They’re thinking about their own Buicks, their own car problems, to help you solve your car problems. You want to learn the systems, or the analogies, of the relationships between things in a certain field, and how they interact with each other. Then ultimately you gain that knowledge so that you can shift your own thinking, so when you see a new problem you’re better able to solve it.
Khazan: You mentioned things that don’t work, like highlighting a lot, or skimming your notes before a meeting. Why don’t those work?
Boser: Re-reading and highlighting are particularly ineffective. They’re just passive, and you are just kind of skimming that material. It makes you feel better. You feel comfortable with the material, but you don’t really know the material. Doing things that are a little bit more difficult, that require you to really make connections, is a better way to learn. [You might] explain things to yourself, [or] simply quiz yourself. If you're preparing for a meeting, you'd be much better off just putting the material away and just asking yourself questions. It gives you a false sense of security, that kind of re-reading.
Khazan: Why is teaching other people such an effective learning strategy?
Boser: It’s not that different from explaining ideas to yourself. Self-explaining has a lot of evidence. You're explaining why things might be interconnected, and why they matter, and those meaningful distinctions between the two of them. The other thing that's particularly helpful about teaching other people is that you have to think about what is confusing about something, and how you'd explain that in a simpler way, and so that makes you shift the way that you're thinking about a certain topic.
Khazan: You mentioned that learning is, by necessity, really difficult. Why does it have to be so uncomfortable?
Boser: I think there’s so much stuff out there now that's like, "Learning's supposed to be easy, learning’s supposed to be fun!"
If I ask you, what’s the capital of Australia? Do you know what it is?
Khazan: [Breaks into a cold sweat.] Is it Sydney? I don’t know. It’s probably not.
Boser: No, it’s not Sydney. Another guess?
Boser: Nope. One more.
Khazan: Oh my God, I can’t believe I don’t know this. What's another ... Brisbane? I have no idea, I’m so sorry.
Boser: Yeah, it’s Canberra.
Khazan: Oh my God.
Boser: I had this experience with a researcher. I was in your spot, where I was like, “I’m so embarrassed by this. I should know, this is a major country.” The difficulty of that is going to help you remember it. I’m not going to promise you that you are going to remember the capital of Australia 10 years from now, but it's now a much more salient fact. It’s something that's a little bit more meaningful to you.
Both of us probably, at one time in the world, had this fact come across us, but it wasn’t meaningful, it certainly wasn’t an embarrassing situation. In my experience it was a source being like, "Do you know this?" I'm trying to be like, "I went to a fancy school, I should know this information." It became salient to me. Part of the reason that learning's supposed to be hard, or a little bit difficult, is it makes memory work a little bit more.