While gym memberships cost around $30 a month, upper division undergraduate college education in America may cost anywhere from $300 to $3000+ a month… After 5 years of living through that, I (sadly only recently) realized: lectures, sections, homework, exams, are merely ‘opportunities’ for increased critical thinking, citizenship, integrity, humanity, justice, compassion, curiosity, and autonomy AKA learning how to learn, to become more cognitively fit. Similar to how weights in a gym are merely opportunities for increased physical fitness and identity.
While professors do good work in presenting us information while designing assignments and exams to assess our learning, the truth is, majority of those ‘opportunities’ cognitive fitness, without proper technique, coaching, guidance, and mindsets, lead many students consequently backpedaling towards our collective mission at a university. 1 difference between the gym vs. lecture, aside from the cost, is we can’t visually see how our peers are developing their cognitive fitness, whereas, we can more transparently see how people are becoming more physically fit. When someone is jogging or doing a pushup, pullup, or a squat, I can leverage mirror neurons and mimic their movements. But when my peer gets an A+ I rarely will get to see what / why / how someone is learning to measure up to what our professors are expecting.
An open ended petition to rethink lecture in 2020 and moving forward.
|“It makes no sense to expect all students to take the same amount of time to achieve the same objectives” – Benjamin Bloom|
While many classes may seem disengaging, irrelevant, or abstract… remember that we are fully capable in developing the practices as well as mindsets of learning how to learn to equip ourselves with the vocabulary, tools, principles and armor to make the most out of our classes.
There are musicians who can understand each note in the image below just like how there are computer engineers who understand computer code and math. But they didn’t have these concept images the moment they were born – they developed cognitive fitness around these languages, just like you have, if you are able to read or understand the words I published here.
Some surface level facts about the brain. Our nervous system has cells called neurons where information from one neuron flows to another across a synapse. Our brain has over a billion synapses. Any time you learn, which we may define as a process of changes involved in: beliefs behaviors attitude or knowledge, your brain is creating synapses. Sleeping refreshes updates and develops these synapses creating stronger more myelinated brain cells.
Learning is demanding and uncomfortable; we learned from Newton’s 1st law of inertia that an object at rest stays at rest. Learning hard skills cause anxiety and stress, not to mention you have a million more entertaining things you could potentially be doing – reading this blog post isn’t 1, but I appreciate you and want to help you learn. This discomfort activates areas in the brain which will direct you to do something more pleasant. However if we remind ourselves we can learn anything we want to learn, and just start, that cognitive discomfort begins to go away.
The more abstract or irrelevant something is, the more important it is to develop neural connections to bring abstract ideas to reality. There really is not much of a short cut to onboarding yourself to musical notes, math, language, computer science, so just remember hard & abstract concepts require more time. You are not alone here, no one gets an exemption from this. The only reason computers are not as abstract for Bill Gates was because he was hella interested in computers, had access to them when he was a teenager, and had mentors or significant people of influence that encouraged him to learn about computers.
Concept images, neuroscientifically speaking, bond together through exploration, understanding and application. They may grow and become more complex and can become part of your working memory and daily function. Walking reading speaking listening are examples of concept images at work. The elephant not in my room is, classes are boring and hard, so: how do we build concept images most effectively, then efficiently?
- Reduce Distractions
- Solve the problem yourself
- Focus on 1 thing at a time
- Ask yourself what did you learn, understand the illusion of competence
- Space out the practice
- Active Recall with Reflection
- Ask yourself what did you learn, again, and write those thoughts down
- Unlearn old ideas and challenge your intuition
- Interleaving practice
- Deliberate Practice
With finals coming up here are some questions, I hope will guide you to learn more in your courses
- How may you create mini-study guides / synopsis for each class meeting you have?
- What questions would you ask if you were the professor?
- While so much of what we’re required to learn is more boring and demanding than watching food videos on YTube, what are some different ways to perceive this material?
- What are the key objectives of the class today?
- Are you investing some time for self care?
On exam day here are some strategies introduced to me by Jeff that have helped over the years
- Invest time to look at the exam in the beginning 5 minutes
- Track and Solve the questions that are easiest first, to build momentum and confidence
- Shift your thinking from “I’m gonna do poorly on the test” to “I’m going to do my best because I focused on the learning”
- Schedule time to breathe deeply into your stomach and channel calm thoughts if you are stuck
Remember when you arrive at your upper division courses, it is common that tutors, resources, study groups will become more scarce just like they have for me this semester. Therefore, the sooner you begin focusing on your learning and investing time to be metacognitive of learning how to learn, the more cognitively fit you will be!