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Does Anyone Else Learn Better On Own and Hate Class?

  1. Aug 26, 2014 #1
    This is strictly for math (but feel free to throw in other subjects if you like).

    Does anyone else really dislike math lectures and attending class? Do you get more enjoyment and/or productivity out of learning on your own (reading the book, working problems, etc.)?

    I know there are times when I do like the feedback and confirmation of my understanding that requires a teacher. But so far I've really disliked sitting in on a math lecture (where the teacher just does sample problems on the board all class). To me, it's a waste of my time and I have trouble getting excited and concentrating. Whereas, when I'm learning at my own pace and asking myself questions along the way when studying on my own, I much more enjoy the process and feel I get more out of it.
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  3. Aug 26, 2014 #2
    Well that definitely would definitely get old. What math class are we talking about here? Algebra or Stochastic Calculus?

    In grad school examples get more rare (But they can still be necessary). You appreciate the examples when you get them.
  4. Aug 26, 2014 #3


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    No. A student needs the lecture and should study the upcoming classtime lesson before the lecture; and then use lecture of the lesson to help focus concepts, and pick any helpful tips which the teacher or professor shows. Part of what you do in class is take notes according to what you find helpful. Also, class lecture time is good for asking questions which you had when you previously studied before class.

    The lecture during class time should be like a double-dose of the written textbook lesson, maybe in a somewhat different form, and the lecture should re-enforce what you studied from the book.

    If your teacher or instructor is doing nothing more than solving example problems, then he is not doing enough. The lecture time needs more to be a lesson, like show the concept, show processes, explain definitions.

    My point of view is courses for preparation to Calculus, and then three semesters of Calculuses: 1,2,3.
  5. Aug 27, 2014 #4


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    I've found that the first 2-3 weeks of math/physics/chemistry courses are boring because its all so simple at that point. Usually gets interesting 1/3-1/2 of the way through. Im speaking from experience from calc1-chem1-phys1 types and earlier. Second semesters of these courses are likely to be more challenging from the start.
  6. Aug 27, 2014 #5
    I wouldn't tell him that though :)

    Just accept that some lectures are boring, and try to get what you can from them - if he's a kind lecturer, then the solved problems are likely to be similar to those in the exam, so try and concentrate...
  7. Aug 27, 2014 #6
    Not really...my motto in college was always "pay attention in class...and you won't have to do so much at home". I found that a good teacher was always better than a book.
  8. Aug 27, 2014 #7


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    have you ever tried asking a question in class? a good professor is a mathematician who has an enormous reservoir of information to share with you, but may not realize what interests you. a book for a beginning class is usually a measured treatment of a very limited amount of material, nothing in depth, such as the professor could provide if asked.
  9. Aug 27, 2014 #8
    I often felt that way about graduate level math. I have no need of lectures to learn anything, although I will say sometimes, the lectures are less formal than the books, which can, at times, make them easier to understand. At least some lecturers feel more free to say things that are more approximately true, but more enlightening when they are just saying it in class and don't have to commit it to writing. So, there's some issue with lecture quality being slightly better than book quality, which is mainly an artifact of the culture in which it's not considered okay to write a good book that talks about things intuitively. A lot of my profs in grad school basically just wrote down all the definition, theorem, proof stuff and that was mostly it, with the occasional commentary thrown in, so it was basically like dictation from a book. So, lectures aren't always better.

    There's actual hard data and studies to call lecture methods of teaching into question. It is particularly questionable to lecture to lower-level students because there's a bigger communication barrier. There can be no doubt that one one one tutoring would be much better than lecture, if the teacher-student ratio were much higher.

    Many of my fellow grad students agreed that it's often easier to learn on your own because you can go at your own pace and so on.

    That's true. If you are going to go to class, make the most of it. But that's assuming you are taking a class, so that you are kind of forced to work within that context.
  10. Aug 27, 2014 #9
    Hit or miss, generally I learn better on my own than in lecture but I've had a few professors whos style I was very compatible with and then I did benefit a lot from lecture.

    My best learning seems to come from self study but with a friend who I may ask questions to freely as need be.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2014
  11. Aug 27, 2014 #10
    One of the better prof's and researchers at my undergrad school openly admitted not having gone to lectures at all as an undergrad, he spent all his time self-studying (and honestly probably ended up learning more than his peers), telling us straight up he would not hold it against us if we chose not to go to his class (which was quantum mechanics). Einstein allegedly earned the dislike from his profs for regularly not attending lectures.

    I say if you're going to do it, you better be good, and I mean really really good at the subject. As in: you can solve absolutely any question on the topic that is thrown at you, of any difficulty level, on the spot. Otherwise go to class, there is always the slight chance you will hear a hint about what may be on an exam. And getting a good working relationship with your profs is never a bad thing, if not absolutely crucial if you're in a purely academic field like math.

    I always made the effort to attend even if the prof was not being helpful.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2014
  12. Aug 27, 2014 #11


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    It seems to me some of us are talking about relatively low level learning. As a professional mathematician, I felt lucky when a really outstanding researcher, who understood a subject better than anyone else in the world, was willing to lecture on it. In this sort of situation, which is often the case even with basic graduate classes at a good graduate school, it was for me at least impossible to duplicate the level of understanding from any book that could be gained from attending carefully to the lecture. I struggled for years to get a feel for real analysis and measure theory until one day I listened in on the introductory lecture by some who understood it deeply and intuitively.

    I suggest that most of us would be kidding ourselves to think we could learn say algebraic topology on our own more effectively and deeply than from listening to Raoul Bott in the old days, or today maybe Curtis McMullen, lecture on it. John Tate was a fantastic lecturer on number theory or anything else he chose to teach. Indeed once he presented a new method of calculating residues in his undergraduate class on algebraic curves, later famously known as the Tate trace, that was unknown to any one else in the world at the time.

    You are virtually guaranteed to learn something from such a lecture that you will not think of on your own or find in most books.

    So while it may be true that some or even many lectures are not worth attending, why are you enrolled in such classes? If you want to learn something, find a really good lecturer and attend faithfully.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2014
  13. Aug 27, 2014 #12


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    When I was a student, I found most of the lectures pretty useless. Sometimes it was the teachers fault, because some of them were terrible. (Those were all physics classes). Sometimes it was my fault, because I wasn't adequately prepared. The kind of preparation I consider adequate is to just study the definitions in advance, so that I at least understand what the bleep the teacher is talking about. The things I did learn, I learned on my own.

    If I was a student today, I think I would handle things very differently. I still think it's useless to go to a math class unprepared. The difference is that I would prepare.
  14. Aug 27, 2014 #13
    I could say something like that about a lot of the advanced topics courses, but the beginning graduate level classes weren't like that for me. A lot of times, the best I could do was to browse different books to find the best ones. Like I said, a big part of this is that people don't seem to be willing to write good books a lot of the time. I don't think it's a necessity to only rely on oral tradition for certain things. I think you can write it down, but people are too lazy or it isn't fashionable to be more intuitive when it comes to writing things down, which is just unnecessary, especially these days when you can also do websites and software. It's not like back in the 1800s when it was a bit harder to put pictures in and so on. Anything you can say verbally, you can write down on paper.

    Because it's required, and because it takes a while to figure out who is a good lecturer. I always attended faithfully, by the way, except I was late a bit too often, and in grad school, I lost a lot of confidence and was emotionally not doing as well, so it was much harder to concentrate on lectures. That is one of the downsides. It's sort of like a marathon of concentration to follow a lecture for 50-90 minutes. Being able to follow a lecture depends much more critically on things like whether I got enough sleep last night or whether my girlfriend just dumped me. and so on.
  15. Aug 27, 2014 #14
    I've seen Stephen Smale say something similar on an interview on youtube,but I think you can get some ''guidance'' from class,but for learning something ,you can't do it except on your own,and yes, I also hate class.
  16. Aug 27, 2014 #15
    Sure, it happens a lot of time with me. However, it is not the same for most of my friends, so maybe we have a worse time following a lecture than them. And I must say that there are some lecturers that are worth their time.
  17. Aug 27, 2014 #16


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    It's important to realize that people learn in different ways. Some people don't get much out of lectures.

    For me, lectures were usually good up to a point. What would often happen is the instructor would present something that didn't quite make sense or that I needed time to absorb and play with. Everything that came after that was often just me scrambling to copy notes and so there wasn't a lot of benefit afterwards. Sometimes you can ask questions, but this can be hard when you're shy and in a large class. And, often the instructor can't wait for every student to "get it" before moving on. (Doing so ends up teaching to the lowest common denominator).

    I usually caution against adopting the "waste of time" conclusion too quickly though. Certainly there are some lectures that are worse than others. But if you're not getting anything out of the majority of them, it can be valueable to figure out why.

    If its a question of quality, remember you have a right to demand quality in most cases when you're paying for lectures.

    If it's a question of too much assumed knowledge, you may have to assess whether you're at the right level, whether you need to do more preparation work prior to attending, or if this is something to talk to the instructor about.
  18. Aug 27, 2014 #17
    Hopefully, this doesn't mean complaining to the department and getting them in trouble. There are more considerate ways, like transferring to a different class or waiting until someone else teaches it. Man up and tell the professor directly, so they can take it into account themselves, rather than complaining to the department. You just have to ask what are you really going to accomplish. Chances are, you're not going to get a replacement teacher. You'll just end up creating a stressful situation for the prof, which will make it even harder for him to do his job, especially if you don't even have anything constructive to say. Anyway, demanding quality isn't any kind of a guarantee of anything. The guy who teaches it next time may just end up being the same.

    These days, for lower level subjects, you can often just find video lectures online, if you want quality, so you can take your pick because quality is in the eye of the beholder. Video lectures also have many of the advantages of books, in that you can still follow the lecture if you missed something and get thrown off halfway through because you just rewatch that part.
  19. Aug 27, 2014 #18


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    Demanding quality doesn't mean doing it in a disrespectful way.

    I used the strong language because I think too often people feel stuck with whatever situation they are in and too often choose to accept it rather than do something to change it.

    You're right in that doing something doesn't guarantee change. But doing nothing in these kinds of situations is the best way to keep the instruction quality from changing.
  20. Aug 28, 2014 #19


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    It varies of course, but for me I always learnt math best by attending a lecture and just writing down what was said. Then I went home, wrote them out again and thought. I went through the examples, deriving my own way of doing it, or more elegant proof, and re-wrote it. Then I did the tutorial questions. Finally I always went through my answers and variations on examples or proofs at the tutorial.

    What really helped was actually picking up errors in the lecture notes. In my experience there were often some - if you looked hard enough. That really sharpens your comprehension.

  21. Aug 28, 2014 #20
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned one of the greatest benefits of lectures in my eyes: you can't afford to stand still. Whenever I try to learn stuff on my own I try to do it very deeply, which makes it a very slow process, sometimes even so slow that my interest wanes a bit. Lectures generally go pretty fast and force you to continue even if you don't get it at the first go. In essence lectures make for a "multiple layer" learning, like painting in coats, and I find this more efficient than doing everything in detail from the first time, yet when self-studying I find the latter more tempting than the former (although through years of lectures I've begun to feel more comfortable with it).

    (I think the main reason is that when you're self-studying it's nearly impossible to "feel" what parts are essential and what is circumstantial, but in a lecture you can often easily tell.)
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