The Narrowness of Acquired Ability - Deepstash
The Narrowness of Acquired Ability

The Narrowness of Acquired Ability

Formal discipline theory led to views that learning Latin and geometry were important, even if few students would use these skills in their lives, because by their formal character they acted as the ideal dumbbells for mental strength training.

Training on one task didn’t help much with training on dissimilar tasks. Identical elements theory suggested that in order for training in one skill to apply to another, the two problems must share common elements.

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MORE IDEAS FROM The Science Behind Building General Skills | Scott H Young

How Do General Skills Get Built?

Few keys to acquiring more broadly useful skills:

  • Breadth comes from specificity. All general skills are built from specific knowledge and procedures. There’s no shortcut.
  • Deeply understanding ideas helps. While not a panacea, deeply understanding more abstract ideas extends the useful range of your knowledge. But this only works if you really understand it.
  • Visible knowledge is built on invisible skill. The ideas and facts depend on skills which are hard to spot. Recognizing where an idea applies and modifying it for your purposes.
  • Practice in a range of real situations.

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The Power (and Weakness) of Ideas
  • We need to be able to recognize the idea in different contexts
  • We need to be able to modify the idea to suit our current purposes.
  • We need all the specific skills of implementation.

The easy-to-spot ideas in a field may really just be the tip of an iceberg of invisible tacit knowledge. Wanting skills that float freely of any specific use, we may end up making ideas that are detached from all uses.

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What About Ideas?

Provided a person has the ability to see the correspondence, the problems “three times three” and “3 x 3” are the same, even if they look different. In short, an idea, as a more abstract, general notion, can influence your thinking on a wider range of problems than a procedure you memorize.

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RELATED IDEA

How to build general skills

General skills not only help you with a narrow problem but can be used repeatedly to solve other problems.

But building general skills can be challenging because it is built from many specific ones. If you're prepared to do the work, you can find better ways to learn that can make breadth possible.

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Expose Yourself Multiple Times to the Same Information

If you can be exposed to a fact, idea or procedure multiple times, you’ll retain it far longer than if you experience it only once.

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Consider at what speed you should try to do things in order to improve performance.
We can often learn something quickly, but without attaining a master level (like getting good at estimating answers to math problems. While you might get within close proximity, you'll seldom get to the exact answer.)
Learning to do something with precision will require a different technique and can take much longer to master.

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