The spectrum of learning

The process of learning is comprised of 4 stages:

1. Exposure: To attend a lecture or read a book. To becomes aware of a concept and to recognize and understand whenever it is mentioned. To know the mathematical formula, the definition of a concept, or the gist of the theory. To look through a solved example and understand the steps involved.

2. Synthesis: To recall and write down on a blank page, what one knows about the subject. To express it in a form that is intelligible. To logically structure the information. To strengthen understanding by transforming intuition into knowledge.

3. Application: To use the learned concept. To relate it to one’s own observations. To think of a few examples where one has encountered it in real life. To use the formula to solve the problems in the textbook, as well as the ones outside it.

4. Simplification: To know well enough to explain to others. To bring one’s audience to the first stage (Exposure), through one’s lessons. To break-down a concept or an idea so well, that mere attention is enough for others to consume it. To teach.

Our true competence in an area keeps increasing as we move down this spectrum. More importantly, the illusions of competence are the highest at stage 1, and continuously diminish with each stage – reading a book may lead us to believe that we understand its contents well enough, but this illusion is destroyed when we try and teach it to others.

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