The more you know…

The more questions you have… Over the past months I have formed the opinion that it is easy to get lost in the myriad of theories available to you concerning your ability to learn. It will serve you better to pick a course of action; define a strategy and actions for studying any textbook and stick with it for a period of three weeks. Then evaluate and decide what needs to be changed. My guess? Simply putting in the effort will increase your ability to remember what you have been studying.

This blog was started as an exercise in writing, and I still intend to write. Besides the bootleg publication, which is very likely to become a simple how to guide to improve your study habits, it will give me great pleasure to create a book which effectively argues, based on psychology and neuroscience, that learning in the sense of memorizing and applying information is dependent on motivation, skills and habits – each trainable to improve your performance in both memorization and application.

There is no one size fits all solution to learning; in fact, the way in which motivation, skills and habits for effective and efficient studying are trained is very much dependent on you as an individual. Yet by compiling the general concepts, you should be able to figure it out for yourself – with or without a coach, trainer or teacher to support you.

What I will be looking for, for the time being is research to support help build my case. Then the time consuming work of leafing through the material and organizing the research so that I can structure the argument begins. And finally, you will read the result of this effort in a coherent, well thought through, convincing paper which helps you realize your learning potential.

For now, I am going to delve into neuroscience a bit more, and I hope that what I find will provide enough food for thought to continue drafting blogs on an almost daily basis.

As far as I have come over the past months, I realize that for every answer I find, two new questions occur to me. Intellectually, there will always be something new to discover, but in  this life it is the ability to choose where the searching ends and the experiencing begins that makes all the difference. 

Book review (4): They call me Coach – John Wooden

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingWho can ask more of a man than giving all within his span? Giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from victory. – George Moriarty

This is the quote accompanying the first chapter is this wonderfully inspiring book about the life and time of late John Wooden, a man whose coaching career in university basketball is an awesome story – pure and simple.

What is more, the quote simply summarizes a basic philosophy of success which is a solid basis for any endeavor you may undertake in life.

In an honest, conversational tone this book discusses events and people from John Wooden’s career. His candidness lets his words travel to your heart and give you a glimpse of the great passion he had for the sport of basketball.

If you keep to busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.

A simple phrase, yet very true. Also in learning and educating yourself – there comes a time when learning the tricks to learning is over and you need to get down to it. No matter how much training in using your brain efficiently you receive, you will only graduate from university when you apply that training to your curriculum.

The great thing about this book is the metaphor of coaching basketball which can be applied to many aspects of life. In sharing his experience, with that his wisdom, with you, John Wooden shows you a possible direction you can steer your mind in which enables you to grow and be successful in a way which is fulfilling for you.

To me, the most inspiring aspect of this story, and I am cherry picking from many possibilities, is the chapter in which John Wooden discusses his definition of success.

To me it rings very true and requires a strong command of yourself to live up to. In the end, he says, only you can judge whether or not you were successful. Perhaps you may fool others, but deep inside you will always wonder wether you could have done more, done something different and perhaps changed the turn of events in your life. Only you will know.

The phrase at the start of this chapter summarizes it best, and it is a thought I want to leave you with.

Succes is peace of mind, which is a direct result of Self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the Best you are capable of becoming. 

The Basics

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingHave you ever heard about the paradox of failure? I sure had not until I read today’s article; then again it seems so common-sense; it is good that we have some academic proof.

Before you and I go into the details of this obvious paradox, together we shall look at one specific element in the psychology of motivation: the belief that your effort influences your performance.

This phenomenon may be granted any name, such as self-efficacy or academic control, and all though both and other, terms imply this element of the psychology of motivation, this simple wording is, I believe, at the core of it.

For example

In fact, this belief is one of the basics of motivation. When you believe something is possible for you to do, perhaps carrying a cup filled with water to the table without spilling any water, you, without a spare thought, act. You know, be it from experience, example or confidence that you are capable of performing this astonishing feat of agility, balance and control, and therefore you perform.

Yet, when the same glass is filled to the brim, your brisk walk quickly adapts to a careful trot. It is not that your confidence in your ability to complete the task is diminished, the factors influences the potential successful accomplishment of the task have simply changed. Yet your belief that with the appropriate effort (precautions) you can complete the task, does not hinder your performance, in fact, that very belief makes it possible.

The paradox

What, then, is this paradox of failure? I would carefully paraphrase it as the (proven) concept that in your studies, the belief that your effort produces results, coupled with a healthy dose of preoccupation with failure, leads to improved academic results.

You basically need to have some concept of failure to influence your performance in a positive manner. In fact, if you dismiss failure to easily, you hinder your performance significantly.

But you cannot escape the basics; the belief that you can is your guardian angel as it probably helps you balance your fears and confidence. And when the balance is struck, you are home free.

How do you stretch your ability, bring it to the next level? It begins with your belief that you can actually do. That you, through learning by doing, can improve your ability by stretching yourself a little bit at a time. When the conviction that you can is set firmly in your mind, your behavior follows suit; you keep putting in effort.

The next step is the ability to learn from feedback from your effort, and adapt your approach until you find one that gets you the result you want. Yet you and I will follow some old wisdom here – and take these basics one at a time.

Is this the question that comes first?

My mac ran out of battery, so I am sharing this scribble with you from my notepad and mobile…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, I got home and finally could charge my battery. What, you may wonder, brought about the scribble you see above? 

In a sense, it’s all there. I am sure as a student you know that if you work hard enough you will get the results you want. Really, you do.

You have the ability to read and take notes, an agenda and the ability to review your notes and plan study sessions. You do not really need anyone to explain this to you.

Perhaps in the field of techniques such as mind mapping and SQ3R, you can get some training; yet basic comprehensive reading strategies you develop through reading and effort.

As all these thoughts collided in my mind, the thought occurred to me that students who have followed their interest, their passion, are engaged in their studies most of the time. They plan, read, write – relishing in what they learn and, even in tough subjects, seemingly have the drive to make it happen.

Why would you want to do well in university? Probably because you care. Because you care about what you are studying. And this means that what you choose to study influences, perhaps, your desire to do well.

If you are at a loss for this answer, perhaps you want to reflect on your choice and rethink what you want to learn more about.

If the reason to perform is clear to you, probably the performance follows naturally.

Training, practice & competition

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingDuring the past weeks I have been reading They call me coach by John Wooden, a marvelous story of his life and philosophy. While reading his thoughts on working with the potential talent, ambition and drive for excellence and performance, I realized that in learning perhaps we can use the metaphor of training, practice and competition to better understand how you can positively influence our academic performance.

Training

The basics are what it all comes down to. Learn the techniques and apply them to your studies. This is what you do in training. Your trainer, more experienced or expert in techniques, shows you the basics and shows you the way to the more refined techniques. As the techniques become second nature to you, you use training to hone your them to the finest detail.

Practice

Techniques are only useful when put into practice. In basketball this is playing games with team members and friends, in learning this means picking up a book or following a lecture to engage in active learning. During practice you do not only see how your the basic technique works in a real life situation, but you also get to fine tune it to match the specific requirements; you get to make it your own.

Competition

Finally, you get to play competitions. We will call them exams. Here is where all your training of techniques and practice in the field come to play. You prepare, increase your commitment and drive yourself to perform. When you have prepared well, you will perform at the best of your ability. And since you can only learn in education, you will always come out a winner.

In university

When you look at the way you study, perhaps you spend some time in practice, perhaps none. And exams occur on a regular basis during your terms.

I sincerely doubt you spend a lot of time training your ability to learn. Yet this is where the largest gains are found when you want to increase your performance. Certainly your ability to learn is there, otherwise you wouldn’t be in university. Rather it is the techniques you apply to learning and the time you spend refining them while reading your books or following classes, which make all the difference in your performance at university.

Train and practice the fundamentals; there is a reason training is the starting point of excellence.

Image credit: http://basketball-junkie.tumblr.com/

Mirrorneuronically

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingHave you ever wondered why talented athletes and top athletes – there is a difference – are brought together in training camps and competitions? Or why the national football competition in England, Spain or Brazil fosters good players?

In one of our favorite types of story, the protagonist must stretch herself beyond what she thinks she is capable of to defeat her ultimate match, the villain. In tennis, for example, you see a match between two players turn into a spectacle when with every decisive actions, the opponent rises to the challenge; creating an upward spiral where both players need to play at their best and a bit more to keep the edge.

Friends with benefits…

Besides your innate abilities and the opportunities you create to develop these, the places you go and people you surround yourself with determine, in part, how far you may go. That is why there are academies where top athletes can interact with people who think and work at the same level, with similar ambitions. This is an environment in which they thrive.

Is it the same where you study? Are you surrounded by students who share your ambition? If that is the case, you are lucky – the group’s momentum will carry you forward. When you are one of few with an ambition to study well, take care not to trade that ambition for the attitude the group has towards studying.

Being accepted is one thing, being accepted for who you are is another thing entirely.

Learning through modeling

One aspect of learning is that we can model behavior we see in others. In fact, much of your behavior is learned through imitation, of your parents, your friends, your teachers, your idols.

To change your level of performance in studying, model the behavior of students who are getting results you would care to emulate. This is why involving yourself with a peer group which shares your ambitions is helpful.

There is no right or wrong

This is not a matter of choosing friends because of their merits; you must make yourself aware of the fact that in your social life, you go where your friends go.

Finding a peer group who are dedicated to their studies at the same level or more than you are, gives you an insight into the choices they are making and helps you establish the ground rules for your academic accomplishments.

 

Image Credit: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-olympics/images/31733883/title/epke-zonderland-ned-gold-medalist-horizontal-bar-photo

Book Review (3): The Mind Map Book – Tony Buzan

The Student Achievement ProgramThis is a book I am very fond of. I read it recently, upon completing another book, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan is an interesting read, as I find it to be a celebration of the amazing abilities of your brain. And because it gives you so many different thoughts and ideas on how you can use paper and colors to help your brain and learn more efficiently, I thought it would be a great book to review in this section.

In this review, I am going to highlight two parts of the book which I find especially informative for you as a student; radiant thinking and mind mapping for study skills.

Radiant thinking

In other posts the concept of associations was discussed; in Tony Buzan’s philosophy on mind mapping this is called radiant thinking. The multitude of connections made between information stored in your brain and sensory stimulation is so complex that it simply cannot be linear. Rather, the process is radiant: as thoughts occur they branch out to other thoughts or memories, logically related or not, encompassing more and more information related in some way to the starting point.

You may consciously filter the information, for example when you are engaged in a discussion or answering a question on an exam, however, to help you derive the relevant information all these connections in your brain are helpful.

Mind mapping for study skills

In an earlier post we discussed how remembering topics helps you remember course material for an exam. Mind mapping is a great tool to facilitate recall of important information, as it gives you so many different paths to the answer you are seeking.

To memorize a chapter, mind mapping is a great tool to use to have a complete summary of the topics of the chapter in a visual representation. By constructing different sets of mind maps, one for the chapter as a whole, and one for each section of the chapter, you can assess both your overal understanding of the chapter as well as your content knowledge per topic discussed in the chapter.

Rather than simply reading over your notes once you have compiled them, attempt drawing a mind map of the chapter, topic by topic and listing all the associations. You will be surprised at how many connections you are able to make simply because you take a radiant approach to remembering.

Good practical advice

Personally, I find this book to be filled with good practical advice on how to mind map. On top of that, it clearly explains Tony Buzan’s vision about how to use your brain and how a simple paradigm shift to radiant thinking will help you remember more, with less effort.

(As I am participating in the post-a-day, and yesterday I did not publish anything, today I published two pieces. Now, I can get back to the bootleg publication.) 

The bootleg publication!

This week I decided to bootleg a guide for students based on all the writing I have done so far (about thirty blogs and maybe twelve drafts of book chapters). The basic design is in; thanks to Oliver! And it looks sweet! Rather than make this bootleg production of ours a compilation, as all my blogs are first drafts (see my first post ever for an explanation), I am going through the material and crystalizing the material into some sort of logical order. If you have any thoughts on what I am writing, please let me know; I would greatly appreciate your help. Here is the first version of the introduction to this bootleg publication. Enjoy!

(The bootleg publication will be syndicated through a shared file when done!)

The greatest lesson your university education has for you

Is the added value of your university experience truly the information written in books? This is available to you anywhere, in any library or on the internet. Perhaps it is the lectures which make all the difference? Then again you will find many interesting lectures on similar topics online or in archives.

The information upon which your education is based is, in fact, available to you anywhere, anytime. So what, then, makes a university education such an important experience?

Reproduction is not Education

You hold in your hands advice. Good advice resulting from seven years of focus on high achievement students’ abilities to perform well in university. Yet if you expect to read a quick and easy guide to passing exams, this is not that. Rather, what is written here helps you to learn and do well in university by creating the most valuable university experience you could have. You do only get to really be a first year student once in your life.

Easily you can trick yourself into believing that doing well in university is solely related to your grades; that your ability to reproduce what you learn without adding any novel thought or personal experience to the knowledge you will acquire, is what will bring you success in university. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the advice here is written to show you an view of education and learning which focuses on your ability to learn and grow by not only seeking intellectual stimulation through studying, but also through experiences and adventures in life. The world is not ink on pages, rather you want to venture forth and relate these words to life as you experience it. That is where the value of your education truly lies.

Learning comes natural to you

You were born with the innate ability to learn. And your ability to learn improves through practice. In fact, nearly everything you are capable of doing to day that helps you learn – reading, writing, speaking – is the result of practice and learning.

Your brain is naturally geared for learning that you may are not always consciously aware you are. Learning is a symphony of emotions, information and stimulation that constantly takes place in your brain. And building on that ability, the advice in this book will show you how you can manage your time, your emotions and your brain to use your natural ability to learn and create a marvellous university experience.

Whether you can learn is not the question; rather, how you will learn, is.

Four tenets of learning

About student performance in university much research exists. From my experience and in my understanding four tenets are of importance when you want to focus on learning and accomplishment:

  • Your mindset about learning
  • Your emotions during learning
  • Your effort in learning
  • Your habits of learning

The advice in this book is related to those four tenets, from your mindset to the skills and behaviours accomplished students develop over the course of their studies.

The greatest lesson your university education has for you?

You learn how to manage your ambition, through distraction, challenges, temptation, setbacks and accomplishment. In the end it is not your academic accomplishments, but the accomplishment of your character during your student life, which holds the greatest lesson for you.

On the following pages you find advice on how to shape that experience in such a way that you grow and develop your potential, which is greater than you may think.

It takes discipline to learn discipline?

The Student Achievement Program

Aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do… is an old saying attributed to Aristotle, yet is the summation of his ideas by the philosopher Will Durant. The wisdom hidden in these words has lasted through the ages. The habit of discipline is one which we have touched upon many times in this blog.

Accomplishment is the culmination of habits that are related to the realization of your ambition. The paradox lies in the habit of discipline; learning discipline requires discipline. And this simple statement of fact in itself points to the key to not only shaping habits which help you grow, but also in accomplishing any feat in life, be it in the arts, athletics or academics.

How do you learn to write? Certainly not by pondering the act of writing. No book was ever written through thoughts of authoring. Any book is the result of the act of writing, not the thought thereof. Not the pen, but the hand that wields it, puts words to paper.

How do you run a four minute mile? Again, all the thought about the act of running in no way conditions your body for the accomplishment of that feat. Putting on running shoes and running a mile, yard by yard, is what shapes a runner. Not the shoes, but the feet that wear them, take each step of the way.

How do you improve your mathematical ability? Merely thinking of the numbers and the rules which apply to them will not suffice. It is the time you spend solving problems and reflecting on the process of solving the problem which provides you with insights into the rules which govern mathematics. Not the method, but the mind that applies the method finds the solution.

The act of living. No matter what you do in life, it is the act of living which makes life worthwhile. It is as if you have received this marvelous gift named time, so use it to accomplish something that feels worthwhile to you.

Living is to apply yourself to life. To rejoice at the challenges you are presented with, and your ability to learn to overcome them – time and again. When you chose to apply yourself, you chose discipline. And discipline is a good thing, because it affords you freedom.

The only way to understand discipline is to make it a part of your life. Every day hold yourself accountable for what you set out to do. Discipline is not about making yourself right or wrong. Discipline concerns itself with findings ways for you conduct yourself in ways to further your abilities.

Discipline is a habit you learn. To master the habit of discipline, Aristotle’s words may serve as good advice, in any age:

“These virtues are formed by man in his doing the actions.”

 

Image credit: http://images.suite101.com/1998402_com_448pxarist.jpg

Who holds you accountable?

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingTake charge of your accomplishments in university.

How? Make yourself accountable to yourself.

What will you use as a benchmark when you reflect on the results you produce? In the end, the only thing that matters is your own standard. And you can set any standard you want for yourself. The question you want to ask yourself is this one:

“What standard can I set for myself that helps me unfold my own potential.” 

One of the things I believe is that living means growing. And growing means going from where you are to where you can be. This is easy to forget when you are good at something; being accomplished gives you positive feedback, from your activity and from your environment.

There is a reason that we are attracted to new things; it means you have learnt something new and wants to share that with us. That is why what you are good at today will only give you pleasure for as long as it is interesting to you. When the novelty wears off.

That is why learning and growing is so important. At what rate you learn and to which heights you grow are very much up to you. To set the best kind of standard for yourself, you think about your values. When you have a clear set of values in your life, they serve as tremendously powerful guides in your decision making.

In fact, when it comes to time management, your values help you stick to your priorities. In the end, when you hold yourself accountable, you know what served you and what did not when you reflect on your actions in relation to your values.

And your values are in fact a reflection of your standards for yourself. So there you have it. To take charge of your accomplishments in university, take some time to figure out your values. Then act accordingly, and your accomplishments will always ring true to your real self.