Accelerated learning misconceptions

What does the common sense say about accelerated learning that is actually wrong? Quite a lot actually. But science can also be misunderstood. There are so many gurus of accelerated learning out there, yet I have never seen someone as good as Anna. Why? What are the main misconceptions, and how they can be overcome? In this specific article I do not use current consensus, but share my personal perspectives.

What is accelerated learning?

There are several tools any student can acquire:

  1. Memory techniques
  2. Speedreading
  3. Speedwriting
  4. Organizational skill/time management
  5. Psychological resilience

These skills are helpful for as long as we live. They work together and help us in everything we study. They do not replace actual learning.

Great students need to learn a lot (wrong)

When I was a kid my parents did not understand how come I have great grades and study 20% of the time spent by my cousins. “If only you learned more hours!” – they said. Well, great students and mediocre students learn about the same amount of hours.

The main difference is in focus.

  1. Understand the derivation rather than memorize and use it blindly.
  2. Find your ways to be captivated by the subjects instead of forcing yourself to study.
  3. Treat each question as an exciting riddle, instead of worrying about the grade.
  4. Learn tricky ways to do things faster. Practice them.
  5. Complement the stuff you need to learn with the stuff that you want to read about the subject and is not in any school program.

Submit homework in time (overrated)

The main issue with submitting the homework in time is procrastination. My sons often spend more time telling me that they do not want to do homework than actually doing the homework. I used to do the homework well before the due time. This way I did not have to fight the clock, undersleep and overwork.

If possible I suggest completing homework well before the due time. Otherwise, ask the teacher for a delay, and submit it after the due time. Most teachers allow this if you have a good justification. Do not do the homework because there is no other choice, do it because you enjoy the challenge.

This trick used to work only at school. At work, you depend on other people and cannot possibly start the job when you choose. Unless you are an author…

Read slowly to understand more (wrong)

There is an optimal reading speed. Reading faster we miss important information, especially in math and physics. When we read very slowly we get bored and again miss important information.

If the subject we read about is not very informative, the faster we read the more we will understand. When the person writing the text is not very qualified, and most teachers are not writers, the more we read the less we understand. Quite often the best approach is to ask directly what the writer meant, instead of guessing and double-guessing.

Memorization techniques are the most effective learning tool (overrated)

We teach memorization techniques for rare situations when there is no other choice. Like “name seven reasons for the beginning of WWI”. This is not the usual situation in most subjects.

Developments are logical. If we can understand the logic, we can derive one result for another. By understanding the derivation, we get deeper insights and can build our own logical chains.

Hands-on practice is another valuable tool. Especially in math. Quite often we do not even understand how we apply the formulas. We simply practiced enough to apply them automatically. We do not need to memorize how to walk, do we?

If I can perform the task flawlessly, I do not have to practice it (wrong)

Overpractice is a valuable learning tool. When we practice beyond the level of proficiency, our speed and accuracy stop improving. Frankly, it looks like we practice needlessly. This is actually a misconception.

When we overpractice we remember the skill better and do not lose it over time. Since most of the skills we learn at school are used year after year, overpractice is really valuable.

Spaced repetition is a must for long-term retention (overrated)

We teach spaced repetition for long-term retention as the last resort when anything else fails. For example, when learning languages, we do not have many opportunities to use rare words. Then spaced repetition works very well.

If you are learning something that is pretty common there are better ways. Use stuff you learn actively. Learning a new language, read the language, listen to the language and talk the language. This is called immersion.

In other subjects, there are other options. For example, writing an essay about the subject or teaching the subject to other students. Great students often have to teach weaker students. This is not exactly an overhead, but a good way to cement the knowledge for years to come.

Great students often jump classes (overrated)

Some students jump classes. Because they get good grades and because they are bored. This is actually not a very good idea. People who do that often become stressed and even live less. Take your time. Allow your brain to adapt.

If you are bored in the class, focus on extracurricular activities. For example, there are riddles for all levels of school materials. Do not try to push through faster because you can read faster or remember more. Your brain needs to adapt to the new information and you need to use it actively.

In fact, if you get to the relevant subjects in the university you will learn roughly the same stuff several times. Only each time the explanation will be different.

For example, at high school, we learn mechanics using vectors. At the first degree, we use differential equations. At PhD we use final elements simulation with boundary conditions and design constraints.  The same subject is revisited multiple times with different tools refining the understanding.

It is never too late to start (overrated)

Timing is very important. Math should be learned properly from the beginning. The layers of knowledge are built one upon another. If you fail the basic level, you will need to learn everything from scratch. This is doable, but very hard.

Learning certain subjects before the due time is also risky. We might be lacking the prerequisites from other disciplines or personal development, or have unrealistic expectations.

If you have extra time, learn the subjects that are not in the school program, and enrich yourself.

Rich people hire tutors for their kids (overrated)

The kids of financially successful parents usually do better at school. Studies show that social status plays its role during the summer. Rich kids get more intellectual challenges and developing activities in the summer than poor kids. They also get good computers and fast internet access.

Both rich and poor kids can have tutors. Tutors supplement education when the teacher fails. They do not replace the teachers.

Good schools in areas with high socioeconomic status can be private or public. Schools with successful kids will have better teachers, and the teachers will have fewer disciplinary overheads. So there will be fewer incentives to hire tutors.

To get better in school focus on learning (overrated)

School learning is just one aspect of personal development. Usually, things that have very little with learning correlate with intellectual development.

These activities include sports, music, arts, penmanship, computer skills, gaming strategies… Basically most of the things kids like will help them.

Additionally, lifestyle choices really matter. Getting proper nutrition, sleeping and socializing, even simply resting to reduce stress.


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