How to Learn Like the Kids of Today
How to Learn Like the Kids of Today
Have you noticed how much faster kids are at picking things up than we are? Particularly those of you who were educated many decades ago, as I was?
They don't learn the old-fashioned way. That way was about a set of linear standard texts and the lessons therein. The advantages of the old approach are obvious when it comes to disciplines like engineering, medicine and law. To be effective in those areas, you have to absorb a lot of prior work and there are no shortcuts.
Even in medicine, the field is developing so fast that beyond a foundation, sticking to a standard set of texts beyond the initial training limits reduces the amount of exposure you get to a wealth of emerging technology.
Even in Law, it won't be long before AI can help enormously.
This post isn't about attacking the old school. I'm old school, and I think the old ways have merit, but we don't operate in stable technological world anymore, nor a linearly developing technological world.
We are in a time of chaos, but we don't see it because we are in it. Our brains have evolved to extract fitness functions from a field of chaos anyway, so why not work to its strengths?
I said "fitness functions" and you probably didn't blink, but the fact is that we don't see the world as it is. We've survived because we evolved to see the world not as it is, but as an abstraction that helps us to survive!
I gave a talk to some Spanish students last week, and shared six principles I think we're going to need to survive the increasingly chaotic future. One of those principles is life-long learning.
If we learn the old school way, we'd miss developments and ideas that could help us massively in our wellbeing, our development and our interests, because not only are things changing too fast for that approach to work, there's also more information being produced in an hour than can be absorbed in a lifetime.
We have to specialise.
The technological progress of humanity has been built on a web of increasing specialisation. This provides for incredible progress (so long as we don't do something stupid like go to war.)
As we've seen though, as a result of a series of systemic shocks like Donald Trump's trade war with China, the recent (and ongoing) pandemic, Brexit and the Ukraine crisis, this interconnectedness and increased specialisation makes us incredibly vulnerable.
Simply put, if one system gets damaged, we can likely recover, and recover fully. If a few systems get damaged, it's like a stroke. It's catastrophic. It can take a long time to retrain and recover, and if we're unlucky, we don't recover at all.
While the pandemic produced a bunch of sourdough bread-bakers, how many of us had access to a cow and a hen for eggs and milk? And that's the easy stuff.
Meanwhile, we worried massively about the kids' education, but the current school system is educating children for a world that no longer exists, and never will again.
What are the kids doing about it? Well, they're using the Internet, yeah, the thing the boomers and Gen X. built.
The way they use it is inspiring. They surf from knowledge point to knowledge point at frightening speed.
It's not that they have short attention spans, though they well might, like the rest of us, it's that they live in a world that punishes the boring.
Our brains evolved to focus on the novel and to drown out the boring.
The kids aren't necessarily distracted. They might well be teaching us how to be hyper-efficient.
It's not that they change their interests any more often than us older folk did as kids, it's that they change their sources often.
Let's take Minecraft.
A couple of months ago I decided to start work on a course to teach my son how to code.
I'm building the course.
He's already coding.
He's already created more content in Minecraft, including plinths that rotate characters and a crossbow that fires an Ender Dragon that wreaks havoc on the landscape and much, much more, all by mimicking what he sees on YouTube.
That's how I learned to program.
I typed in listings and experimented.
Except now, if someone takes too long to get to the point, he abandons that source ruthlessly and moves onto a more interesting, a more novel source.
He doesn't have a short attention span. He has a passion and an interest. He's all in, but his sources are broad and he is in charge of his own curriculum, expanding his knowledge in the direction of his curiosity, developing at frightening speed.
We learn to read so that we can read to learn.
His reading has developed massively as a result of his curiosity and interest, he's motivated, he's efficient and he's in charge. I watch and marvel.
Most books nowadays take a few key points and drag them out for a couple of hundred pages more than is necessary.
We can be ruthless in our self-interest if we choose, and that doesn't mean selfishness. It means we have a limited time on this planet, and we should be careful not to let anyone else be in charge of how we use what little time we have.
Dump books if they're not delivering.
This isn't a call to dump the hard stuff. I'm all about the hard stuff, but you can't start with that. You have to start with curiosity, with interest and the passion will emerge from that, and that's what will drive you on to push at the edges of your comfort zone.
This isn't about being shallow. It's about plotting a course through a sea that will drown you, if you let it. A course that takes you from crest to crest to your destination.
Radio 4 Debut
A few months ago I was interviewed by Keza McDonald for a forthcoming Radio 4 show. Last Saturday an old business acquaintance who I hadn't spoken with in a decade texted me to say he loved what he was hearing, and that was the first I heard about the show airing.
Then I realised of course that my concept of live is almost meaningless, as few people listen to anything live anymore, and that the show would likely be available forever. Or at least as long as the BBC don't charge for it.
Anyway, other than my contribution, Keza has put together a great show and I recommend you have a listen!