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Published on April 30, 2018

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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          Published on January 16, 2019

          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

          We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

          You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

          You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

          That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

          Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

          1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

          Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

          We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

          To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

          At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

          The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

          2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

          Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

          The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

          In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

          It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

          It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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          So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

          • Are you a great strategist?
          • Are you an effective planner?
          • Is Project Management your strength?
          • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
          • Are you the ideas person?
          • Is Implementation your strength?

          Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

          3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

          One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

          Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

          Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

          Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

          4. Take Time for Planning

          “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

          One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

          You can take the time to think about:

          • What’s the purpose of the project?
          • How Important is it?
          • When does it need to be delivered by?
          • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
          • What are the KPIs?
          • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
          • Who is working on this project?
          • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
          • What tolerances can I add in?
          • What are the review stages?
          • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

          Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

          5. Focus on Priorities

          Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

          Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

          One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

          1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
          2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
          3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
          4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

          James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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            The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

            If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

            If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

            6. Take Time Out

            To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

            If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

            Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

            In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

            Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

            7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

            Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

            I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

            Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

            If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

            8. Stop Multitasking

            Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

            So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

            When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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            If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

            9. Work in Blocks of Time

            To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

            I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

            Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

            Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

            Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

            Then take another 10-minute break.

            Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

            By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

            10. Get Rid of Distractions

            Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

            “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

            Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

            If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

            11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

            You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

            Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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            Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

            12. Take a Time Audit

            Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

            Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

            You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

            Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

            Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

            At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

            If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

            13. Protect Your Confidence

            It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

            When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

            Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

            When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

            Final Words

            A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

            The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

            If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

            Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

            Reference

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