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Quality of learning texts?

  1. Jan 23, 2012 #1
    For some reason I can't post in the "Math & Science Learning Materials" section, so I'm posting my inquiry on the quality of the learning materials I'm using here.

    I'm aware there's a lot of free resources such as KhanAcademy or otherwise, but how legitimate is the information compared to say, OpenCourseWare lessons from MIT in a subject such as physics? Is there a "right" or "better" way to learn something?

    I'm asking because when I was learning how to program, I was taught that the "correct" way was not to just read a book and learn a language's syntaxes, but was first introduced to a textbook titled SICP (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) which first taught me how to actually program, and then moved on to learning how to write code using a language (though SICP used a dialect of Lisp called Scheme as its example languages throughout the text in order to teach logical programming). I was told that should I have taken another path such as learning something like Python or object-oriented C++ as my first language without learning how to program functionally first, that I would've developed bad programming habits which would take years of effort to undo and re-learn how to program "properly."

    So I am wondering if the case is similar with math/physics or any other science in general. Is there a correct way to approach such subjects, or can one just dig in and soak up anything they can in no particular order? I obviously don't want to learn incorrect knowledge either, but I'm sure if any reputable information source had mistaken facts, then they would promptly fix/edit/remove it, so I still trust websites like KhanAcademy. I'm just cautious about going into those fields and optimizing my learning methods.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 24, 2012 #2
    There's no correct way to approach physics or mathematics that fits everyone.

    I'd say there are two important rules:

    1. Learning should be enjoying.
    2. Learning should require effort, but not too much. (to strengthen your muscles, you should lift weights that are heavy, but that you are able to lift).
     
  4. Jan 24, 2012 #3

    ZapperZ

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    While there may not be one single way to learn physics, there are a few paths that give you the "least resistance". A college syllabus and the sequence of courses is one example. It is meaningless to thrust someone into an advanced undergraduate E&M when that person hasn't done 1st year intro physics.

    Unlike many liberal arts classes where it is possible for someone to jump in the middle, physics courses, especially advanced levels, often require quite a few prerequisites. Foremost among this is mathematical skills. You will have an amazingly daunting task going into a QM or E&M class when you haven't seen linear algebra, differential equations, etc. It's like trying to build a house when you are not yet skilled in using the tools needed to build that house. While it may be remotely possible for you to build a "house", I don't think I want to live in there!

    Zz.
     
  5. Jan 24, 2012 #4
    Then what makes one textbook or piece of information "better" than the other? Why don't we all just use the same exact book for every subject to learn? Like, will it make a difference if I use the textbook given from school to learn that particular subject, or if I use another textbook on the same topic, or YouTube videos someone uploaded (granted everything is legitimate information) if they all provide the same information but present it in a different manner or order?
     
  6. Jan 24, 2012 #5
    ^
    I'm under the impression that you will find varying opinions for this one. If I were to continue the "house building analogy", then I'd say that which resources to use and in what amounts (some use traditional text books and complement them with YouTube videos) could be compared to the different tools or materials that one could use to build a house. Some could prefer a red-brick building, while someone else might go for a similar house but made of wood...Okay, that doesn't sound as cool as I thought it would but I think you get my point!
     
  7. Jan 24, 2012 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Because of the pedagogical aspect of presenting a material is different!

    You need to understand that how a material is presented is often as important as the content itself! I can simply tell you what Maxwell equation is and walk away. There! Those are facts and you should understand what it is. But is that enough?

    A good book will connect with YOU and how you understand things. So in some cases, what you find to work, someone else might not because we all understand things and learn things differently.

    Zz.
     
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