How to Improve Your Learning
Learning by experience is a familiar idea but it implies two activities: learning and experiencing. Both activities need to happen if I am to say that learning from experience has happened. Experiencing seems to have two components. The first is the quality of attention that allows me to notice the experience and its components. The second is memory.
Calling experience to mind allows me to examine the experience and to think about it in ways that were not possible at the time. Learning is what I take away from that process that influences my behaviour or thinking in the future.
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But huge amounts of experience escape without being consciously experienced; I am insufficiently aware at the time to notice what’s going on. Later I am too busy to recall the experience and so little conscious learning takes place. Of course, it’s useful to carry out familiar activities ‘on auto-pilot’ – without conscious attention. It’s easy to miss out on important learning from unfamiliar activities too.
I may become wrapped up in the activity itself or simply not notice the range and quality of the experience. Either way, a conscious attempt to recall the experience and to think about it, gives the opportunity to learn from the experience.
There are no simple definitions for either systems thinking or systems practice. It’s difficult to find definitions that capture all the perspectives that the ideas carry for people who think of themselves as systems thinkers and systems practitioners.
Most systems practitioners seem to experience the same kind of difficulty in explaining what they do or what it means to be systemic in their thinking. Through experience I’ve developed some criteria by which I characterise systems thinking, but they seem to be quite loose in the sense that those characteristics are not always observable in what I recognise as systems thinking.
In any case, they seem to be my list of characteristics, similar to, but not the same as, other people’s lists. This issue will be developed later but, for the moment, hold the idea that systems thinking and systems practice arise from particular ways of seeing the world.
Brain and Computer
Many people think of the brain as very similar to a computer. Both have a similarly large proportion of ‘processors’ operating on internally generated signals. But there is an important and absolutely fundamental difference.
The computer does not create its own meanings. The computer has no capacity for deciding, for example, which are its favourite paintings in the National Gallery. I do. I have a history of interacting with external stimuli that generate new ways of interacting with further stimuli and the internal structure of my brain changes as a result.
The computer’s ways of dealing with data are not the result of its own self-production. The way the computer works remains the same, whether it is processing pictures from the National Gallery or whether it is processing letters of the alphabet. The rules that relate input to output are constant over time.
The question of what I can know about the outside world is an ancient one and has always been central in philosophy under the theme of epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge and knowing: how do I know about the outside world? How do I know my senses are not fooling me? What constitutes evidence about the world?
How to improve your learning. 20 Tips how to improve your learning and memory.