Statistics & Data Science

Learning, Understanding, Applying

If you follow TEDTalks, then you have probably seen or heard of Josh Kauffman and his new book, The First 20 Hours, How to Learn Anything Fast. In this book Kauffman presents a methodology for learning, based on targeted understanding and practical application. While these aren’t knew ideas, from TEDTalks, to the RSA channel on youtube, to daytime television – everybody is talking about this book.

I have a very clear goal and direction for the next couple of years and it requires me to learn some things that really interest me. Having watched Kauffman speak, it seems like a good time to plan out my approach to study. I have always believed that understanding the concepts are the key to success, but more and more I appreciate the need to demonstrate understanding through practice and application. Finding the balance between understanding and application will be the challenge.

While thinking about this I came across a lecture by Marty Lobdell, Study Less Study Smart. This is a lecture we should all watch! Most of us learn the hard way, and through trial and error we discover effective and ineffective methods of learning. If only I had seen this lecture at the start of university study, how much pain and frustration would I have avoided?

Without reiterating everything in Kauffman’s and Lodbell’s presentations, below are the things that I will take away with me and apply:

25 minute sessions

Keep it short, and keep it focused


I love text books! But I use them as reference books vs. educational material. SURVEY, QUESTION, READ, RECITE, REVIEW. Survey and Question are very much similar to Kauffman’s idea of Deconstruction.

Note taking

I can remember so many lectures, especially the hard and highly-abstract ones, where I have been so busy taking notes I have missed enormous chunks of the lecture. This seems to go hand-in-hand with the idea of SURVEYING and QUESTIONING, or Deconstruction. I need to try this out, but perhaps our notes should be a survey of key points, which we later flesh out with context as Lobdell suggests.

Facts vs. Concepts

I am a concepts person. Facts are little things we can learn, but concepts are the critical wire frame that we hang facts from. However… concepts without understanding and application are not much use.

Practice / Apply

I am only just beginning to really appreciate how important it is to demonstrate understanding by using it to produce results. This is so critical to the idea of performance in the professional world. As I think about this, I am beginning to realise that I already posses a lot of the knowledge that makes up my goals for the next 2 years. What I need to focus on is applying this knowledge and being able to demonstrate competency and productivity.

The best realisation I have had, is that my goals for the next few years are not unattainable nor are they as monumental as I had anticipated. I am a long way there already, and with some smart study I should be in a great position to achieve my goals.


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