So what is meta-learning about?

September 24, 2011

Last week I was busting on (4-hour workweek, 4-hour body author) Tim Ferris for getting meta-learning (learning about learning) all wrong by focusing on memorization. Even Ferriss acknowledged that smart phones would be a globally disruptive force to transform learning.  To me the logical consequence is that memorization will become less and less important.  Even learning languages will be less important.  The military is already trying out realtime language translation devices.  I do hear that Google’s translation API is running into some snags because so many people used it that it started using it’s own results as input. (Which puts a whole new dimension on garbage in-garbage out.)  However, that’s probably a short term glitch.

So if memorization tricks aren’t the key to meta-learning, then what is?  Well internet search skills are an obvious candidate.  I’ve had several conversations this past week where we discussed how fundamental search is to work.  I can’t imagine any field where a worker could compete if denied the use of Search.   We can discuss some of the ways knowledge is becoming debased on the internet another day.  Today it is definitely possible to find useful information to make work easier and better in almost any field.

I haven’t spent much time researching search (yet!) But here is how I conceive of search right now.  I would break the problem into some general categories:

  1. Keyphrase craft – including and excluding the words most likely to return relevant results
    1. Using filters – knowing how to restrict results by date, category, or even a single site
  2. Results relevance analysis – determining how relevant each result is by scanning the results summary text and feeding back to recraft the keyphrase if needed.
  3. Evaluating  sources –
    1. how trustworthy is this site?
    2. if I trust the site, how useful or relevant is the info?

So we can argue about this characterization or improve it with the state of the art research (by using search of course).  But I don’t want to suggest that I think meta-learning is all about search.  I personally deeply rely on dialectics for learning.  It’s one thing to read a book or find some good search results, but you really start to understand what you read when you talk it over.  So it’s essential to:

  1. have relationships with people
  2. pick the right person to discuss a given topic with
  3. Clearly express your ideas
  4. Listen to and be receptive to opposing viewpoints (within reason of course – see #2)
Finally, we can’t ignore that Constructionist idea that Robin exposed me to that the best way to learn is to do.
“What I cannot create, I do not understand.”
― Richard P. Feynman
For me the useful handling of mistakes is a really essential and largely overlooked aspect of learning.  How can we learn without making mistakes?  There is much more to be said on this topic.
Anyway, the bottom line is: Meta-learning= learning about searching, speaking conversing, and doing.
Am I wrong?
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6 Responses to “So what is meta-learning about?”

  1. You raise an interesting set of discussion points, however I’m left with a question:

    If meta-learning=searching, speaking, and doing, then what, in your view is learning?

    • sjackisch said

      Good point. I got tripped up by the jargon. I should say that learning=searching, conversing (speaking and listening), and doing. So if we agree that this is a good approach to learning then we can improve our ability to learn by improving our ability to search, converse, and do. So meta-learning=learning about searching, conversing, and doing.

      • So I feel compelled to ask a follow-up question: How do we improve our ability to search, converse, and do?

      • sjackisch said

        Well by searching, conversing and doing of course. (Repeat as needed)

        But seriously, I think I see where you are going with this. A Constructionist approach doesn’t seem to readily accomodate meta-doing.

  2. […] that we would all benefit from this approach to learning.  Which is something I tried to touch on before.  Arbesman does think that it’s better to rely on Google for current information than […]

  3. […] the world but treat education as a continuing process.  Which is something I tried to touch on before.  Arbesman did comment that it’s better to rely on Google for current information than […]

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