Learning To Learn

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A talk about how we learn and think, how we teach, and how our approach to thinking has remained largely unchanged in the West for over 2000 years. First presented at the Better Software Conference in Las Vegas, June 2009.

Text of Learning To Learn

  • 1.Learning to learnWhat you didnt learn at school and why Dan North, ThoughtWorks

2. Meet the Gang of Three Socrates Dialectic: logic and argument 469399 BC Plato Reality as a projection Aristotle 428348 BC CategorisationInclusion and exclusion384 322 BC Dan North, ThoughtWorks 2 3. These men shaped how we think We focus on what is rather than what could be Pointing out what is wrong We dont value instinct Its just a hunchIt just feels rightWe use logic to argue from cause to effect Dan North, ThoughtWorks 3 4. Example: modern legal systems Laws based on ethics It is wrong to kill someone, usually Dialectic between prosecution and defence No (explicit) value on emotion or feelings Purpose is to prove beyond reasonable doubt Rather than find most intuitively sensible outcome Dan North, ThoughtWorks4 5. Reality is more complex Factors influence one another in loops either reinforcing, balancing or damping The shower being too hot Being addictedor too cold to drugsCommitting petty crime to pay for drugsThe amount I move the dial Being in prisonwith easy access to drugs Dan North, ThoughtWorks5 6. Systems Thinking Looks at the system as a whole Overall effectiveness rather than local efficiency Feedback loops rather than cause-and-effectMetrics are indicators of trend, not targetsThe system is greater than the sum of the parts What is the individual contribution of a coach?One globally-optimising target Does it make the car go faster? Dan North, ThoughtWorks6 7. Western society is based on targets Schools have SATs, GPAs, school league tablesBusinesses have KPIs, SLAs, budgets, sales targetsHospitals have waiting lists, more league tablesEven trains have punctuality targets (in the UK) But targets are based on a logical fallacy! Dan North, ThoughtWorks7 8. The fallacy of targets A good school will produce high exam results, therefore a school with high exam results is a good schoolAll cows have four legs, so all four-legged animals must be cows We assume only this cause can give this effect Dan North, ThoughtWorks 8 9. You can always game targets Improve school exam resultsReduce hospital waiting listsIncrease train punctualityThe tail is wagging the dog! Dan North, ThoughtWorks9 10. How we learn in school Open your books at chapter 12 and readSitting and listening to history 3 minute attention span, based on eye movementIndividual rote learning Memorise and regurgitate Ecoutez et rptez Practising for your end-of-year exams All that matters is getting the grade Dan North, ThoughtWorks 10 11. How we learn at work Open the spec at section 12 and readSitting and listening to the sales report 3 minute attention span, based on eye movementIndividual rote learning Memorise and regurgitate SELECT FROM WHEREPractising for your end-of-year review All that matters is getting the promotion Dan North, ThoughtWorks11 12. How we actually learn The Dreyfus modelNovice needs context-free direction Advanced beginner needs to fail Competent needs goals Proficient needs metaphor Expert needs experts! Dan North, ThoughtWorks 12 13. How we learn martial arts Shu-ha-riShu - holdingHa - breakingRi - transcending Dan North, ThoughtWorks 13 14. How we limit learning Providing information without context Anyone above Novice will disengagePenalising failure Cannot progress beyond Advanced BeginnerWorking alone Collaboration is cheating! Especially in examsNot valuing instinct or intuition No incentive to become proficient Dan North, ThoughtWorks14 15. Effective learning Offer knowledge with contextCreate "breakable toys, encourage experimentationEncourage collaboration, especially in examsFoster instinct and passion That sounds like effective leadership! Dan North, ThoughtWorks 15 16. How we limit thinking Back to our three amigos...Most business interactions are dialectic We know the answer before the meeting Its just a question of talking the other guy round We use logic and rhetoric And we have no time for instinct or hunches Dan North, ThoughtWorks 16 17. Six thinking hats Parallel thinking process, direction facts, data, gaps Red hat emotion, feelings positive possibility, past success Black hat critical thought, risk Green hat generative, creative, lateral Dan North, ThoughtWorks 17 18. Thinking hats applied Structured Reactive SpecificExploratory Dan North, ThoughtWorks 18 19. Effective thinking Leave your ego at the door Everyone gets to play to their strengths Practise parallel thinking Works equally well either planned or reactive Risk aversion isnt being negative Its great black hat thinking! Dan North, ThoughtWorks 19 20. Summary what can we do differently? Apply Systems Thinking Effective throughput rather than local targetsUse metrics as indicators not targets Beware of four-legged cows!Foster a learning environment Encourage breakable toysPractise parallel thinkingWe can learn to learn and think and lead effectively Dan North, ThoughtWorks20 21. Thank you Far too often proof is no more than lack ofimagination Edward de Bono Any questions?dan.north@thoughtworks.comhttp://dannorth.net Dan North, ThoughtWorks21 22. Bibliography From Novice To Expert Dr. Patricia BennerSix Thinking Hats Edward de BonoThe Art of Systems Thinking Joseph OConnorZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig Dan North, ThoughtWorks 22