How To Learn.

A learning process can be treated as a pyramid, the end results (what the particular knowledge brings) on the top, the basics are at the bottom, and the intermediaries are in the middle, ranked based on what lead to them, and what they lead to. (However, it should be a imaginary pyramid, meaning the top doesn’t have to be small, and the bottom doesn’t have to be massive. The amount of basics of certain knowledge can be limited, but the application can be numerous.)

Don’t just blindly follow the pre-defined chapter sequences in text books or whatever the learning material you have, cause it might not suit everyone. But rather try to observe the thing you’re trying to learn from an outsider/amateur’s perspective first, understand what is it about, what can it do, where can it be applied at, what is the high level structure of it, and so on.

The best & most important high level view is called “Inspiration”. It brings you drive, motivation, curiosity, and these are the cornerstones of success in a particular field. Get inspirations from applications (the pyramid top), meaning the things other people (preferably the masters) created, and then start to go down along the pyramid (try to figure out how did they do it, ask questions like why did they do it this way instead of that way, etc.) to aquire the more fundamental knowledge, and continue, repeat until you have the full picture of your inspiration-or even better, of whatever you are aspired to create by yourself along the learning process.

Traditional learning process in schools is forced on students without much thinking and caring. A typical student would get some text books, go to classes, follow the pace and structure the teacher presents, finish some exercises after certain learning sessions or chapters, and examine their level of learning with mid-term or final exams.

But there’s a problem. If you start working out, and let’s say you make a plan of exercising your biceps & chest on Mon. & Thu. every week for 2 months, you don’t put all your energy on only working out your biceps for the first month and then add chest from the second month, instead you split your energy for both parts from the very beginning, do some biceps and some chest, and you repeat. And on a different day you do the whole sequence for other muscles, and then repeat. This way, your body will adjust in a balanced way. Or imagine you train for 100-meter sprint, you don’t try to run fast for the first 10 meters at the beginning, and then push to the 20, 30, 40 meters and so on, right? Instead, you run the whole 100 meters from the very beginning, and you repeat, and you improve & optimise certain details with every repetition. This way, you improve in progressive way.

And in the field of Artificial Intelligence (which I know one thing and two about), you generally train networks, models, and agents to perform certain tasks. The way you do it, is by giving the network/agent a goal to achieve, then giving them a path to get to the goal, and some metrics to let it know whether it did a good job or not. And you let it repeat the whole process (from the starting point to the end goal) for millions of times, assess its performance, and give feedbacks (normally rewards & penalties) to it for it to adjust itself to perform better in the future.

But how come when it comes to learning for humans, we approach it totally differently? And because of the “progress along the chapters” type of learning strategy, there’s a tendency in the society that makes us think if someone spends lots of time learning something they must be really good at it (which is where the “20 years of experience in ___ industry” type of qualifications comes from).

To be clear though, spending lots of time on something is an absolute necessity in the pursuit of greatness, but the time needs to be spent with quality.

So feel free and spend enough time to explore, let your curiosity to guide you to wherever it is, but do keep track of some crucial things along the way, and look inside yourself, think Why you do certain things in certain ways, you would accelerate your learning process not just in the current thing you’re learning, but more importantly, in whatever you’re about to learn in the future.

End Note.

I only talked about the “approach it as a whole” learning strategy, and it makes totally sense in the contexts that I used as examples, as well as many more similar ones. However, I believe this is not gravity or the law of nature, so it’s quite likely that it might not be as competent as some other learning strategies in certain fields. It’s best to use your own thinking when trying to approach some learning problems.