The Speed of Learning

  • #1
Satonam
38
1
Wasn't sure where to drop this thread, so here it is!

I've searched the internet and this forum, perhaps I don't have the correct keywords, but I haven't been able to find anything that discusses this topic. I'm interested to know about your individual experience of learning. I'd like to think of this as an informal meta-analysis of what goes on in your mind when you're digesting information. I now attempt to give the question some structure:

Our attention, in my opinion, is not the same for every action we perform. There is a different level of mental "effort" that we "exert" when we read, compared to listening, or thinking, or performing an action. Similarly, this mental effort also differs depending on our interest, urgency, or physical/emotional energy. The attention we "exert", and therefore, our receptiveness to information is not the same when you compare yourself watching a sitcom vs reading/listening to the news, listening to a person live, or studying. I write "effort" and "exert" in quotation marks because giving your attention to something feels mostly passive. Yes, we can take an active approach by writing, stopping to reflect, repetition, among other studying techniques -but how do we "exert" more attention listening to a sitcom vs a lecture?

What is the mental action or mechanism through which people selectively focus their attention? Can it be controlled or is it defined by the environment and the person's innate ability? Sometimes we can block sound and ignore speech, other times it hinders our ability to focus on tasks.

TL;DR
All of this is a long-winded and elaborate way to simply ask, how do you think? Describe it. When you read a newspaper, how much of it do you retain? Do you retain the names of individuals/organizations you've never heard before or do you need to perform "effort" to carry that information with you? How would you describe the degradation of that information as time passes?

Personally, I feel like it's more difficult for me (compared to others) to "hold onto" unstructured extemporaneous information (ie. social conversation). It's like when you're taking notes in class but you're unsure of how to structure it on your notebook without first understanding where the professor is trying to go with it. Your choices are to write them down as they're spoken and make sense of it later, copy the whiteboard exactly as they present it, create a tiered list, etc. But during live conversations, you don't have the benefit of a notebook and you can't "process it later". You're holding different ideas and thoughts that are thrown at you by the active speaker and you're trying to connect them together, but then you run out of hands and you drop all the pieces. Before you know it, you're the silent guy who can't participate in the group conversation because you got lost trying to follow their thought. And it's not their problem, because clearly, everyone else is participating.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
14,188
8,167
Your question is way too fuzzy to answer effectively and borders on a philosophy of learning.

The best that I can say is that when listening to a lecture or a science documentary, I pickup certain facts and piece them together with the theory I already partially understand ie fill in the gaps. For a theory I don't understand then the facts are recorded but they aren't organized and some confusion results.

In math class, I learned not to take notes but rather to listen and absorb what was said. My classmate who was really good in history because of their notetaking skills, did quite poorly trying to take notes especially as the teacher would draw a graph and then change it and then change it again or even erase things unexpectedly making it difficult to track and to plan out your notes. Math wasn't taught like history.

Scientifically, brain researchers have only scratched the surface of understanding how the brain works. Lacking a detailed theory of brain means you can't really answer your question.

Using self-awareness to study how you think just masks the fact that you are thinking on two levels looking at how one level thinks which be more like imagining how one level thinks relative to the second level.
 
  • #3
Satonam
38
1
Your question is way too fuzzy to answer effectively and borders on a philosophy of learning.
I agree, I wasn't sure how to explain the question and it branched out as I wrote it. Regardless, thank you for humoring me. Given the lack of scientific research available, I agree, this topic can only really be explored on a philosophical frame.
The best that I can say is that when listening to a lecture or a science documentary, I pickup certain facts and piece them together with the theory I already partially understand ie fill in the gaps. For a theory I don't understand then the facts are recorded but they aren't organized and some confusion results.
When you say the facts are "recorded" do you mean that you're able to memorize numbers, dates, and names after listening to them once and without tying them to a logical structure that holds them in place in your mind (as opposed to floating untethered thoughts or ideas)? Are you able characterize this a bit more?

For example:
Neglecting all barriers to communication, if you attempted to actively listen and absorb all verbal speech directed towards you in a given day, how much of that information would you functionally retain? Would you feel exhausted afterwards or does it feel like breathing to you?

In math class, I learned not to take notes but rather to listen and absorb what was said. My classmate who was really good in history because of their notetaking skills, did quite poorly trying to take notes especially as the teacher would draw a graph and then change it and then change it again or even erase things unexpectedly making it difficult to track and to plan out your notes. Math wasn't taught like history.
I agree with this. I stopped taking notes in my science courses because I found it easier to just follow the logic. However, the same "mechanism" that allows me to follow a lecture doesn't seem to apply in social settings.

As an example of the differences I notice between myself and others is, I find that people tend to remember quotes and scenes from movies/shows more than I. It makes me wonder why I didn't record that information. Was I less impressed? Did they try harder? Or maybe I'm complacent in a degree of "attention" that feels like the "baseline" to me while others exist at a higher degree of attention as their baseline. If I exerted that level of attention at all times, would it become my baseline or would I be exhausted at all times?
 
  • #4
14,188
8,167
One thing that I notice myself doing is watching for pitfalls, asking myself questions and trying to predict the movie plot. When I fail, I'm surprised and happy that the movie added a clever twist and didn't repeat a common trope.

Another habit, is I watch for safety hazards when I'm walking about. Its not conscious but when I see something wonky it pops into my head. One example, occurred during my after lunch walk where I noticed a new curb stop that was put in place after a sidewalk upgrade and thought wow if a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk didn't see it, they would have a nasty fall. I even went so far as to take a photo and send it in to building maint saying they needed to remove it or paint it bright yellow or bright red. They did neither.

One recent scientific hypothesis of mind is that we might be using a form of quantum computing in our thought processes.

https://phys.org/news/2022-10-brains-quantum.html

One further note, we discourage discussion of any kind of philosophy at PF.
 
  • #5
Hornbein
1,117
814
It seems to me that learning how different people think would be absolutely fundamental to both psychology and education. I'm no expert, but and have searched a bit and there seems to have been little study of this subject. All I found was some people describing their thinking. It's pretty interesting.

https://ask.metafilter.com/15973/How-differently-do-people-think
 
  • #6
pinball1970
Gold Member
1,609
2,224
Wasn't sure where to drop this thread, so here it is!

I've searched the internet and this forum, perhaps I don't have the correct keywords, but I haven't been able to find anything that discusses this topic. I'm interested to know about your individual experience of learning. I'd like to think of this as an informal meta-analysis of what goes on in your mind when you're digesting information. I now attempt to give the question some structure:

Our attention, in my opinion, is not the same for every action we perform. There is a different level of mental "effort" that we "exert" when we read, compared to listening, or thinking, or performing an action. Similarly, this mental effort also differs depending on our interest, urgency, or physical/emotional energy. The attention we "exert", and therefore, our receptiveness to information is not the same when you compare yourself watching a sitcom vs reading/listening to the news, listening to a person live, or studying. I write "effort" and "exert" in quotation marks because giving your attention to something feels mostly passive. Yes, we can take an active approach by writing, stopping to reflect, repetition, among other studying techniques -but how do we "exert" more attention listening to a sitcom vs a lecture?

What is the mental action or mechanism through which people selectively focus their attention? Can it be controlled or is it defined by the environment and the person's innate ability? Sometimes we can block sound and ignore speech, other times it hinders our ability to focus on tasks.

TL;DR
All of this is a long-winded and elaborate way to simply ask, how do you think? Describe it. When you read a newspaper, how much of it do you retain? Do you retain the names of individuals/organizations you've never heard before or do you need to perform "effort" to carry that information with you? How would you describe the degradation of that information as time passes?

Personally, I feel like it's more difficult for me (compared to others) to "hold onto" unstructured extemporaneous information (ie. social conversation). It's like when you're taking notes in class but you're unsure of how to structure it on your notebook without first understanding where the professor is trying to go with it. Your choices are to write them down as they're spoken and make sense of it later, copy the whiteboard exactly as they present it, create a tiered list, etc. But during live conversations, you don't have the benefit of a notebook and you can't "process it later". You're holding different ideas and thoughts that are thrown at you by the active speaker and you're trying to connect them together, but then you run out of hands and you drop all the pieces. Before you know it, you're the silent guy who can't participate in the group conversation because you got lost trying to follow their thought. And it's not their problem, because clearly, everyone else is participating.
Steven Pinker has written some books for the general reader on this subject.
"How the Mind Works" and "The blank slate," they could answer some of your questions.
 
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