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Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

“We do not understand the difference between Information and Knowledge.”

As it turns out, most people assume they are the same thing, yet they are not. In fact, Information is required for Knowledge, but we are missing one key element… “Thinking”.

In this article, we will look into the process of learning information, and how we can really transfer it into learned knowledge.

What is transfer of learning

Professors at Cornell University and authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us that Knowledge = Information X Thinking. They are on a mission to introduce “Thinking” back into the classroom. Let me demonstrate one way in which they are doing this.

    Through the Cabrera’s Systems Thinking theory of Distinctions – Systems – Relationships – Perspectives (DSRP = “Thinking”), they show us how disparate subjects are interconnected and that DSRP increases our speed of knowing something. Essentially, it will increase our transfer.

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    Transfer is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. We can do this through a variety of ways, yet let’s examine two:

    1. Vertical Transfer (also known as Far Transfer). A child learns something in third grade and applies it in fourth grade (or even as an adult). This is the more difficult form of transfer as you are applying what you are learning to something completely different — like learning the game of Wei-chi (aka Go) and applying it to strategy.
    2. Horizontal Transfer (also known as Near Transfer). A student learns something in one subject (i.e. English) and transfers it to another (i.e. Math).

    The Cabrera’s illustrate the significance of the transfer of learning. In fact, if a student or person has a high transfer, he or she will then become their own best teacher. As mentioned in Thinking at Every Desk,

    “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

    Thinking about thinking

    When we understand the importance of transfer of learning and use DSRP to bring it about, we see phenomenal results in three important areas:[1]

    1. Increased Metacognition (thinking about thinking).
    2. Increased Deep Understanding (you learn the difference between analysis and synthesis).
    3. Increased Transfer (you are able to make vertical and horizontal connections).

      Let’s examine some practical approaches to use in the discovery of these hidden ideas:

      Break Apart + Put Back Together = Learning

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        My absolute favorite transfer of learning technique is one outlined by the Cabrera’s in Systems Thinking Made Simple:New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems. The technique is the “Parts Lessons Firetruck” and is a fun exercise to use with your children.

        Using this technique with my 3-year old daughter, I had the opportunity to demonstrate the Systems Rule (or part-whole) lesson with her by building a cardboard firetruck. By examining the firetruck through part-whole, my daughter was able to identify more parts of the truck than before.

        Applying what you already know

        Vertical or Far Transfer is the most critical. I recommend the following quick video published by Education Week for a deeper understanding of transfer of learning:

        Let’s take a quick look at the 5 strategies outline in the video for applying transfer of learning:

        • Explicit teaching. Using and applying what you are learning every day (an argumentative essay leads to persuading your boss to give you a raise).
        • Group learning. The more you are involved with a group in a classroom, the more likely you will be able to learn in a group while in the workforce.
        • Reflection. If taking notes in a class helps you learn a concept, then taking notes in other areas (i.e. class or work) will help you learn there as well.
        • Use analogies and metaphors. Analogies and metaphors take what you already know and apply it to a new situation to understand it better.
        • Generalizing. Push yourself to generalize broader principles from specific situations. If you study one thing and uncover elements needed to create something, use the same approach and discover key elements for another.

        How to apply transfer of learning (Step-by-step guide)

        You might be wondering, how can I apply this?

        It’s actually quite simple:

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        Step 1. Use previous knowledge

        Let’s say you previously learned how to play the game Wei-chi (aka Go). Using your understanding of the game, you can apply those skills in another context.

        Step 2. Applying previous knowledge to a new context (contexts that appear alien to one another)

        If you are in a position where you must understand the strategy of another country (for example: China), you could use your previous knowledge (the game of Wei-chi).

        Step 3. Strengthening connections

        The game of Wei-chi and understanding the strategy of China are two highly abstract (yet identical) concepts. As you dive deep into your learning process (understanding of China), you will find your understanding of Wei-chi will assist you in your conscious search for new connections.

        Step 4. Document and reflect on new connections

        Make sure to document your ideas and connections throughout the transfer of learning process. Reflect throughout the process and think (cognition) about your thinking (metacognition). This will improve your ability to abstract profound principles underlying the new idea being examined.

        Hidden connections between ideas

        Lastly, let me demonstrate how I use transfer of learning everyday.

        As an author of books on foster care and a former foster child myself, my mind is always coming up with ways to fix the foster care system. One of the things I am currently researching is how to build a more effective and efficient communication network to quickly help a child who is being abused.

        Due to my understanding of transfer of learning, I was able to immediately grasp the importance of uncovering the link between two completely different ideas.

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          First, I came across an article on asknature.org while searching for ways termites and ants communicate. In an article titled Collaborating for Group Decisions, I noticed two key sentences:

          • The researchers will develop ad hoc communication networks to spread critical information among first responders, similar to how a virus spreads.
          • Models of collaboration based on the study of ants and bees may be useful in understanding the basic principles and best practices when developing strategies to coordinate knowledge sharing in chaotic social settings.

          The key elements I connected were: how a virus spreads and knowledge sharing. Thus, I am working on a strategy in foster care to collaborate (and communicate) and spread knowledge like a virus (specifically Influenza A). This led me to an analysis of two key concepts:

          1. I had to analyze (break apart) the structure of the Influenza Virus and Network Theory (I chose to focus on Small World and Decentralized Networks).
          2. I then had to synthesize (put them back together as a new whole) and form my idea on how to improve communication and spread knowledge like a virus in the foster care system.

          It is only through the discovery of hidden connections between ideas and by introducing “Thinking” back into the equation that we can gain actual Knowledge. A special thanks to Derek and Laura Cabrera for introducing me to DSRP!

          I will leave you with one last quote,

          “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose!” – Dr. Seuss

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Derek and Laura Cabrera: Thinking at Every Desk

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          Dr. Jamie Schwandt

          Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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          Last Updated on September 18, 2019

          15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

          15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

          You may think that you don’t have time for office organization, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization cost you, you’d reconsider.

          Rearranging and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. Neither does clearing off your desk, if you swipe the mess into a bin, or a desk drawer.

          A relatively neat and orderly office space clears the way for higher productivity and less wasted time.

          Organizing your office doesn’t have to take days, it can be done a little at a time. In fact, maintaining an organized office is much more effective if you treat it like an on-going project, instead of a massive assault.

          So, if you’re ready to get started, the following organizing tips will help you transform your office into an efficient workspace.

          1. Purge Your Office

          De-clutter, empty, shred, get rid of everything that you don’t need or want. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?

          Take one area at a time. If it doesn’t work, send it out for repair or toss it. If you haven’t used it in months and can’t think of when you’ll actually need it, out it goes. This goes for furniture, equipment, supplies, etc.

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          Don’t forget about knick-knacks, plants (real or artificial), and decorations – if they’re covered with dust and make your office look shabby, they’re fair game.

          2. Gather and Redistribute

          Gather up every item that isn’t where it belongs and put it where it does.

          3. Establish Work “Zones”

          Decide what type of activity happens in each area of your office. You’ll probably have a main workspace (most likely your desk,) a reference area (filing cabinet, shelves, binders,) and a supply area (closet, shelves or drawers.)

          Place the appropriate equipment and supplies are located in the proper area as much as possible.

          4. Close Proximity

          Position the equipment and supplies that you use most within reach. Things that you rarely use can be stored or put away.

          5. Get a Good Labeler

          Choose a label maker that’s simple to use. Take the time to label shelves, bins, baskets drawers. Not only will it remind you where things go, but it will also help others who may have a need to find, use, or put away anything in your workspace.

          6. Revise Your Filing System

          As we move fully into the digital age, the need to store paper files has decreased.

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          What can your store digitally? Are you duplicating files? You may be able to eliminate some of the files and folders you’ve used in the past. If you’re storing files on your computer, make sure you are doing regular back-ups.

          Here’re some storage ideas for creating a smooth filing system:

          • Create a meeting folder – Put all “items to be discussed” in there along with items that need to be handed off, reports that need to be given, etc. It’ll help you be prepared for meetings and save you stress in the even that a meeting is moved up.
          • Create a WOR folder – So much of our messy papers are things that are on hold until someone else responds or acts. Corral them in a WOR (Waiting on Response) folder. Check it every few days for outstanding actions you may need to follow-up on.
          • Storage boxes – Use inexpensive storage boxes to keep archived files and get them out of your current file space.
          • Magazine boxes – Use magazine boxes or binders to store magazines and catalogs you really want to store. Please make sure you really need them for reference or research, otherwise recycle them, or give away.
          • Reading folder – Designate a file for print articles and documents you want to read that aren’t urgent.
          • Archive files – When a project is complete, put all of the materials together and file them away. Keep your “working folders” for projects in progress.
          • File weekly – Don’t let your filing pile up. Put your papers in a “To File” folder and file everything once a week.

          Learn more tips on organizing your files here: How to Organize Your Files for Better Productivity

          7. Clear off Your Desk

          Remove everything, clean it thoroughly and put back only those items that are essential for daily use.

          If you have difficulty declutter stuff, this Declutter Formula will help you throw away stuff without regretting later.

          8. Organize your Desktop

          Now that you’ve streamlined your desktop, it’s a good idea to organize it.

          Use desktop organizers or containers to organize the items on your desk. Use trays for papers, containers for smaller items.

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          Don’t forget your computer desktop! Make sure the files or images are all in organized folders. I’d recommend you clear your computer desktop everyday before you leave work.

          9. Organize Your Drawers

          Put items used together in the same drawer space, stamps with envelopes, sticky pads with notepads, etc.

          Use drawer organizers for little items – paper clips, tacks, etc. Use a separate drawer for personal items.

          10. Separate Inboxes

          If you work regularly with other people, create a folder, tray, or inbox for each.

          11. Clear Your Piles

          Hopefully with your new organized office, you won’t create piles of paper anymore, but you still have to sort through the old ones.

          Go through the pile (a little at a time if necessary) and put it in the appropriate place or dump it.

          12. Sort Mails

          Don’t just stick mail in a pile to be sorted or rifle through and take out the pieces you need right now. Sort it as soon as you get it – To act, To read, To file, To delegate or hand off. .

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          13. Assign Discard Dates

          You don’t need to keep every piece of paper indefinitely. Mark on files or documents when they can be tossed or shredded.

          Some legal or financial documents must be kept for specified length of time. Make sure you know what those requirements are.

          14. Filter Your Emails

          Some emails are important to read, others are just not that important.

          When you use the filter system to label different types of emails, you know their priority and which to reply first.

          Take a look at these tips to achieve inbox zero: The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

          15. Straighten Your Desk

          At the end of the day, do a quick straighten, so you have a clean start the next day.

          Bottom Line

          Use one tip or try them all. The amount of effort you put into creating and maintaining an efficient work area will pay off in a big way.

          Instead of spending time looking for things and shuffling piles, you’ll be able to spend your time…well…working and you’ll enjoy being clutter free!

          More Organizing Hacks

          Featured photo credit: Alesia Kazantceva via unsplash.com

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