September 16th 2016

In the United States, the emphasis on understanding sometimes seems to have replaced rather than complemented older teaching methods that scientists are—and have been—telling us work with the brain’s natural process to learn complex subjects like math and science.

This is a worthwhile post to read, reminding me of the most basic methods for learning. I'm especially interested in ways to get better or faster at chunking – a method for storing small chunks of knowledge in long-term memory. An example:

It’s not necessary to go around with 25 marbles in your pocket and lay out 5 rows of 5 marbles again and again so that you get that 5 x 5 = 25. At some point, you just know it fluently from memory.

Of course, that's as simple as one might get. But humans can chunk things much more complex than multiplication tables. We can chunk formulas and concepts, visual arrangements and flows. As designers working with grids and constraints, white space and rhythm, colors and contrast, this is meaningful because we can actively build neural connections between visual expressions and design concepts that will manifest as instinct.

The tough pill to swallow in this article is that the main path to learning new things is through sustained repetition. And it makes sense, but carries certain implications: either you sustain a normal amount of work and repetitive practice for a long period of time, and then become good; or sustain an intense amount of work and repetitive practice in a short period of time, and then become good.

For me, the only time I actually get better at programming is when I program every single day. No brainer, huh? It's tempting to think that I can read a few tutorials and hack on an app once per week and actually get better. But this is an inefficient and ineffective way to learn.

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