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Wise Professor Breaks Down Research On How To Learn Better In Viral Video. AI Supercharges It.


Source: Marty Lobdell, Former Psychology At Pierce College (25M+ views)

Over the last eight years, I’ve spent 1,000+ hours studying how to learn faster and better. This video clip above captures the most fundamental lesson I’ve learned…

"Read actively, learn massively."

This rule of thumb is backed up by a whole body of research and summarized in the chart below:

Or shown, differently….

IP Credit: Unknown

The power of active learning is one of the reasons I love being a thought leader. Explaining is the best way to learn. And being a thought leader forces me to learn and then explain what I learn while making money, making a difference, and having fun.

But, to make the most out of active learning, we must confront a difficult truth…

Most People Suck At Active Learning

While the research on active learning is well-established, it is rarely practiced.

For example, how many readers review and fully apply what they’ve learned to their lives?

Based on hundreds of conversations with executives who take my Learning Ritual Course, the answer is very few! Most people forget most books within months.

The story is similar with online content. Theoretically, the Internet is designed to be interactive, but in practice, it’s not. According to research from famous user experience researcher Jakob Nielsen, interaction with online content follows a 90-9-1 Rule:

the 90-9-1 rule for participation in an online community
  • “90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).”

  • “9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.”

  • “1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions.”

Said differently, the medium is the message. Words on a page do not lead to active learning for the large majority. Active learners are the exceptions.

Former head of research at the Khan Academy Andy Matuschak, eloquently explains the situation in his essay, Why Books Don’t Work:

Books have no carefully-considered cognitive model at their foundation, but the medium does have an implicit model. And like lectures, that model is transmissionism. Sequences of words in sequences of lines in sequences of pages, the form of a book suggests people absorb knowledge by reading sentences. In caricature: “The author describes an idea in words on the page; the reader reads the words; then the reader understands the idea. When the reader reaches the last page, they’ve finished the book.” Of course, most authors don’t believe that people learn things this way, but because the medium makes the assumption invisible, it’s hard to question.

Readers must learn specific reflective strategies. “What questions should I be asking? How should I summarize what I’m reading?” Readers must run their own feedback loops. “Did I understand that? Should I re-read it? Consult another text?” Readers must understand their own cognition. “What does it feel like to understand something? Where are my blind spots?”

These skills fall into a bucket which learning science calls “metacognition.” The experimental evidence suggests that it’s challenging to learn these types of skills, and that many adults lack them. Worse, even if readers know how to do all these things, the process is quite taxing.

The fact that everyone, from young students to adult learners, are not actively learning has a huge cost. It means that individuals learn more slowly and progress less in their lives and careers. It means that we aren’t tapping into our full potential as humans.

But, the good news is that now that we’ve confronted the brutal truth about active learning, we can ask ourselves a new question that unlocks our dormant potential…

How Can We Make Active Learning Easy And Automatic With AI?

What’s special about this momentis that we are witnessing the arrival of a new content format that innately supports active learning… Interactive Content.

AI, more broadly, and GPTs, more specifically, are innately interactive. Rather than being one-way like a book, AI is a two-way, co-creative process. AI can:

  • Ask you questions

  • Coach you with encouragement and feedback

  • Quiz you

  • Have a conversation with you

  • Role-play with you (e.g., negotiation, improv, sales call)

  • Create and play games with you (text-based games, puzzles, choose your own adventure)

  • Personalize its responses to you (based on who you are, your current level of expertise, your current situation)

  • Brainstorm with you creatively

It cannot be passive even if we wanted it to be. Therefore, AI holds the promise to end our outdated era of transmissionism, where we depend on models of learning primarily based on absorbing information from lectures or words on a page.

And, it’s not just a promise, it’s already an emerging reality. You can get glimpses of what I mean via two GPTs I created:

  • FeynmanGPT. The AI explains a concept to you and then gets you to explain it back in a way that a child could understand. The AI keeps on asking follow-up questions to get you to explain the concept from different angles (e.g., metaphors, application).

  • Book Bot. The bot summarizes a book and then coaches you through how to apply a book’s concepts.

This is just the beginning. Over the next several months, I plan to turn more and more of my knowledge into GPTs and then share them via this newsletter and my courses.

Granted, the AI isn’t perfect yet…

The Case Against AI Today Will Almost Change By The End Of The Year If The Rate Of Change Stays The Same

AI still has occasional hallucinations without telling you. There is a delayed response, making it harder to have natural conversations. It doesn’t have a huge short-term memory, meaning you must repeat things about yourself multiple times and you can’t import large bodies of work. Furthermore, it sometimes makes basic reasoning errors.

The good news is twofold, though:

  1. The AI is already good enough to be extremely useful.

  2. Each of these deficits is improving at an unprecedented rate. The short-term memory of AI has increased by 250x in the last year, and the response time is 50x faster in some models. OpenAI will likely launch GPT-5 this year. If these trends continue, the challenges I mentioned above will disappear in 2024.

In other words, by the end of 2024, we may be entering into a her era of learning where learning feels more like having a natural, enjoyable conversation integrated into our lifestyle than using will-power to study for an exam.

This shift to personalized Interactive Content won’t just be a big shift for learners. It will also be a big shift for thought leaders as it creates a new format to create in…

The Rise Of Interactive Thought Leader

One way for a thought leader to differentiate themselves from the noise of the Internet is to pioneer a new format that works so well that it becomes standard. I call this Format Innovation.

Examples of recent Format Innovation include:

  1. “Serial" Podcast: Launched in 2014, "Serial" popularized true crime podcasts and the use of podcasts for in-depth storytelling over multiple episodes.

  2. "Humans of New York": Brandon Stanton's photoblog and book offered a unique format by pairing photographs of people from New York City with snippets of their stories, inspiring numerous similar projects worldwide focusing on storytelling through photography and personal narratives.

  3. TED Talks: TED has transformed public speaking and idea-sharing by creating a global platform where experts from various fields present short, powerful talks on a wide range of topics. This format has popularized the concept of condensing complex ideas into engaging, accessible presentations, inspiring many similar platforms and events like TEDx.

I believe that Interactive Content may become a standard format that many creators create in the coming years. My conviction in this is high enough that I’m fundamentally rethinking what and how I create as a thought leader.

Previously, I viewed myself as creating long-form articles that I publish on social media (e.g., Medium) or creator platforms (e.g., Substack).

With the advent of AI, I don’t just see my output as articles published on Substack. I now also see my output as GPTs published on the GPT Store of OpenAI (and other platforms as they create their own stores) that link to my articles.

Just as I learn by explaining in articles, I also find that I learn through the process of creating GPTs based on my learnings.

Bottom Line

AI provides us all with an opportunity to reimagine the world from first principles.

We’re so used to active learning being hard and rare, that it’s easy to think there is not another, better way.

AI is innately interactive (and soon personalized). This provides an opportunity for active-learning to become easy and automatic. It also provides the opportunity for thought leaders to pioneer this new content format that is interactive rather than than static.

Bonus: Organized Transcript Of Video Clip

Active Learning Is Powerful

The more active you are in your learning, the more effective. And yet, increasingly, I have students who think studying is reading it over and over, and they're going to have some magical thing where they suddenly understand it and remember it well. For most of us, it's not the most efficient or effective way.

It’s Critical To Understand The Difference Between Facts And Concepts

First, you have to decide, what am I learning? Is it a concept or a fact? A fact is a discrete little piece of information. Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis. That's a fact. Okay, but understanding what psychoanalysis is, is a concept. Okay? Understanding the name of a bone is a fact. Understanding what it does in the body gets into a concept.

Concepts > Facts

Most of us, as we get older, realize concepts are what are really important to make our lives better, to be effective in our work, to be effective in our personal lives.

Case Study

And I'll give you a simple example.

I'm an old guy. When I was a bit younger, I would sing along with the radio with my adolescent daughter in the car.

"Oh dad, if you don't know the words, don't sing the song."

I'd say, "Okay Beth. You're right. I'm not singing exactly what he or she is singing, but it's conceptually the same.” Then, I'd say. “What's the song about?”

"I don't know." [she would respond]

She couldn't tell me what the song was about, but she could tell me every word in the song. That's learning facts and not seeing the concept. I, as an adult, I know the concept. I just make up my own lyrics. Because, I don't worry about the factual.

Meaning Means More Memory

Here's the question. Can you put the concept in your own words? If you can't, you don't really understand it. It's not meaningful to you.

I'm now going to prove this….

Case Study #1 On Meaning And Memory

You all get to do a little memory task.

I'm going to read to you 13 letters from our alphabet. You all know the alphabet, right? Should be meaningful. As soon as I finish, I want you to say them back to me in the same sequence that I give them to you. So I'll say them, and then I'll go like that.

Just say them back…

Y T R H A U S P D P A Y H.

Now, I'm going to rearrange the letters a little bit. See if you do any better.

H A P P Y T H U R S D A Y.

Most of you got all 13. And you thought that by coming to this lecture, you might gain nothing. I've just taken your short-term memory span, which is usually five to about nine letters, and expanded it to 13. Now, obviously, it was a little easier. Those were the same 13 letters, the same ones.

If you're studying anything conceptual and you're trying to memorize it, it's like, Y T R. It doesn't make any sense. It's in one eye out the other. If it's out loud, one ear out the other.

But if you take the time to discover the meaning in it, suddenly it clicks. And I could probably ask you next week, what were those 13 letters? And most of you tell me. At the end of the quarter, I could ask you. Most of you could tell me. You might be confused. Was it Happy Wednesday or Thursday? But you'd guess probably Thursday.

Case Study #2 On Meaning And Memory

Now, some of you are in my intro class this quarter, and I do something that I wish I had time to do. I divide the class in two, using a card. So half reads one, and the other half reads another card.

I have one group try to estimate the number of vowels in a series of words that I read to them. So they're thinking about the words. We'd say "That's superficial thinking." How many vowels are in mosquito? How many vowels are in bottle and elephant? And they get to write down what they think is the number of vowels.

The second group is told, "You need to think about how valuable this item would be if you were stranded on a deserted island, and you then rate its value on a five-point scale, one being no value. Five being highly valuable. That's called deeper processing. You're now thinking about it in terms of its application or use. By the way, I always think elephant is a fun one. I'd give it a five. Okay, not only company, but if you got really hungry, you got a lot of food there, right?

I then read, I think it's about 30 words. Everybody's writing down their numbers. I then have them do a stalling exercise where they write their name, phone number and address. That's to dump short-term memory because they might be thinking about the words I just read. If you're now writing your name and address, it changes your focus. Short-term memory only lasts about 20 to 30s. It's pretty brief, so I counted on the clock.

After 30 seconds, I say, "Now write down as many words that you can recall."

This one is so powerful. The group that's counting vowels, on average, remembers five out of about 30 words. Time and time again, the group that's thinking about the usefulness on a deserted island remembers ten. Without doing any more effort. Simply by thinking about it, instead of just trying to superficially think about it.

The Meaning Of Meaning

Now this then raises a fun question. What is the meaning of meaning? If I say something is meaningful or meaningless, What am I really saying?

I'm not going to go through a big drill, which is kind of fun of teasing it out of you. But a meaningful piece is a piece that relates to something you already know. And the best little analogy is it's like a file system that you've already got established. You add a new entry to it, so it's all neatly organized, and it's very easy if you've got a file system to add a new entry. We do with computers.

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