Learn Faster by Knowing Less

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People learn when they can experiment with whatever they are working with, be it something physical like carpentry or something mental like philosophy. Teachers can even encourage faster learning by letting students essentially play with what they have and stepping back. Providing too much instruction means students don’t need to create a process for themselves so they learn to cope, instead they learn to follow the instructions. A recent study showed demonstrated that how make choices as learners impacts how quickly we learn.

This observation means the brain is primed to learn with a bias that is pegged to our freely chosen actions. Choice tips the balance of learning: for the same action and outcome, the brain learns differently and more quickly from free choices than forced ones. This skew may seem like a cognitive flaw, but in computer models, Palminteri’s team found that choice-confirmation bias offered an advantage: it produced stabler learning over a wide range of simulated conditions than unbiased learning did. So even if this tendency occasionally results in bad decisions or beliefs, in the long run, choice-confirmation bias may sensitize the brain to learn from the outcomes of chosen actions—which likely represent what is most important to a given person.

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