Myths and Misconception
Believing them can hurt our progress, give us a poor perception of our capabilities, and even keep us from learning something in the first place. Let’s take a moment, then, to dispel the most popular but false beliefs about how we learn and what it takes to master a craft.
“Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Myth #1 Left-brained vs Right-brained Learners
Our first stop is the idea that each brain hemisphere is responsible for specific thinking modes. The widespread belief that the left brain handles logical thinking while the other side is in charge of creativity isn’t exactly the truth. Sure, one hemisphere may loom over the other in certain processes but we still use both sides for almost everything, including learning. Perhaps we should stop buying into learning techniques that target our dominant side or block our non-dominate one.
Myth #2 Learning Styles
This is the idea that each of us has a primary learning style and that we learn best when material is presented in alignment with it. Yet these theories come from observation in classrooms, not from rigouts testing environments. What’s true is that we have presences in how we learn but this doesn’t mean how we learn makes the most difference in our learning.
Myth #3 Old Dogs Can’t Learn New Tricks
Young people can still make learning faster. But the explanations are different from what you might already believe. One factor has to do with our mindset – if we believe we’re too old to learn, it summons a placebo effect and hurts our confidence as we believe it to be true. Another explanation has to do with our priorities and motivation. For most adults, learning comes after work, family, finances and other responsibilities. But for young adults, their hobbies come first and they can dedicate them as much time as possible. That extra time for study, practice and attention accounts for a great part of their learning capacities.
Myth #4 Learning Should Be Fun
We hear it time and time again that learning should be fun. It tells only part of the story. Learning can be fun. But it’s not a requirement. Learning is challenging most of the times and it makes the mind work hard and that isn’t always a fun experience. As Aristotle once said,
“Youths are not to be instructed with a view to their amusement, for leaning is no amusement, but is accompanied with pain.”
Myth #5 You Either Have It or You Don’t
Talents and other intrinsic qualities play a limited role in learning and acquiring new skills. How far we go in our craft is mostly under the influence of our willingness to go for it. Of course, we can’t be anything or have anything we want with the hard work alone. But no one can tell you where your limits lie based on your aptitudes and perceived talents or the lack of them. Only you can.
Myth #6 The 10,000 Hour Rule
The 10,000-hour rule is popularized by high-profile authors in the recent years. The idea is that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to reach a level of mastery in any field. It sounds like a marketing soundbite, but it’s far from the truth.
People talking about the 10,000-hour rule are missing out one crucial point. It’s not about how long it aces. It’s about how far deliberate practice can take us. There’s no reason not to follow your dream. Deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities that you ay have been convinced were out of reach.
Learning proceeds until death and only then does it stop. Is purpose cannot be given up for even a moment. To pursue it is to be human, to give it up to be a beast. – Xun Kuang
How We Learn, Improve and Master: The 3 Building Blocks
Building Block #1 Association
Association learning is about making connections. Neurologically, these happen when neurons get excited simultaneously, making them bond to each other – a process first descried by Donald Hebb, neuropsychologist, as ‘neurons that fire together wire together’.
Cognitively, they happen when we associate ideas, concepts, patterns of thinking and behavior. Take our speaking language for example. We started learning our native language by making associations between sounds and our environment. The sound ‘mom’ was just noise but after training from our parents, we learnt to associate the noise with our mother. This connection got reinforced over time and turned both word and meaning into a single unit. The result is ‘mom’ stopped being a noise and germanely linked to what it represents.
Building Block #2 Chunking
When associations grow complex, they lead to chunking. This is when our brain groups and processes several pieces of information as a unit, instead of individually. Take reading for example. We look at letters but process them in groups as words. Two associations are at play here – one between each letter and its sound, and a larger one for what they mean and sound like when put together. Take one step further, we chunk those words together and process them as sentences.
Another example is learning to drive. Making a turn seems like a long-complicated list of tasks in close succession – use the flasher to signal the turn – reduce your speed – check your mirrors – verify the road is clear – rotate the steering wheel – adjust speed as you turn. When we’re learning to drive, we create connections between each of these steps and our body movements. But as it becomes second-nature, we chunk the steps together so it becomes one fluid sequence. We longer process all the steps of the turn individually but as one larger action.
Building Block #3 Automatic processing
When we reinforce connections between thinking patterns or behavior, they start becoming automatic. Consider walking, a skill we learned in early life. It was seemingly difficult for us back then, although we don’t pay attention to it now. As we grew older, walking became an automatic process. We no longer think of how or in what order to move our legs and balance our body.
The point is without enough practice, we can automate tasks or parts of them and reduce the conscious awareness we give to their execution. How does this apply to learning? Automation in learning is useful because it frees up conscious energy to work on other things and build on top of what we’ve already learnt. Masters take this concept to the extreme. They practice their craft outstandingly without thinking much about it. Their conscious mind isn’t occupied with the mechanics of the task and can instead focus on higher order thinking such as creativity and strategy.