and can cause learners to quit. That’s right, the hard-ass style of teaching is not the most effective. Don’t pick teachers based on how “hardcore” they are.
3. They calibrate their feedback based on your current skill level. Many instructors are very good at instructing students at a high level but have a limited ability to remember what it’s like to be a beginner. This can severely delay your progress if you’re just starting out. A skilled instructor understands that beginners don’t know as much as they do, and will tailor their feedback to that limited level of understanding.
Again, there’s more detail to uncover here, but following those 3 qualities is a pretty strong indicator that a given instructor is good at providing feedback.
However, you don’t necessarily need a formal instructor-student arrangement to get decent feedback. For example, if you’re learning how to program on your own (like I did), there’s a good chance that you’re mostly working in isolation.
While you can still learn quite a bit by playing around on your own, the only way to judge whether your learning program is effective is by exposing your learning to the outside world. In the case of a programmer, they must put their code in front of other programmers and listen to their feedback (which is presumably driven by experience).
So, here’s your big idea for this lesson: Find ways to get quality feedback. The key word here is “quality,” as getting just any kind of feedback can be frustrating and counterproductive.
Look for sources of feedback that provide useful information, including instructors who show at least an intuitive understanding of how feedback should be given.
That’s all for today. In tomorrow’s lesson, we’ll take a look at skill types and how they affect your approach to learning.
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