Studying and Holistic Learning

Like my article on speed reading, it seems that my article on holistic learning has brought a fair bit of confusion and controversy even for a large amount of coverage. Given the immense amount of feedback I received about this post I think it is only fair that I go into a little more depth to answer some of the comments based on the ideas I present in the article and to respond to some of the criticisms.

For those of you who missed my article How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying, the basic point is that you should learn holistically by continually interlinking ideas and information so that pieces of knowledge are individual units but part of a greater whole. Instead of just learning each formula or historical figure as another data point, you consciously relate this point to anything that strikes similarities. I related this idea of holistic learning to the notion of a web, in which each idea is linked to hundreds of others.

What Exactly is Holistic Learning?

This concept of holistic learning came to me by trying to note the differences that people like myself who study little and learn fast have between people who are otherwise really hardworking and study a lot but can’t seem to learn rapidly. I’m certainly not unique by any standard. I mentioned that I was the second highest graded graduating student from my high-school class.

One of my best friends was in first. Talking with him also reveals that he doesn’t study a whole lot and learns rapidly. I’m sure many of my readers learn a lot faster than myself, and there are people who blow me away with how fast they can learn. Holistic learning is my attempt to point out the major difference in strategy that until now has been a gift at birth that others can’t replicate.

The point of my article wasn’t to boast. Anyone who is good at school can tell you from an early age they start to downplay their abilities when talking with others to fit in, in a way that those who excel in social skills or athletics almost never do. I gave examples of my success so that I could demonstrate a new model for learning that might help others replicate my results. I firmly believe that most talents simply don’t apply if you can really figure out the other persons strategy for success.

If you talk to anyone that really understands a subject, they have a very densely interlinked web in that area. People who really understand a particular field don’t just see equations, dates and concepts, they see how they work together into an intricate whole. The point of my article was to explain what is happening differently in people who really “get” a subject and those that struggle hard just to remember all the formulas.

Almost everyone here is a genius, at least at basic arithmetic. Most of us simply “get” how to add and subtract numbers from one to ten. If I asked you what seven minus four is, you wouldn’t have to go back to your hands and start counting down fingers, the answer three would be immediate. The reason basic arithmetic is so easy for you is simply because it is so densely interwoven into your web of knowledge.

People who learn really easily seem to have a gift, but what they are really doing whether they consciously realize it, is fitting each piece of info into frameworks for things they already understand. They have practiced using visualizations, metaphors and kinesthetic learning aids so deeply that they find it easy to relate new information to a different subject. This explanation of intelligence as a talent is a little hard to utilize, but the concept of linking up information is usable.

Is learning holistically something that can help you on your exams next week? No. It is a skill that takes a lot of time to practice. A few of you criticized me because holistic learning isn’t a quick solution which perhaps the somewhat exaggerated title of my post led you to believe. Unfortunately I don’t offer any quick solutions. I’ve written frequently that I don’t believe in revolutionary change. If you expected quick answers you aren’t going to find them here.

The Purpose of Studying

What about studying? My article suggests that you should do away with studying entirely. I believe the real situation is that you should do away with how most people study. Most people study by cramming information into their brain and hoping it will stick. Reviewing material so you can more effectively interlink it into your web is a smart idea.

If your spending hours reviewing a subject then you simply don’t “get” it. This isn’t a crime, and without a better strategy, studying hard is the best tool you have available to pass your exams. What I suggest is that you focus your energy on using the various tools I suggested in the article to link up each idea to your web. I do this pretty much automatically so extensive studying has become unnecessary, but for people who want to learn this skill, it is more important to change the way you study than to eliminate it immediately.

I still believe studying is valuable as a pretest. I usually do a quick review of all my notes before a test, not to cram or learn the information but to ensure that every idea I come across seems intuitive and obvious — heavily interlinked in my web. If it isn’t, then I hastily try to insert it. But a lot of people come across tons of ideas that aren’t interlinked well, but by this time they are screwed. Studying is like a warm-up jog not the extensive training session before a marathon.

I built this website on the fundamental idea that we can improve ourselves. I also believe that you can accomplish a lot more than you believe if you are given the right strategy or concept. Holistic learning is my attempt to explain what the difference is between those who immediately understand and those who struggle. I also tried to add some suggestions for how you might be able to incorporate this strategy for learning into your own life. Holistic learning isn’t about passing exams, but being able to learn anything. A skill that is also needed by people outside the classroom.

  • Shreyas

    Hello Scott,

    I have been using these methods for about 5 years now and I always used to wonder why I understand concepts more easily and effectively than my classmates. And now I have found the answer. So now on I will be using the methods in holistic learning more effectively. And I see that some people who have commented in this section are wondering how to start learning this way, how to build an initial model.

    You have given few examples in your e-book on holistic learning. And when I read the book, I recollected some “thoughts” that went in my head when I learned various concepts, and some “links” which are well established between various different subjects.

    When I was in 12th grade, I had a poem in English literature called “Forest and river”, and another one “Sonnet-116”. I remember establishing links between these poems with math and physics. I would like to share this:

    1) Link between “Forest and river” and Physics:
    The poet personified the forest as someone who is standing still always, is bored and want to move around (Like the river which is continuously flowing) and on the other hand, the river is tired of running continuously and wants to take rest.
    In a test, I was asked: Why is the river tired? (10 lines)
    I did not know what to write for 10 lines, so I brought in physics.
    I wrote: Glaciers are on top of a mountain so they have potential energy. When they melt and flow down, It gets converted to kinetic energy, and then a part of the energy is continuously lost as sound. So the river was tired. (The teacher was cool so i was not screwed)

    2) Link between Sonnet 116 and math:
    In the poem, It is said that love is eternal and unchanging. So in a test i wrote a formula for it:
    dL/dt = 0

    These are definitely major reasons why I am good at math and physics.

    I am sure that whoever read your book would have recollected some metaphors they have thought of, and their own methods of visceralization. So for those who are wondering how to start, stuff like these will be helpful, if shared. They can consider these as examples to start off with holistic learning.

    I am pursuing engineering undergrad degree in electronics and communication. I have established links between every subject I have studied till now, and that is of course, expected. But most of them don’t do this. They struggle. I just thought there must be a blog where all electrical engineers, students, etc keep sharing metaphors they come up with. Anyone who goes through the blog should be able to create a construct, if they haven’t already, and those who already use holistic learning, will definitely be able to strengthen their construct, and may be it will result in a “PERFECT CONSTRUCT” which you said one should not aim for.

    As there are many smart people from various fields who use holistic learning subscribed to your blog, If they are given an opportunity or a place to share their thoughts, any metaphors, jokes they come up with, It will help others in that field to build an effective construct. So I request you to start a section in your website where people share what they have visceralized, metaphors, jokes, etc, and tag the subjects which they are relating. I could post those Math-English links I mentioned earlier and tag them with “Math” and “English”. Or some other posts can be tagged under “Physics and History” or “Electrical engineering and Movies”. When Someone searches for “physics”, all thoughts, metaphors, jokes tagged with “physics” will come up in one place. This will include ways to remember various concepts, and ways to relate different concepts. Some of it may be really silly, some will be funny, but I am 200% sure that this will be helpful to many. You can also add an option to “like” or “comment” on any post.

    Please let me know what do you think about this idea? I will be really happy if you go on and start this, and I will be an active participant, and post my thoughts, metaphors on a regular basis. I am sure there will be hundreds of thousands of people posting in that section. So don’t you think it will end up in many people building, developing and constructing a more perfect construct? I want to know what you think about this. I am eagerly awaiting your reply!

  • Lewis Haymer

    Hi. I am a 18 year old student in my final year in high school, and about a month ago i found myself losing all concentration in nearly all my subjects. When i was eleven i was a model student, acing exams and reaching the top 2% in maths in the country (England). now you may think i’m just rambling a story to anyone who’ll listen but trust me i’m going somewhere with this. i always knew i wasn’t unintelligent and when my grades began to slip due to personal circumstances i began to doubt myself and my abilities, been told by teachers that i couldn’t go through with my hopes of becoming a doctor. this led me to try every study method available and for 6 months i turned my life around and studied constantly, regaining grades from D’s and F’s, to A’s and B’s. However a life that revolves around study and the fear of failure eventually catches up to you, so like i said before about a month ago i lost hope that i could do everything in time and get the grades i needed to get into medical school, so i just stopped overworking and did the same thing everyone else did. currently my grades are very average, i have four months until my major exams and the question which i want to ask is; is four months enough time to learn holistic learning? and if so is there any tips you can offer to help? (i’d understand if you can’t i’m sure i’m not the first to ask this) i always despised the rote memorization method and want to actually have time in my life to spend with people. not just to be stuck in a room all night forcing information into my head.

    Kind regards

    A desperate student

  • http://google tsotlhe mponang

    I was one of the best student at primary school level,always getting grade A without reading or stuff,i just listened to what the teacher said and ill pass.But now things have changed my memory easily looses information and thats why i scored 34 points in a possible of 48 points,i did not have a grade A or B.I have read your article and i think its a bettr solution for my problem.

  • LDRC

    Thank you for all the information provided. I find it very logical and also i have seen my own thoughts and methodologies reflected. I was an average student at elementary school, and due to many personal challenges and the need to prove myself that I could be excellent I started to improve my grades. The fruits of my effort came after many years of using different strategies to tackle the different tasks very randomly, and I finish first in my class on my undergraduate studies. I am currently starting a Master course half thought and half research and I would need to learn from cero 2/3 of the information included in the program. It seems an enormous challenge and I am very stressed, I have severe insomnia and I have very difficult times trying to concentrate or stay awake during my lectures (coffee is useless). Looking for a solution I found is information and I truly believe that his could be the answer to my problems, since this techniques (that I used some times during my previous studies) have been prove to be very effective when I used them.

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  • bereket

    thank you