Learning by Doing, part Deux.

You can study the diagrams for a valve, or motor, or computer. You can read the manuals, often written with input from people who designed the hardware in question, and trace out the concepts of what goes where, and which piece does what.

But it’s not until you disassemble the valve, the transaxle, the pump casing, the computer case, or the vacuum cleaner, fix it, and put it back together, that you will know the system as well as you think you do. You can read several books on programming, but it’s not until you actually start writing code, and slamming your head up against the wall of “now why in the hell does it do THAT??!” that you really learn to program.

Writing is one of the few areas where the act of studying – reading – helps prepare you by not only giving you the knowledge base of words and ideas, but helps lay out the paths in your mind in turn with which to write. 

And yet, even writing well is, as I recently noted, a skill that needs to be practiced to be brought to mastery. By writing.

So what is the hands on for learning academic knowledge?

Writing.

No, not pretty posters, though the research involved in building dioramas and such, combined with the focus of working on them can help. I’m talking about how you process the information you are receiving to memorize it as efficiently as possible.

The Navy likes to tell you in training that they will a) tell you what they are about to tell you (the objectives and goals), b) Tell you what they’re telling you, and c) tell you what they just told you. They also make a habit of repeating information – by speaking it, by putting it up on the board so you can see it, and by expecting you to write it down.

Note taking. That awful, dreaded, old-fashioned way to learn.

Aside from the sheer repetition, the focus required to write, especially by hand, what you are hearing or reading, seems to be very efficient at helping ingrain information that you wish to remember because it engages multiple senses at once – including the tactile – while holding your focus on the subject you are writing about.

Even when I’m not in a class, teaching myself, I will go through the information and (if possible) highlight anything that looks relevant. Then I will take a second pass through the data, notebook in hand, writing out every bit of relevant data. When truly dedicated I will go back through and retype my handwritten notes.