My strongest technique for increasing retention from lecture. Maybe it’s obvious; when I decided to make the mindset shift, it wasn’t so obvious, but the results are outsize.
Buzzwords like ‘active listening’ and ‘active learning’ get tossed around, but what do they really mean?
Active learning, for me, is really, viscerally focusing on the material you see on the chalkboard.
It’s easy to get into the mindset, but hard to keep it going; it’s almost like meditation. In the same way, it’s hard to describe abstractly, and examples are far more concrete.
It’s when you’re watching the prof talk through an example problem, and you’re thinking about it. Asking yourself, why did this constant disappear here, why did he use this equation, what did he see that led to his next steps? I try to guess exactly what the next step or the next number will be, guessing where the professor will go next, and asking why was I wrong if I am.
The way we learn, especially in technical subjects, is by finding out where we went wrong.
That’s why the example problems make sense in lecture, but the problem sets seem really hard when you look at them and try to recreate the process. That’s why watching somebody dance or ski looks easy but your body just won’t move exactly the way you imagine it.
We build our own process, test it, and refine it when it goes wrong. By starting that process of learning in lecture, we build a quick skeleton of a framework to build on, rather than having to do it from scratch by reviewing illegible notes or wasting time re-reading a section the teacher’s already lectured on.
In circuits 2, today, for example, my professor went over a quick example of a Laplace transform equation. Sounds like gibberish, but we won’t get into technical jargon, just a high-level overview.
He started with the example problem, and I immediately, consciously and mentally asked myself, what’s the first step in doing this problem? Set up the integral.
Turns out, it wasn’t setting up the math problem. It was looking up the answer in a table. What?
So I then immediately asked a new question, why was it looking it up in the table? Maybe because it looks similar to another one we had, but how? Then, as if on cue, the professor said to change this variable to that, and now it’s the exact same type of equation as the last time, and the answer is the same with the one variable changed.
It sounds easy in practice, but it’s hard almost like meditation in that you have to consciously do this for a while; I’m sure that’s what those test-destroying kids are doing when you see them not taking any notes, but seemingly completely at ease with the material. It becomes habit like any other.
All it is, is just ‘active learning.’ You’re actively asking yourself questions. It takes effort, not just mindlessly writing down the bullet points.
That’s actually the reason behind my new strategy of taking less notes. That, though, is next post’s topic. Hope this helps.
Note: After re-reading this post, I realize that it’s not hard to explain abstractly and the whole concept can be summed up as follows: a conscious effort to make your own mental model of a concept match the professor’s; you’re trying to consciously make your brain see the same patterns that the professor is seeing, and then pattern-match-and-complete in the same way.