Tuesday, July 30, 2013

10 Minutes of Anything

Here's the deal.

There are skills that you can acquire only by repeatedly applying them. You can learn a lot about them by attending lectures, reading books and watching videos, but you can't learn them until you've used them repeatedly over time.

You can learn a lot about swimming, but you won't "get" swimming until you've spent time in the pool. You can learn a lot about music, but you won't "get" music until you've spent time playing.

To be clear, repeatedly applying a skill over time in no way guarantees that you will "get" it. However, not doing so can guarantee that you will not.

This rule of thumb applies to a relatively small portion of the things you'll learn in life. However, it applies to a disproportionately large portion of things that are worth learning: basically all of them.

The tricky part is this. How do you ensure that repeated application of a skill over time will lead to the development that you want? Repeatedly applying a skill will always lead to development and reinforcement of that skill, but it may not end up being the skill you wanted to develop.

I know many drummers who've practiced diligently for years. They can play remarkable drum fills and solos. Yet, they cannot keep time or play a basic groove. I know many computer scientists who've written hundreds of thousands of lines of software. Yet they don't understand some of the more fundamental aspects of coding.

You can do something for years and still completely miss the boat. So what do you do?

A centuries-old model of education that has been all but lost in modern western cultures is that of apprenticeship. An apprentice works for someone who has mastered a skill. In exchange, the master teaches the skill to the apprentice.

The bulk of the education comes in the form of activities that provide the apprentice the opportunity to apply elements of the skill in a manner that can be reviewed and corrected by the master. Oftentimes the connection between activity and skill is not apparent. The apprentice might think, "How does doing this help me to become better at that?"

The apprentice might bristle at the thought of repeatedly doing something that seems irrelevant to her goals. She might want to ask the master why she must do it. However, to ask would violate the nature of apprenticeship.

It's not that the question would violate a protocol per se. It's that the answer to the question can only be reached through application of the task. Although the master could explain the reasons for any given task and the apprentice could memorize and repeat the explanations, the apprentice would never understand them.

Moreover, having the reasons explained (giving the apprentice the answer) would deny the apprentice the opportunity to discover them. It's often through that process of discovering the reasons for a task that learning is achieved.

The idea of repeatedly performing tasks for which no one has explained the reasons or provided context is anathema in the canons of modern western education. Yet it is foundational to apprenticeship.

As a would-be apprentice, the key to success is to find a master who truly is one and who is someone you will trust implicitly, even when you can't see any good reason for doing what you're doing. Variance from the model isn't apprenticeship. It might work. It's just not the same thing.

Combine the concept of apprenticeship with 10-minutes a day and you can learn anything.

Happy Wednesday,

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