In many colleges in the United States, almost half of first-year college students do not make it to graduation. Stop and think about this for a minute. Our current US higher education system is designed in such a way that it kills the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of almost 50% of the students who enter through its gates. As you meditate on this reality, let’s run a related thought experiment. What would you say about an airline company that designs and flies planes that kill 50% of it’s passenger? Would you buy a ticket from that company? Would you support letting that company maintain the status quo?
To me, when I think about how our current policy choices fail to support so many students, I see a need for major reforms. I want to avoid blaming students and faculty for this failure. While I believe each of us has a moral responsibility to challenge current policies and advocate for reform, I also realize that no individual shoulders the entire weight of the injustices that are baked into our current system. Instead, I believe we should learn to focus our collective energies on policy changes to better support our local communities in creating significant learning experiences in college and beyond. Such policy changes will require decades (if not centuries) of sustain activism at the grass-roots level.
In the meantime, if you are part of the current generation of college students, our community here at The Learning Code wants to help you develop and refine system-navigation skills so that you can thrive in an environment that is designed to weed you out. As part of this effort, I want to help you develop a scrapper’s mindset, which is exactly what we explore in this post.
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 imagesthe 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?
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
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!
Ever wonder why advisors, parents, and professors say, college is a full time job? 😕 “For X units you take, be prepared to spend 3X hours per week to succeed?” – deluded proclaimed wisdom.😨 Well… what they didn’t tell us was where those hours are to be spent, and how to go about doing so – as we are far too familiar with, learning demands vary dramatically depending on the class and our responsibilities of the term. So if you’re a learner struggling to learn what you are working towards understanding, or you’re a student studying X amount of hours without being able to then generate worthwhile ideas from your classes, this post is for you. Namely, just how much we can uncover from a single “lecture”, or more commonly-thwarting, just how much we can miss.
If you’re reading this post, you live in an Information Age and are aspiring to be accepted into the Knowledge Economy. Our quality of life, happiness, income, wealth are largely tied to our cogency and literacy with information. As college students, namely STEM majors, our ability to create significant learning experiences is gravely limited to our ability to capture what our professors’ say, and make use of their words & writing, in achieving the course learning objectives they have set for us.
Here are 10 principles, derived from the productivity coach Tiago Forte’s principles in Building a Second Brain, have helped me get the grades I “study” to get, all while developing agency and efficacy in my personal and professional life. These principles have been essential for me to generate meaningful & paid opportunities across 4 countries in these organizations below:
Loaned Innovation – Walk, Discover & Gather with Giants
Sticky Dependency – Outsource Memory by Capturing Notes
Salvage Concept Images – Apply Preservatives to Ideas
Employ and Deploy – Leverage Concepts for Projects
Kindling by Jeff Anderson – Every note can flourish if Nurtured
Illustrator and Carpenter by Steve Silva- Don’t start with Google
Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson – Motivation is Scarce
Breakers & Builders – Create Content to See what you (don’t) know
Fortune or Doom – Positive Deltas for your near Future Self
Intentional Ideas – a focus on stream rolling your Learning
There’s rarely a new idea in my world that’s so original that validates me to claim to be completely mine. Near all creative & innovative work is some fusion of other’s work. When we see great accomplishments such as our favorite teacher (our Giants) being able to uplift us and bring us joy while helping us learn, this is a result of a ton of processing, growth mindset, and channeled inspiration. Great classes aren’t built by happenstance.
Our output is limited to the virtues / crafts-women-ship / and conditions of our inputs. Therefore if you want to create innovative work through deliberate practice and earn satisfactory grades while deriving deep everlasting value from our classes, we must consume (then digest) higher quality ideas & intelligence. Note: this in its very nature takes time to come across, and gather.
We’re living in an overtaxed, oversupplied, overburdened, overwhelmed encumbering amount of “innovation” – from our president’s tweets to the 100th smartphone that came out this year – we must discern how to filter out that noise.
Trump and Apple (I’m aware they give tuition reimbursements) could care less if we get the grade’s we need to get to complete our degree for transformational opportunity equality, so it’s up to us to find the rare and valuable Giants & information out there.
While it may not seem like it at times, the information (loaned innovation) our professor’s deliver to us warrants closer attention. This is why we may consider creating a lecture note system
When we create well organized lecture notes in our own writing after lecture ends, we start at a much more favorable starting point than when we were only drawing from Google Youtube or our textbooks (do books still exist in our library? Do bookshelves exist?)
Just like how Trump and Apple doesn’t care if you get a college degree, neither does Google, Youtube, or your textbook
We need to be able to pull on accumulated wisdom and loaned innovation – because lectures and lesson plans take time & effort to generate – so that’s why we’ll find ways to revisit our lecture notes, and make sense of it.
Tiago Forte, a productivity coach, thinks about this as borrowed creativity
I’ve been transcribing as many of the words my professors say (many of my lectures are not recorded), but I am reflecting on how this is not the way to go. Instead I should be writing/typing down these points to engage in active thinking.
Relevant Content <-> Relevant Context that students can bring
The idea of capturing comes not only from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, but from when I wrote lists of groceries to pick up from Costco a decade ago.
The similarity is that our minds have limited working memory. This means we can not hold on to ideas and information for very long
Especially when we’re having to continue to look out (capture) and process new information – like we painfully have to do in lecture
Let’s try to value our (even smallest) ideas
Instead of “I won’t be able to understand what’s being delivered in lecture” – give yourself a chance to be able to understand what’s being delivered by noting down what it is, you do not understand
If we do not capture the confusion, definition, example, story, or algorithm, not being able to act on the idea presented, will turn into a self fulfilling nightmare of a prophecy.
To be able to “connect the dots” or mind map concepts together, you have to have dots (concept images & notes) laid out in the first place…
Much harder to connect nonexistent dots “forward” – however it is important to begin with an end in mind
Listen to your head & heart on what to your sticky dependencies are – so capture:
What makes you frustrated when you do not understand?
What information excites you to utilize in your own content creation?
What brings you energy?
What do you immediately know you’d like to go to office hours, tutoring, strong study partners for?
Which questions might I find an answer to when I get specific with the problem statement?
When you do a project, an assignment, a 2nd draft to your 1st draft of lecture notes, it’s much harder to sit down and pour out valuable insights without collecting, storing, and organizing them from the actual event.
Convert raw materials from lecture, textbook, youtube, google from your note taking system, to be able to do deeper (making the translation of this material to your assignments, assessments, and learning portfolio)
Salvage Concept Images
Salvage Concept Images
Borrow from your past self: experiences, prerequisite knowledge, notes, tutoring lessons, genuine connection during office hours, study groups
There’s scientific research literature around cognitive dissonance that proves the ideas
You do not really remember what your past self knew
You do not know what you do not know
Looking at a math solution in the back of the book is drastically doing the math problem step by step
Looking at someone else’s code and nodding is deceivingly different than coding yourself and understanding each line of code’s purpose
You do not really know what your future self will desire
You may want a bugatti now, but you may value citizenship, service, peace, social & racial justice, friendships, community in the future
What we can do is pass ideas through time (think about a manual for an old school device. while technology has become more user friendly which leads the manual’s becoming slimmer, lets not forget the origins of passing ideas through time in this context)
Many of our greatest ideas start: simple, blunt, premature, pure, candid, sheer
Social media post
Word of mouth
Now recall how you have taken that concept image, applied “preservatives” to it, and recycled it through various contexts and moments in time, to nourish it into a fuller beauty
Unlike most physical things, Concept Images have the ability to become better when you recycle, reuse, and repurpose them!
Do not try to study for your assignment, projects, or exams from scratch
Begin capturing and applying preservatives to the concept images from your professor/classmates/tutors guidance and words right away
Freeze dry your notes if you have to, smoke kipper salt pickle marinate jelly candy mummify, whatever you have to do – the idea is to treat EVEN YOUR SIMPLEST of creations with more care – protect guard and shelter them from the naysayers
“Number 1 person you have to steer and negotiate in your life is yourself” Alexandra Carter professor of Law at Columbia, because our psychology can truly be our greatest barrier. Unfortunately, oftentimes our hearts and our minds are the biggest naysayers.
Paraphrasing the words of Tiago Forte – build a compounding asset of intellectual capital – in our case, our lecture notes – so that they will last us a lifetime
Most lectures are composed of components – so understand them to reuse them.
Employ & Deploy
Employ & Deploy
Knowledge presented in lecture is like a high performing operating system or factory ran with people who had too many Redbull energy drinks, NOT a quiet peaceful library
If we are lucky enough to have the insurance of a recorded lecture, it does not make the pain points of lecture that much more comfortable
Like an overworked operating system – things are coming at us at rapid unprocessable speeds
unless you have strong prerequisite knowledge and deep values-based reasoning behind studying the material that’s presented – you will feel quite flustered
Fortunately this can be cultivated and earned
Remember we’re not taking notes for the sake of taking notes, we’re taking notes to improve our own personal knowledge management and begin developing our concept images!
So that we can better meet our professors’ expectations while moving along to building mastery
Projects (learning portfolio) that displays our concept images is a great unit of measurement for our output as a college student and future knowledge worker. Projects can be creative, specific, concrete, and something to be really proud of when you look back on it – this is not the case for “grades” by themselves
Ideas are not as concrete
SMART Goals at times are overwhelming
Categories vs. Projects
Categories of information are consumption oriented
Projects are production oriented
Therefore let’s organize our components of our lecture notes according to projects:
Learning Portfolio (wordpress)
Especially valuable when your professor doesn’t assign homework or assignments
Kindling by Jeff Anderson
Kindling by Jeff Anderson
Heavy lifting is when we cram past midnight to finish a project (please refer above for The Learning Code’s examples of projects)
However, over time, heavy lifting has its toll – compounded when life gets in the way, which it inevitability does.
The consequences are no longer the fact that you forgot to bring your homework to your 5th grade English teacher before recess
The consequences now are:
academic probation, losing financial aid, spending an entire academic year longer to get a degree, feeling stupid (don’t worry, you are NOT no matter what the haters say – point your haters to literature on learning science or media on Limitless Mind or The Little Book of Talent)
Kindling by Jeff Anderson is quite the opposite of heavy lifting. We gather information, exercise problem sets with a focus on learning, read-think-write critically, and strategically plan to get the grades we work for, while setting ourselves up for success in the near & far future.
This is the impetus, shade, and distinction from physical labor to intellectual labor
Intellectual work can be spread out over time with refined working systems – which are habits and skills
This allows our school work to be more enjoyable, creative, meaningful, significant, critical, and filled with less Redbulls
Ps. Redbull corporation doesn’t care if you pass your classes either
Tiago Forte’s analogy is that predators need to eat now – they work fast and intensely w scarcity. Scavengers work in abundance – we live in a sea of creative inputs – we do not have to look super hard to find inspiration and gold
Consider looking in office hours, tutoring centers, and success centers
Steve and I use to start my homework, assignments, assessment review with a blank canvas – we use to start my work with scarcity, insufficiency, and sparseness.
Now, we assemble components from our lecture notes so that we can illustrate our concept images while working like a carpenter/plumber/electrician
Store as many notes as you can from your professors words to give yourself the best shot to meet their expectations
Big breaks of the light bulb moment do not wait for you to be ready
They tend to happen when you start your work with abundance with your own swagger and mood
Make the decision to become wealthier when you “read and notetake” lecture
Leverage intentionality to cultivate this wealth of knowledge your professor has accumulated over the span of their lives
While the ideas they present may seem free, plentiful, and trivial
The concept images they accrued took many years, so store them forever and teach it to somebody else!
More likely than not, they had to take the very classes we’re having to take to get our degree!
Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson
Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson
Transitioning from unconscious incompetence -> unconscious competence is not necessarily your professor’s job
Unless we’ve taught and are responsible for 100+ students grade’s during 1 academic term, we will never fully understand why there’s a minimal focus on learning compared to assessment.
Therefore it is up to us to develop our consciousness and learning habits, slow and steady
The straight A students have done so much earlier in their academic journey’s
If we rush this process, we will shoot ourselves in the foot
Just imagine if I gave you a degree of comp.sci. today and placed you in an engineering role. How effective will you be in your job?
Instead of doing your entire assignment in 1 evening, break apart the lecture, then understand the objectives and specifications your professor outlined for you
If they didn’t outline any, go to office hours and ask what they are looking for exactly after reviewing your lecture notes.
Do you think the textbooks you’ve seen were written in a sprint?
No they were developed using cumulative concept images
If we are cumulative with developing our own concept images, do you think you will learn more meaningfully?
Invest effort in making each concept image consumable for your (very near) future self
Turn perishable lecture notes into longer lasting ones by taking the time to save them down in the right place, and adding metadata to them by expanding and further researching the ideas from the lecture.
“To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they learned” – Ambrose
Breakers and Builders
Breakers and Builders
Learning is quite similar to working – and the best way to learn (build) something is by making something (breaking apart what we know)
I was ecstatic to hear that many of you are conscious in the importance & value of learning how to learn
My student-centered leaders at The Learning Code, Foothill, SJSU and TechCore believe the same
But it’s a task worth pursuing. I bet an apple that the people you idolize in your life have engaged in some form of these categories narrated by me, written by Jeff in the comment field
When you begin breaking things apart to build content – all the practical difficulties and holes in your concept images come to life
Note I do not think you are contributing to the achievement gap when you do not get 4.0 GPA, but rather the system owes you a fulfillment debt for not engaging and inspiring you to learn the material to the best of your ability
1 time management and 1 binder organization workshop is not enough to help us develop student skills and learning habits, therefore The Learning Code was birthed
An example of breakers and builders are Tiago Forte’s book summaries
Check out how deeply he goes… He’s saving notes, diving into ideas, applying the ideas in a book summary, immersing himself with the ideas of each book, adding interpretations and metaphors
We can do the exact same with our lecture observation & lecture notes
Fortune or Doom
Fortune or Doom
Many of us feel the imminent doom in our current day and age, from not being able to graduate college or even if we do graduate not being able to find a worthy job.
However some people work harder and harder, some others work less and less, while becoming more fulfilled!
Make things easier for your future self by focusing on the learning starting today.
Accumulate leverage with your concept images you’re introduced to in your lecture – to be able to generate good grades, learning & work portfolio, scholarships, degrees, blogs, true fans, savings, larger return on investment
Intellectual leverage compounds over time – which makes it easier for future selves
An example of this is placing our keys in a spot where we don’t lose them, finding a nugget of information from lecture or office hours that would have taken 10x longer on google,
or drawing right angles to calculate the hypotenuse (from “Change is the only Constant” by Orlin)
By the way the object on the left is an apple and the right is Earth, which is why Orlin does not want NASA to use his sketch, lol.
Treat your fortune as if that fortune is as in your control as possible
This treatment will impact the way you eat, sleep, believe, workout, learn, and get grades.
Making things easier for your future self will help us act with more direction in life
Ps. netflix and instagram could care less if you earn 6 figures or 5.
Spend less time being frustrated when you’re stuck – realize this is symptom of a systemic problem when society doesn’t treat teaching and learning as a legitimate science – move on and recall these principles
Lectures are not designed for active learning or to make you feel smart – unless you really previewed and anticipated the lecture, and you’re hella hyped to learn – for which I applaud you but still advise you to humble yourself and revisit the 10 principles here when times get tough.
You will get stuck so keep your ideas moving by being intentional with what it is you want to do with those ideas
Want to work in criminal justice system, want to go into social work, want to go into tech?
Empower yourself first and break down those glass ceilings along the way with your education and focus on learning
Limit multitasking – Cal Newport, PhD in comp sci from MIT and a tenured professor at Georgetown, has published a TON about this idea so just search his name and listen to him speak for a little.
You lose progress as you can not keep everything in your head
“The use of a distracting service does not by itself reduce your brain’s ability to focus – It’s instead the constant switching from low stimuli high value activities to high stimuli low value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge – that is what teaches our mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty… it’s like dumping Sand in the gears to the machinery, that is our brain.” – Newport
To stay in flow – enjoyment, creativity, immersion – requires movement, keep moving and develop those concept images 1 letter 1 word 1 phrase 1 sentence 1 function 1 equation 1 example 1 lemma 1 theorem 1 algorithm 1 program at a time
While google, netflix, redbull, poop-to-coffee startups do not genuinely care if you earn your education and live out your life to its fullest potential the people who make you feel good about yourself, support you, and love you DO CARE. While it may not seem like they do due to the assumptions, opinions, and assertions they (parents, educators, friends) make about your capabilities may have lasting damages on our self-worth and values, I promise they do care about you (even if they don’t know how to) more than most tech companies and Philz Coffee.
This post was geared towards making the most out of lecture, but my hope is that you integrate these principles in your professional and personal lives. Whether that’s reading an article, watching a video, listening to a podcast, arguing with your parents, debating with your friends… making sense of what we’re “consuming” is an essential part to providing something of value in our lives.
“Mentally strong people don’t metaphorically dust themselves off and get right back on their horse. They pause to figure out why they fell off in the first place before getting back on.” – Amy Morin.
Don’t fall off the horse, aka discount lecture and resources provided to you by your instructor, and expect to meet their expectations. While their expectations and metrics are sometimes flawed, The Learning Code wants to see you earn your college education, reimagine & redefine & reinterpret learning, so you can empower yourself to solve the more demanding problems you hold most dear to your 🤎. Figure out how to get back on the horse, reduce the chances of falling off, and carry on. This post contains roman keystone principles on how you “read” what’s around you. For more on that check out Jeff Anderson, my finest math and learning doctor’s remarks on reading here.
You can learn anything. You can develop any skills and cultivate any abilities. When you work hard, use effective learning strategies, persist in the face of difficulties, and reflect on your progress, you can become anything you want. Here at The Learning Code, we know these things are true about you. In this post, we introduce a working definition of learning to support these beliefs. We also share a powerful learning principle designed to help you develop positive beliefs about yourself and to protect you against negative messages that you might receive from your instructors, peers, media, or other people in your life.