Asking questions to accelerate learning

Writing out all the things you know you don’t know about a topic and then finding answers is possibly the most efficient, effective learning practice I employ.

One cool thing about my mind is that I think it mostly knows what it doesn’t know. Meanwhile, all the authors of all the content in the world DON’T know exactly where the particular gaps in my understanding about something are so why should I just pick up a book on a topic and passively go from page 1 to finish? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just write out what I know I am ignorant of but think I need to know to start understanding and then quickly seek out those answers? These answers then beget new questions and pretty soon you have a pretty comprehensive roadmap for what you need to be conversant in a topic.

Google makes finding the highest quality responses or answers easier than ever. Using a personal “Q and A” style of learning, I find, makes the process both fast and fun. It’s like a scavenger hunt. The active process of scavenging and writing out answers also makes me a more active participant in the learning and, I suspect, helps me retain the information. Writing is a highly effective retention tool.

I’ll expand on this technique in the future as I figure out others using this or similar techniques. I’m a major supporter of the 80/20 rule as it applies to learning about something as well–the idea that 80 percent of the utility of something can come from deeply understanding the most important 20% of the material on a topic. Tim Ferriss talks about this as it applies to language when he recalls creating a simple rosetta stone of the most common Japanese characters when he was overwhelmed by the task of learning the VERY foreign language while studying in Japan in high school.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper and a list of questions you think are important and you know has proven to me to be both an accelerator of my understanding and has also provided me with a good roadmap for continued study.