Friday, February 14, 2014

The Key is Fact Finding not Fact Memorization

“Our rapidly moving, information-based society badly needs people who know how to find facts rather than memorize them, and who know how to cope with change in creative ways. You don’t learn those things in school.”
– Wendy Priesnitz

Our educational systems are still fixated on teaching facts even those these facts are often out of date due to the explosion of knowledge. Today's facts are often tomorrows fiction. Technology and science are making very fast progress so memorization is inefficient.

I worked at a computer start-up company in the early 2000's and one of our engineers was a brilliant young man. I wondered why he didn't have any post graduate degrees. When I asked him why he replied, "I did a BSc in Mathematics and at the end of that time I had learned how to learn myself". He could speed read through technical manuals and remember all of the pertinent points. This man has had a very successful career to date because he is self motivated to learn and expand his knowledge base. He also applies his learning straight away.

Given the fast turnover in knowledge we all need to be self motivated learners. By the time someone has got to PhD level in the sciences the information gleaned as an undergraduate is often irrelevant. What is needed are not more PhD programs that take years to complete but more courses that are short, focused and applicable. Such short courses would allow one to keep up. This is where MOOCs are a breakthrough. Of course many of us just make our own courses based on our current interests and curiosity.


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