Tag Archives: The Latticework

On Mathematics

Below is a “teacher’s reference guide” for the ideas found within The Latticework’s Mathematics discipline.

The idea is to help keep these valuable ideas top of mind so that they can hopefully become second nature. It’s also a great exercise to distill some of these rather complex ideas into as simple (but no simpler!) a form factor as possible, getting to its true essence.

On Chemistry

Below is a “teacher’s reference guide” for the ideas found within The Latticework’s Chemistry discipline.

The idea is to help keep these valuable ideas top of mind so that they can hopefully become second nature. It’s also a great exercise to distill some of these rather complex ideas into as simple (but no simpler!) a form factor as possible, getting to its true essence.

On Physics

Below is a “teacher’s reference guide” for the ideas found within The Latticework’s Physics discipline.

The idea is to help keep these valuable ideas top of mind so that they can hopefully become second nature. It’s also a great exercise to distill some of these rather complex ideas into as simple (but no simpler!) a form factor as possible, getting to its true essence.

How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers by Sonke Ahrens

Summary

  1. To sum it up: The quality of a paper and the ease with which it is written depends more than anything on what you have done in writing before you even made a decision on the topic. But if that is true (and I wholeheartedly believe it is), and the key to successful writing lies in the preparation, it also means that the vast majority of self-help books and study guides can only help you to close the barn door correctly and according to official rules – not just a moment, but many months after the horse has already escaped…And if I were forced to boil it down to a single bullet point, it would be this: We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains. See more at http://takesmartnotes.com

Key Takeaways

  1. Environment and Structure
    1. What does make a significant difference along the whole intelligence spectrum is something else: how much self-discipline or self-control one uses to approach the tasks at hand. Luckily, this is not the whole story. We know today that self-control and self-discipline have much more to do with our environment than with ourselves (cf. Thaler, 2015, ch. 2) – and the environment can be changed. Nobody needs willpower not to eat a chocolate bar when there isn’t one around. And nobody needs willpower to do something they wanted to do anyway. Every task that is interesting, meaningful and well-defined will be done, because there is no conflict between long- and short-term interests. Having a meaningful and well-defined task beats willpower every time. Not having willpower, but not having to use willpower indicates that you set yourself up for success. This is where the organisation of writing and note-taking comes into play.
    2. Good structure allows you to do that, to move seamlessly from one task to another – without threatening the whole arrangement or losing sight of the bigger picture. Having a clear structure to work in is completely different from making plans about something. If you make a plan, you impose a structure on yourself; it makes you inflexible. To keep going according to plan, you have to push yourself and employ willpower. This is not only demotivating, but also unsuitable for an open-ended process like research, thinking or studying in general, where we have to adjust our next steps with every new insight, understanding or achievement – which we ideally have on a regular basis and not just as an exception. Even though planning is often at odds with the very idea of research and learning, it is the mantra of most study guides and self-help books on academic writing. How do you plan for insight, which, by definition, cannot be anticipated? It is a huge misunderstanding that the only alternative to planning is aimless messing around. The challenge is to structure one’s workflow in a way that insight and new ideas can become the driving forces that push us forward.
      1. The best way to deal with complexity is to keep things as simple as possible and to follow a few basic principles. The simplicity of the structure allows complexity to build up where we want it: on the content level. There is quite extensive empirical and logical research on this phenomenon (for an overview: cf. Sull and Eisenhardt, 2015). Taking smart notes is as simple as it gets.
    3. Luhmann was able to focus on the important things right in front of him, pick up quickly where he left off and stay in control of the process because the structure of his work allowed him to do this. If we work in an environment that is flexible enough to accommodate our work rhythm, we don’t need to struggle with resistance. Studies on highly successful people have proven again and again that success is not the result of strong willpower and the ability to overcome resistance, but rather the result of smart working environments that avoid resistance in the first place (cf. Neal et al. 2012; Painter et al. 2002; Hearn et al. 1998). Instead of struggling with adverse dynamics, highly productive people deflect resistance, very much like judo champions. This is not just about having the right mindset, it is also about having the right workflow. It is the way Luhmann and his slip-box worked together that allowed him to move freely and flexibly between different tasks and levels of thinking. It is about having the right tools and knowing how to use them – and very few understand that you need both.
    4. Assemble notes and bring them into order, turn these notes into a draft, review it and you are done.
  2. The Process
    1. Writing notes accompanies the main work and, done right, it helps with it. Writing is, without dispute, the best facilitator for thinking, reading, learning, understanding and generating ideas we have. Notes build up while you think, read, understand and generate ideas, because you have to have a pen in your hand if you want to think, read, understand and generate ideas properly anyway. If you want to learn something for the long run, you have to write it down. If you want to really understand something, you have to translate it into your own words. Thinking takes place as much on paper as in your own head. “Notes on paper, or on a computer screen […] do not make contemporary physics or other kinds of intellectual endeavour easier, they make it possible,” neuroscientist Neil Levy concludes in the introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, summarizing decades of research. Neuroscientists, psychologists and other experts on thinking have very different ideas about how our brains work, but, as Levy writes: “no matter how internal processes are implemented, (you) need to understand the extent to which the mind is reliant upon external scaffolding.” (2011, 270)
    2. Make permanent notes. Now turn to your slip-box. Go through the notes you made in step one or two (ideally once a day and before you forget what you meant) and think about how they relate to what is relevant for your own research, thinking or interests. This can soon be done by looking into the slip-box – it only contains what interests you anyway. The idea is not to collect, but to develop ideas, arguments and discussions. Does the new information contradict, correct, support or add to what you already have (in the slip-box or on your mind)? Can you combine ideas to generate something new? What questions are triggered by them?    Write exactly one note for each idea and write as if you were writing for someone else: Use full sentences, disclose your sources, make references and try to be as precise, clear and brief as possible. Throw away the fleeting notes from step one and put the literature notes from step two into your reference system. You can forget about them now. All that matters is going into the slip-box.
    3. We constantly encounter interesting ideas along the way and only a fraction of them are useful for the particular paper we started reading it for. Why let them go to waste? Make a note and add it to your slip-box. It improves it. Every idea adds to what can become a critical mass that turns a mere collection of ideas into an idea-generator. A typical work day will contain many, if not all, of these steps: You read and take notes. You build connections within the slip-box, which in itself will spark new ideas. You write them down and add them to the discussion. You write on your paper, notice a hole in the argument and have another look in the file system for the missing link. You follow up on a footnote, go back to research and might add a fitting quote to one of your papers in the making.
    4. The whole workflow becomes complicated: There is the technique of underlining important sentences (sometimes in different colours or shapes), commenting in the margins of a text, writing excerpts, employing reading methods with acronyms like SQ3R[8] or SQ4R,[9] writing a journal, brainstorming a topic or following multi-step question sheets – and then there are, of course, the one thousand and twelve apps and programs that are supposed to help with learning and writing. Few of these techniques are particularly complicated in themselves, but they are usually used without any regard to the actual workflow, which then quickly becomes a mess. As nothing really fits together, working within this arrangement becomes extremely complicated indeed and difficult to get anything done. And if you stumble upon one idea and think that it might connect to another idea, what do you do when you employ all these different techniques? Go through all your books to find the right underlined sentence? Reread all your journals and excerpts? And what do you do then? Write an excerpt about it? Where do you save it and how does this help to make new connections? Every little step suddenly turns into its own project without bringing the whole much further forward. Adding another promising technique to it, then, would make things only worse.
    5. That is why the slip-box is not introduced as another technique, but as a crucial element in an overarching workflow that is stripped of everything that could distract from what is important. Good tools do not add features and more options to what we already have, but help to reduce distractions from the main work, which here is thinking. The slip-box provides an external scaffold to think in and helps with those tasks our brains are not very good at, most of all objective storage of information. That is pretty much it. To have an undistracted brain to think with and a reliable collection of notes to think in is pretty much all we need. Everything else is just clutter.
    6. We need four tools:
      1. Something to write with and something to write on (pen and paper will do)
      2. A reference management system (the best programs are free)
      3. The slip-box (the best program is free)
      4. An editor (whatever works best for you: very good ones are free)
      5. More is unnecessary, less is impossible.
        1. Some suggestions: Zotero, takesmartnotes.com, Zettelkasten, zettelkasten.danielluedecke.de
    7. This book is based on another assumption: Studying does not prepare students for independent research. It is independent research.
    8. We tend to think that big transformations have to start with an equally big idea. But more often than not, it is the simplicity of an idea that makes it so powerful (and often overlooked in the beginning).
    9. The slip-box is the shipping container of the academic world. Instead of having different storage for different ideas, everything goes into the same slip-box and is standardised into the same format. Instead of focusing on the in-between steps and trying to make a science out of underlining systems, reading techniques or excerpt writing, everything is streamlined towards one thing only: insight that can be published. The biggest advantage compared to a top-down storage system organised by topics is that the slip-box becomes more and more valuable the more it grows, instead of getting messy and confusing. If you sort by topic, you are faced with the dilemma of either adding more and more notes to one topic, which makes them increasingly hard to find, or adding more and more topics and subtopics to it, which only shifts the mess to another level. The first system is designed to find things you deliberately search for, putting all the responsibility on your brain. The slip-box is designed to present you with ideas you have already forgotten, allowing your brain to focus on thinking instead of remembering.
    10. Even though the slip-box, being organised bottom-up, does not face the trade-off problem between too many or too few topics, it too can lose its value when notes are added to it indiscriminately. It can only play out its strengths when we aim for a critical mass, which depends not only on the number of notes, but also their quality and the way they are handled. To achieve a critical mass, it is crucial to distinguish clearly between three types of notes:
      1. Fleeting notes, which are only reminders of information, can be written in any kind of way and will end up in the trash within a day or two.
      2. Permanent notes, which will never be thrown away and contain the necessary information in themselves in a permanently understandable way. They are always stored in the same way in the same place, either in the reference system or, written as if for print, in the slip-box.
      3. Project notes, which are only relevant to one particular project. They are kept within a project-specific folder and can be discarded or archived after the project is finished. Only if the notes of these three categories are kept separated it will be possible to build a critical mass of ideas within the slip-box. One of the major reasons for not getting much writing or publishing done lies in the confusion of these categories.
    11. Every question that emerges out of our slip-box will naturally and handily come with material to work with. If we look into our slip-box to see where clusters have built up, we not only see possible topics, but topics we have already worked on – even if we were not able to see it up front. The idea that nobody ever starts from scratch suddenly becomes very concrete. If we take it seriously and work accordingly, we literally never have to start from scratch again.
    12. You may remember from school the difference between an exergonic and an endergonic reaction. In the first case, you constantly need to add energy to keep the process going. In the second case, the reaction, once triggered, continues by itself and even releases energy. The dynamics of work are not so different. Sometimes we feel like our work is draining our energy and we can only move forward if we put more and more energy into it. But sometimes it is the opposite. Once we get into the workflow, it is as if the work itself gains momentum, pulling us along and sometimes even energizing us. This is the kind of dynamic we are looking for. A good workflow can easily turn into a virtuous circle, where the positive experience motivates us to take on the next task with ease, which helps us to get better at what we are doing, which in return makes it more likely for us to enjoy the work, and so on. But if we feel constantly stuck in our work, we will become demotivated and much more likely to procrastinate, leaving us with fewer positive or even bad experiences like missed deadlines.
    13. Feedback loops are not only crucial for the dynamics of motivation, but also the key element to any learning process. Nothing motivates us more than the experience of becoming better at what we do. And the only chance to improve in something is getting timely and concrete feedback. Seeking feedback, not avoiding it, is the first virtue of anyone who wants to learn, or in the more general terms of psychologist Carol Dweck, to grow.
    14. Our brains work not that differently in terms of interconnectedness. Psychologists used to think of the brain as a limited storage space that slowly fills up and makes it more difficult to learn late in life. But we know today that the more connected information we already have, the easier it is to learn, because new information can dock to that information. Yes, our ability to learn isolated facts is indeed limited and probably decreases with age. But if facts are not kept isolated nor learned in an isolated fashion, but hang together in a network of ideas, or “latticework of mental models” (Munger, 1994), it becomes easier to make sense of new information.
    15. Oshin Vartanian compared and analysed the daily workflows of Nobel Prize winners and other eminent scientists and concluded that it is not a relentless focus, but flexible focus that distinguishes them. “Specifically, the problem-solving behavior of eminent scientists can alternate between extraordinary levels of focus on specific concepts and playful exploration of ideas.
    16. The moment we stop making plans is the moment we start to learn. It is a matter of practice to become good at generating insight and write good texts by choosing and moving flexibly between the most important and promising tasks, judged by nothing else than the circumstances of the given situation.
    17. Things we understand are connected, either through rules, theories, narratives, pure logic, mental models or explanations. And deliberately building these kinds of meaningful connections is what the slip-box is all about.
    18. Every step is accompanied by questions like: How does this fact fit into my idea of …? How can this phenomenon be explained by that theory? Are these two ideas contradictory or do they complement each other? Isn’t this argument similar to that one? Haven’t I heard this before? And above all: What does x mean for y? These questions not only increase our understanding, but facilitate learning as well. Once we make a meaningful connection to an idea or fact, it is difficult not to remember it when we think about what it is connected with.
    19. It is safe to argue that a reliable and standardised working environment is less taxing on our attention, concentration and willpower, or, if you like, ego.
    20. Breaks are much more than just opportunities to recover. They are crucial for learning. They allow the brain to process information, move it into long-term memory and prepare it for new information. If we don’t give ourselves a break in between work sessions, be it out of eagerness or fear of forgetting what we were doing, it can have a detrimental effect on our efforts. To have a walk even a nap supports learning and thinking.
    21. If you understand what you read and translate it into the different context of your own thinking, materialised in the slip-box, you cannot help but transform the findings and thoughts of others into something that is new and your own. It works both ways: The series of notes in the slip-box develops into arguments, which are shaped by the theories, ideas and mental models you have in your head. And the theories, ideas and mental models in your head are also shaped by the things you read.
    22. “I always have a slip of paper at hand, on which I note down the ideas of certain pages. On the backside I write down the bibliographic details. After finishing the book I go through my notes and think how these notes might be relevant for already written notes in the slip-box. It means that I always read with an eye towards possible connections in the slip-box.”
    23. Without a clear purpose for the notes, taking them will feel more like a chore than an important step within a bigger project.
    24. Here, everything is about building up a critical mass of useful notes in the slip-box, which gives us a clear idea of how to read and how to take literature notes.
    25. While selectivity is the key to smart note-taking, it is equally important to be selective in a smart way. Unfortunately, our brains are not very smart in selecting information by default. While we should seek out dis-confirming arguments and facts that challenge our way of thinking, we are naturally drawn to everything that makes us feel good, which is everything that confirms what we already believe we know. The very moment we decide on a hypothesis, our brains automatically go into search mode, scanning our surroundings for supporting data, which is neither a good way to learn nor research. Worse, we are usually not even aware of this confirmation bias (or myside bias). The classic role model would be Charles Darwin. He forced himself to write down (and therefore elaborate on) the arguments that were the most critical of his theories. “I had […] during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views, which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.” 
    26. Writing brief accounts on the main ideas of a text instead of collecting quotes.
    27. Putting notes into the slip-box, however, is like investing and reaping the rewards of compounded interest (which would in this example almost pay for the whole flat). And likewise, the sum of the slip-box content is worth much more than the sum of the notes. More notes mean more possible connections, more ideas, more synergy between different projects and therefore a much higher degree of productivity.
    28. Add a note to the slip-box either behind the note you directly refer to or, if you do not follow up on a specific note, just behind the last note in the slip-box. Number it consecutively. The Zettelkasten numbers the notes automatically. “New note” will just add a note with a new number. If you click “New note sequence,” the new note will be registered at the same time as the note that follows the note currently active on the screen. But you can always add notes “behind” other notes anytime later. Each note can follow multiple other notes and therefore be part of different note sequences. 2.    Add links to other notes or links on other notes to your new note. 3.    Make sure it can be found from the index; add an entry in the index if necessary or refer to it from a note that is connected to the index. 4.    Build a Latticework of Mental Models
    29. Because the slip-box is not intended to be an encyclopaedia, but a tool to think with, we don’t need to worry about completeness.
    30. Keywords should always be assigned with an eye towards the topics you are working on or interested in, never by looking at the note in isolation.
    31. The beauty of this approach is that we co-evolve with our slip-boxes: we build the same connections in our heads while we deliberately develop them in our slip-box – and make it easier to remember the facts as they now have a latticework we can attach them to. If we practice learning not as a pure accumulation of knowledge, but as an attempt to build up a latticework of theories and mental models to which information can stick, we enter a virtuous circle where learning facilitates learning.
  3. Learning, Thinking, & Retrieval
    1. Without these tools and reference points, no professional reading or understanding would be possible. We would read every text in the same way: like a novel. But with the learned ability of spotting patterns, we can enter the circle of virtuosity: Reading becomes easier, we grasp the gist quicker, can read more in less time, and can more easily spot patterns and improve our understanding of them.
    2. The ability to spot patterns, to question the frames used and detect the distinctions made by others, is the precondition to thinking critically and looking behind the assertions of a text or a talk. Being able to re-frame questions, assertions and information is even more important than having an extensive knowledge, because without this ability, we wouldn’t be able to put our knowledge to use.
    3. Developing arguments and ideas bottom-up instead of top-down is the first and most important step to opening ourselves up for insight. We should be able to focus on the most insightful ideas we encounter and welcome the most surprising turns of events without jeopardizing our progress or, even better, because it brings our project forward.
    4. It becomes easier to seek out dis-confirming data with practice and can become quite addictive. The experience of how one piece of information can change the whole perspective on a certain problem is exciting.
    5. ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.” (Kant 1784)
    6. Only the actual attempt to retrieve information will clearly show us if we have learned something or not.
    7. When we try to answer a question before we know how to, we will later remember the answer better, even if our attempt failed (Arnold and McDermott 2013). If we put effort into the attempt of retrieving information, we are much more likely to remember it in the long run, even if we fail to retrieve it without help in the end (Roediger and Karpicke 2006). Even without any feedback, we will be better off if we try to remember something ourselves (Jang et al. 2012). The empirical data is pretty unambiguous, but these learning strategies do not necessarily feel right.
    8. It is not surprising, therefore, that the best-researched and most successful learning method is elaboration. It is very similar to what we do when we take smart notes and combine them with others, which is the opposite of mere re-viewing (Stein et al. 1984) Elaboration means nothing other than really thinking about the meaning of what we read, how it could inform different questions and topics and how it could be combined with other knowledge.
    9. One difference stood out as critical: The ability to think beyond the given frames of a text (Lonka 2003, 155f). Experienced academic readers usually read a text with questions in mind and try to relate it to other possible approaches, while inexperienced readers tend to adopt the question of a text and the frames of the argument and take it as a given. What good readers can do is spot the limitations of a particular approach and see what is not mentioned in the text.
    10. Richard Feynman once had a visitor in his office, a historian who wanted to interview him. When he spotted Feynman’s notebooks, he said how delighted he was to see such “wonderful records of Feynman’s thinking.” “No, no!” Feynman protested. “They aren’t a record of my thinking process. They are my thinking process. I actually did the work on the paper.” “Well,” the historian said, “the work was done in your head, but the record of it is still here.” “No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You have to work on paper, and this is the paper.”
    11. If we instead focus on “retrieval strength,” we instantly start to think strategically about what kind of cues should trigger the retrieval of a memory.
    12. What does help for true, useful learning is to connect a piece of information to as many meaningful contexts as possible, which is what we do when we connect our notes in the slip-box with other notes. Making these connections deliberately means building up a self-supporting network of interconnected ideas and facts that work reciprocally as cues for each other. Learned right, which means understanding, which means connecting in a meaningful way to previous knowledge, information almost cannot be forgotten anymore and will be reliably retrieved if triggered by the right cues. Moreover, this new learned knowledge can provide more possible connections for new information. If you focus your time and energy on understanding, you cannot help but learn.
    13. Being experienced with a problem and intimately familiar with the tools and devices we work with, ideally to the point of virtuosity, is the precondition for discovering their inherent possibilities, writes Ludwik Fleck, a historian of science
    14. Steven Johnson, who wrote an insightful book about how people in science and in general come up with genuine new ideas, calls it the “slow hunch.” As a precondition to make use of this intuition, he emphasises the importance of experimental spaces where ideas can freely mingle
    15. Studies on creativity with engineers show that the ability to find not only creative, but functional and working solutions for technical problems is equal to the ability to make abstractions. The better an engineer is at abstracting from a specific problem, the better and more pragmatic his solutions will be – even for the very problem he abstracted from (Gassmann and Zeschky, 2008, 103). Abstraction is also the key to analyse and compare concepts, to make analogies and to combine ideas; this is especially true when it comes to interdisciplinary work (Goldstone and Wilensky 2008).
    16. One of the most famous figures to illustrate this skill is the mathematician Abraham Wald (Mangel and Samaniego 1984). During World War II, he was asked to help the Royal Air Force find the areas on their planes that were most often hit by bullets so they could cover them with more armour. But instead of counting the bullet holes on the returned planes, he recommended armouring the spots where none of the planes had taken any hits. The RAF forgot to take into account what was not there to see: All the planes that didn’t make it back. The RAF fell for a common error in thinking called survivorship bias (Taleb 2005). The other planes didn’t make it back because they were hit where they should have had extra protection, like the fuel tank. The returning planes could only show what was less relevant.
    17. IAnother key point: Try working on different manuscripts at the same time. While the slip-box is already helpful to get one project done, its real strength comes into play when we start working on multiple projects at the same time. The slip-box is in some way what the chemical industry calls “verbund.” This is a setup in which the inevitable by-product of one production line becomes the resource for another, which again produces by-products that can be used in other processes and so on, until a network of production lines becomes so efficiently intertwined that there is no chance of an isolated factory competing with it anymore. This is advantageous not only because we make progress on the next papers or books while we are still working on the current one, but also because it allows us to switch to other projects whenever we get stuck or bored. Remember: Luhmann’s answer to the question of how one person could be so productive was that he never forced himself to do anything and only did what came easily to him. “When I am stuck for one moment, I leave it and do something else.” When he was asked what else he did when he was stuck, his answer was: “Well, writing other books. I always work on different manuscripts at the same time.
    18. There is one exception, though: we most certainly act according to our intention if we happen to intend to do exactly what we used to do before. It is really easy to predict the behaviour of people in the long run. In all likelihood, we will do in a month, a year or two years from now exactly what we have done before: eat as many chocolates as before, go to the gym as often as before, and get ourselves into the same kinds of arguments with our partners as before. To put it differently, good intentions don’t last very long, usually. We have the best chance to change our behaviour over the long term if we start with a realistic idea about the difficulties of behavioural change
    19. Change is possible when the solution appears to be simple.

What I got out of it

  1. Feel like somebody was explaining my system to me! This is a bit more rigorous, but much of how I take notes, recall info, fit them into my latticework, helps with ideation, recall, and creativity – exactly like this structure outlines!

Design for How People Learn by Dirksen Julie

Summary

  1. How to use key principles behind learning, memory, and attention to create materials that enable your audience to both gain and retain the knowledge and skills you’re sharing.

Key Takeaways

  1. Even “amazing” classes are useless if the learner doesn’t do something different afterward. For me, the goal of good learning design is for learners to emerge from the learning experience with new or improved capabilities that they can take back to the real world and that help them do the things they need or want to do.
  2. Learning Path
    1. If learning is a journey, what’s the gap between where they are and where they need to be? Sometimes that gap is knowledge, but just as often the gap can be skills, motivation, habit, or environment.
      1. Having a skill is different from having knowledge. To determine if something is a skill gap rather than a knowledge gap, you need to ask just one question: Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice? If the answer is no, then you know you are dealing with a skill, and your learners will need practice to develop proficiency.
      2. To teach skills, that practice must be part of the learning journey you design.
    2. The best learning experiences are designed with a clear destination in mind. Learn how to determine your destination with accuracy. Basically, you want your learners to have the right supplies for their journey: You also want your learners to know what to do with that information.
    3. Identifying and Bridging Gaps
      1. So when you are mapping out the route, you need to ask yourself what the journey looks like.
        1. Knowledge • What information does the learner need to be successful? • When along the route will they need it? • What formats would best support that?
        2. Skills • What will the learners need to practice to develop the needed proficiencies? • Where are their opportunities to practice?
        3. Motivation • What is the learner’s attitude toward the change? • Are they going to be resistant to changing course?
        4. Habits • Are any of the required behaviors habits? • Are there existing habits that will need to be unlearned?
        5. Environment • What in the environment is preventing the learner from being successful? • What is needed to support them in being successful?
        6. Communication • Are the goals being clearly communicated?
    1. One of my all-time favorite clients was a group that did drug and alcohol prevention curriculums for middle-school kids. When they were initially explaining the curriculum to me, they talked about how a lot of earlier drug-prevention curriculums focused on information (“THIS is a crack pipe. Crack is BAD.”). Now does anyone think the main reason kids get involved with drugs is a lack of knowledge about drug paraphernalia, or because no one had ever bothered to mention that drugs are a bad idea? Instead, this group focused on practicing the heck out of handling awkward social situations involving drugs and alcohol. Kids did role-plays and skits, and brainstormed what to say in difficult situations. By ensuring that the curriculum addressed the real gaps (e.g., skills in handling challenging social situations), they were able to be much more effective. If you have a really clear sense of where the gaps are, what they are like, and how big they are, you will design much better learning solutions.
    2. You want to consider the question of what your learners want from a few different angles. Think about why they are there, what they want to get out of the experience, what they don’t want, and what they like (which may be different from what they want).
    3. Leveraging your learners as teachers. Intrinsically motivated learners are going to learn a lot on their own, and will learn even more if they share that knowledge.
    4. “My job as a game designer is to make the player feel smart.” I think the same is true for learning designers. Your job is to make your learners feel smart, and, even more importantly, they should feel capable.
    5. Don’t make every part of the learning experience required for everybody. Just don’t. Really.
    6. Regardless of the learning venue (classroom, elearning, informational website), it’s best to have as interactive an experience as possible. Ideally, you would construct opportunities to see how your learners are interpreting and applying what they learn, so you can correct misconceptions, extend their understanding, and identify ways to reinforce the learning.
    7. In determining the path for your learner, you want to do these things:
      1. Identify what problem you are trying to solve.
      2. Set a destination.
      3. Determine the gaps between the starting point and the destination.
      4. Decide how far you are going to be able to go.
    8. So when you are creating learning objectives, ask yourself: • Is this something the learner would actually do in the real world? • Can I tell when they’ve done it?
    9. The first way is to think about how sophisticated or complex you want your learner’s understanding to be. One scale for this is Bloom’s Taxonomy (this is the later version, revised by Anderson & Krathwohl in 2001): • Remember • Understand • Apply • Analyze • Evaluate • Create
    10. The fast parts learn, propose, and absorb shocks; the slow parts remember, integrate, and constrain. The fast parts get all the attention. The slow parts have all the power. This raises the question, What is the pace layering of learners? What can change quickly, and what changes more slowly?
    11. More (and better) associations will make it easier to retrieve the information. If you don’t have a good shelving system for this word, you can create a mnemonic for it. The more ways you have to find a piece of information, the easier it is to retrieve, so an item that goes on only one or two shelves is going to be harder to retrieve than an item that goes on many shelves.
    12. One of the most difficult types of context to create for learning situations is emotional context. So how can you create learning activities that are a better match for the real-world application? • Ensure that the practice involves recall or application.
    13. Ensure that the practice and assessment are high-context.
    14. Use job aids to change something from a recall to a recognition task. Job aids change the task from “recall the steps” to “follow these steps,” reducing the need to rely on memory. If you do use job aids, give your learners a chance to practice with the job aid as part of the learning. If you want to eventually retrieve information from your memory, you need to practice retrieving it when you study (Karpicke 2011). Retrieval practice has been well studied and is one of the most effective study methods, found in one study to be more effective than traditional studying or mind-mapping. When you are teaching, you need to make sure that your learning activities allow your learners to practice in the same way that they will need to perform.
  3. Memory & Feedback
    1. Memory relies on encoding and retrieval, so learning designers need to think about how the material gets into long-term memory, and also about what the learner can do to retrieve it later.
    2. People hold items in working memory only as long as they need them for some purpose. Once that purpose is satisfied, they frequently forget the items. Asking your learners to do something with the information causes them to retain it longer and increases the likelihood that that information will be encoded into long-term memory.
    3. So how do you attract and engage the elephant? • Tell it stories. • Surprise it. • Show it shiny things. • Tell it all the other elephants are doing it. • Leverage the elephant’s habits.
    4. Another way to leverage storytelling in learning design is to make people the heroes of their own story. A friend of mine who is a game designer says the purpose of game design is to make the player feel smart. Sebastian Deterding, a game researcher and academic, describes it this way: Games satisfy one of our three innate psychological needs—namely, the need to experience competence, our ability to control and affect our environment, and to get better at it.
    5. Somewhat counterintuitively, a longer period in between practice sessions can lead to longer overall retention. A good rule of thumb is to time the practices to how often you’ll need to use the behavior.
    6. The good news is that if you use the Context, Challenge, Activity, and Feedback model, or if you design a curriculum around structured goals, you have lots of built-in feedback points. You should look for opportunities to increase the frequency of feedback whenever possible.
    7. Increasing the frequency of feedback is great, but if you do that, you also want to have various ways to provide feedback.
    8. Figuring out when the check-ins need to occur can be enormously helpful. Part of designing your learning experience should be setting a schedule. • When are you going to follow up? • What will be evaluated? • What criteria will be used?
    9. If the structure and setup of your learning situation don’t allow for coaching follow-up, there are other ways to reach out and follow up with learners: • Create a forum online and encourage learners to report back on their experiences. • Send periodic emails with examples, tips, and opportunities for learners to self-evaluate. • Have virtual critique sessions that allow learners to post work and get feedback from the community.
    10. Change is a Process, Not an Event Any time you want learners to change their behavior, it’s a process and it needs to be reinforced.
  4. Progress & Recognition
    1. I think we have a similar responsibility when we design learning experiences, but I think our responsibility is to make the learner feel capable. So how can your learners feel more capable? • Show them the before and after. Your learner should be able to see how they will be different if they master the skills. What will they be able to do that they can’t do now? Will they be more capable? Will they be able to handle problems that they can’t right now? Will they have new tools to put in their professional toolbox? Show the learners what they can do and how they can get there.
    2. Give them real achievements. Let them do meaningful things with the material while they are learning about it.
    3. When researchers test people using expected and unexpected rewards, there is greater activation of anticipation and reward structures in the brain when the reward is unexpected (Berns 2001). Basically, people have a much stronger response to unexpected rewards than they do to ones they know are coming.
    4. Video games also do this well—we will be going along, collecting gold coins, when suddenly, after the 35th gold coin, we get the SUPER PLATINUM HAMMER OF DEATH. When something like that happens, we immediately start looking for the pattern. What was I doing that caused that to happen? What can I do to make it happen again?
    5. There are some specific ways to leverage social interaction to engage the elephant, including collaboration, competition, and social proof.
    6. Another way to have your learner be more aware of their own learning is to give learners an inventory of the content, and have them rate their level of comfort with each topic. As they go, they can adjust their ratings, either as they get more comfortable or as they realize they don’t know as much as they thought they did. While these ratings don’t mean the learners have actual proficiency, it does involve them in tracking their own understanding and focuses them on eliminating gaps.
    7. Passive experiences like lectures or page-turner elearning courses, where the information is just channeled to the learner, can also flow smoothly right by the learner. If the learner is actively engaging with or interested in the material, then a passive information-delivery system can still be an effective tool. But if your learner is even mildly disengaged, this same method probably won’t accomplish much. Creating opportunities to interact with the material can make a lesson even more engaging for your motivated learners.
    8. Cathy Moore, an outstanding elearning designer (www.cathy-moore.com), has a checklist of items that she uses to evaluate whether a learning experience is action-oriented or more of an info dump.
    9. Discussion topics can facilitate this (“discuss the consequences of sexual harassment complaints in the broader organization”), but you generally get better results if you give groups a more concrete purpose. They could: • Create something • Work together to teach something to the rest of the class • Argue different sides of a debate • Investigate and report back (e.g., find three good examples, or a bad example, and bring them back to the class)
    10. I keep TAM in mind when I design anything that requires adopting a new technology, system, or practice (which is almost everything I do). Some of the questions I ask are: • Is the new behavior genuinely useful? • If it is useful, how will the learner know that? • Is the new behavior easy to use? • If it’s not easy to use, is there anything that can be done to help that?
    11. So think about it—given your subject matter, who are the really influential people in your organization or in the eyes of your target audience? How can you make those opinions visible?
  5. Habits
    1. A habit is defined as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” (behavior = motivation + ability + trigger). So if you are trying to quit smoking, you need more than the goal (“I’m going to stop smoking”)—you need the implementation intention of how to actually do it. So you could say: If I get a craving, I will distract myself.
    2. If a habit seems overwhelming, make it smaller. Both Chip and Dan Heath (in their excellent book Switch) and BJ Fogg, in his Tiny Habits program, discuss the importance of identifying the smallest productive behavior and focusing on that.
    3. How can we make behaviors more visible and reinforce practice?
    4. Have learners create implementation intentions. Give learners an opportunity, or even a template, that allows them to create their own implementation intentions (“If x happens, I will do y”).
    5. Carve out time for specific habits. If you are trying to develop habits, it can be useful to spread them out over time and then reinforce that.
    6. Help tie the habit to an existing behavior. Help learners identify an existing behavior they can chain the new habit to.
  6. Environment & Community
    1. Novices need onboarding. They need to be welcomed, given some goals to achieve, and introduced to the way the community functions. • Regular participants need fresh content, activities, and people to interact with. • Masters need exclusive activities and access to content and abilities that regular participants don’t have.
    2. Improving the environment is about clearing out as much of the stuff that learners don’t really need to carry around in their heads, and instead letting them focus on the things that only they are able to do.
    3. One of the things you need to consider when putting knowledge into the world is the proximity of the knowledge to the task. By this I mean, how far from the task does the learner have to go to get the knowledge?
    4. Here are a few other types of job aids: • Decision trees If a process has very specific and predetermined decision points, then giving people a logical, step-by-step way to navigate those decisions can significantly improve learner performance.
    5. This program has also started crowdsourcing by capturing and displaying other users’ questions and answers. Leveraging your learners’ knowledge through wikis or forums can be an invaluable source of information.
    6. What’s everything else we could do (besides training) that will allow learners to succeed?
    7. To do evaluation well, you should start by defining what you are trying to evaluate. Some of the things you might want to know include: • Does my learning design function well? • Are the learners actually learning the right things? • Can the learners actually do the right things? • Are the learners actually doing the right things when they go back to the real world? The best way you answer these questions = Watch actual learners use your design.
    8. We can’t make anybody learn, but we can make much better learning environments for them and help each learner be the hero of their own learning journey.

What I got out of it

  1. Some great principle and ideas in terms of how to structure learning to really engage the people who are trying to teach – getting human nature and the environment to work for you rather than against you

On Worldly Wisdom

Below is a “teacher’s reference guide” for the ideas found within The Latticework’s Worldly Wisdom discipline.

The idea is to help keep these valuable ideas top of mind so that they can hopefully become second nature. It’s also a great exercise to distill some of these rather complex ideas into as simple (but no simpler!) a form factor as possible, getting to its true essence.