Podcast: Play in new window
Jason speaks with Scott Young, creator of the online course Learn More, Study Less, about his effort to master the entire 4-year MIT computer science curriculum in only 12 months.
Scott is a very inspirational and disciplined guy. Only wish schools, colleges and universities would be more open to these learning styles. I don’t think this approach (condensed study) will work for everyone, however certainly demonstrates how traditional learning can be improved.
Good luck Scott for finishing the challenge.
Quintessential TechZing interview if you ask me – very cool story, articulate guest, great questions, and the perfect intersection of technology and just-plain-interesting material. Really enjoyed this one – great job Jason!
Two excellent takeaways:
a.) Jason’s method for teaching calculus in 2 hours – focus on the core concepts, everything else is an edge case. (Jason – maybe you should videotape it and put it on Youtube).
b.) Scott’s on not trying remember everything – if you keep on learning new things, the important parts of what you learned in the past will keep popping up.
Re: a) Yeah, well, except experience tells you that what you encounter in real life are often edge cases. So you might want to be prepared for them.
@Matt S – Thanks, I’m glad you liked the show!
@Mohammed Firdaus & @Aleksander – My approach of first presenting the 10,000 foot view of a subject before digging into the foundational details is merely a teaching philosophy meant to establish context and win enthusiasm. I never meant to imply that awareness or knowledge of the special cases wasn’t important.
There’s one thing mentioned during the show I find worth exploring:
Not all brains are wired the same, but the course material or the standard tutoring methods are uniform for everyone. So some people will fail to ingest the knowledge and skills as they are being taught. If you care enough and are resourceful enough, you’ll follow up yourself – seek for different explanations, different books, as you said on the show. But most students are lazy – and if they’ve had problems from the early age (when they wouldn’t come up with an idea of seeking alternative explanations) – they’re probably used to feeling inadequate and grow into being a below average student. [Yes, there's a self-pitying autobiographical motive somewhere in the background of this post... ]
As you surely must have read, the modern, Western education system was set up to produce uniform workers for the industrial age – be it blue collar or white collar. It’s a factory with identical tools on each production line. And the tools are not just the curriculum or the books, but also the teachers, who are trained to teach specific things in specific ways. It’s very rare that a teacher will take a unique approach upon encountering a unique mind.
Of course, as we know from the science / tech / entrepreneurial world, original, independent thought, the ability to question the obvious and seek different ways to do things are the very features characterizing most of the minds that push our civilization forward. Or to put it in the simplest terms: you don’t come up with a different outcome, when you do what everyone else does. To come up with a new idea, you need to think different.
So what happens, when the entire education system is premised on uniformity? Most of those valuable minds will fall by the wayside. A few will be lucky and receive external help and encouragement or just have the tenacity to do what’s expected. But for the most part, it’s just a huge waste. [I consider myself half-lucky: no-one helped me, but eventually, I started figuring things out by my own.]
So let me share a story from my own life that will take us back to the show topic:
In high school, one of the subjects I dealt with the worst was my native language (ergo: the equivalent of English classes for you.) On top of me being very lazy, my technical mind simply refused to process all this bullshit about the internal struggles and dilemmas of the romantic heroes and other assorted nonsense. Most of the obligatory reading literature bored me to no end, so usually I would just read some summary / study aid. For most tests, I was prepared just to barely pass – and forget immediately after. The end result: I failed the final high-school exam (the equivalent of your A-levels, I guess), or to be more precise the language oral, which was a knowledge test – and I knew nothing. (I got C for the written one just because it was an essay, so I managed to drop a few hints at the standard reading and then droned off on the superiority of Tolkien’s elves over all of us pity humans… )
The way those exams worked in those days, I had one single corrective exam after the summer holidays to save myself from staying another year in high school. So for two months… I did nothing. I enjoyed my vacations. I kept putting off my study. And then, two weeks before the exam, panic mode kicked in. I bought a ton of books, I sat in one room for 10 days, trying to disassemble this idiotic subject into pieces, drawing up tables and diagrams and… suddenly it started to make sense. What those people wrote, kind of made sense. Sure, all the textbooks had this silly, fuzzy, artsy-fartsy manner, but most of it actually meant something. So eventually, I go for the exam and get a very firm B. (Which is really good, this was one of the best high schools, and those teachers didn’t even wink when failing me initially. Two other slackers like me, correcting the same exam, got C and D.)
In short: I learned 4 years of high school material for a primary subject in 10 days. And I don’t mean I just memorized it – I understood it. I could talk about it, argue about it. My teacher, who was part of the examination panel, almost couldn’t pick her jaw up. (Sure, it wasn’t from absolute zero – I did attend classes for four years, but hardly anything sticked. That fail was well deserved. I guess you could say, I had some very rough 30,000ft view and some singular scraps of information here and there. Let’s say, 3 days worth of intense self-education. )
And this whole experience had a very interesting side effect. I started to understand this whole literature thing. My mind suddenly developed a more elastic and empathic side and an interest in what I guess you could call “the human experience”. And social issues. And why people behave the way they behave. I started reading non-fantasy/sci-fi stuff out of my own free will. I even started writing some silly stuff (into a drawer, obviously).
Put simply: my mind expanded.
So yeah. Sometimes learning by yourself is the best you can do. Especially when your mind is a round peg in the education system of square holes. :]
@Aleksander – Great story! I don’t why people don’t share them more often. They’re so much more fun to read and people will actually remember them. For example, I’ll probably never forgot this story and the points you made, but I’ve forgotten pretty much every post I’ve read entitled “Ten ways to do X “,` “Why should do X”, or the now ubiquitous “Stop doing X”.
Great interview. I’ve followed Scott for a while now and was surprised you got him on at first but the interview made perfect sense with regard to Jason’s “learning” theme recently.
Excellent back and forth between you both too. Very good quality: more please!
Also, I’m keen for an update on your usual projects, especially AnyFu. Discussion show next!
@Alex Gemmell – Thanks, man! Yeah, I think what Scott is doing is just awesome, so I felt like I had to talk to him about it. Also, I’m glad my “off topic” interviews still seem to be of interest to our listeners.