Learn better: Lessons from a lost wallet

Learn Better: The background story

Learn Better
.                 Learn Better: What is a wallet for?

I lost my wallet about two months ago and I was very unhappy about that. But I never expected that it will end up teaching me a very important lesson about how to learn better and probably more effectively. Let me get into the details of the incident, to help you understand this thing.

Now my wallet was not exactly lost, it got stolen. And I was heartbroken. So much so that I decided to not buy another wallet. I tend to give up on things that leave me and that is what I did in this case. And thus began a period where my money, my keys and my debit card, would all stay in my pocket without getting enveloped or packaged into a single entity, as opposed to the time when I had a wallet. That is when I realised that the real purpose of a wallet is to bring all these entities together and turn them into a single package. A single package, which is easier to manage. A simple thought I had never paid attention to. I always had a wallet because everyone has a wallet.

So, for the next one and half month, after losing my wallet I continued living without one. It was not any different from before, apart from the fact that the objects in my pocket were separate entities in place of being a single package. The interesting effect that this separation of objects had was that I was always aware of the contents in my pocket. But when I had a wallet, I could never be sure about what I was or was not carrying. I would often have to check my wallet to know how much money I was carrying, or if I had forgotten my keys or my card. But now, I was always very sure of what all was there in my pocket. And that sparked an idea in my head.

Learn Better
.   Learn Better: Why do we need a wallet?

Now, I am a very scientific person, or at least that is what I tell myself. In any case I was certainly not ready to jump to any conclusions. Because scientific people do not jump to conclusion or start believing in every idea they get. They do the experiments, check the results to see if they match their idea/assumption. And then and only then, they believe in their idea.

And so, to conduct my experiments, I bought another wallet. A cheap one, so I don’t have to mourn if I lose this one as well. And now that I have been carrying it for almost two weeks, I can tell you with certainty that my observation was right.

The observation being; when the objects of my pocket get packaged into a single entity (my wallet), I tend to forget what they are, since I stop paying attention to them. But when they exist as individual entities, they are hard to ignore and thus easier to be keep track of and hence are easily remembered. And being an educationist at heart, or so I tell myself, I thought how can this be used to learn better?

And the answer to that question led me to this theory which I have titled ‘The wallet effect’. And I hope that some day this theory will be famous and I will get my well deserved Nobel Prize for it (o.0).

Learn Better: The Wallet Effect

To learn better and remember the things that you learnt, it is extremely important that these things always have your attention. Now, there is an obvious advantage of putting things under tags. For example you have concepts compiled under a sub-topic. A Sub-topic compiled under a Topic or a Chapter and then these Topics are compiled under Modules and Subjects etc. This is necessary because it is easier to ‘manage’ all the concepts, because there are just too many of them. But this tagging and compiling is not desirable when it comes to learning or remembering them.

Learn Better
.        Learn Better: Unpack the wallet

So what I am trying to suggest is that as you get more familiar with the Subject /Modules /Topics /Sub-topics etc. try to pull them out of their package. That is, stop thinking (for example) that quadratic equation is part of Algebra and it is studied under Mathematics. Quadratic equations is just Quadratic equations and nothing else. It is not a sub-division of anything, but an entity in itself. Once that is done, dive deeper. Identify that the topic Quadratic Equations is defined by sub-topics of ‘degree’ and ‘roots’ and ‘methods to solve quadratic equations’ etc. Then, as you get familiar with these sub-topics, start identifying these ideas as separate entities and not just components of Quadratic Equations.

Once you do that successfully, there will be a ‘concept of degree’, a ‘concept of roots’ and the ‘concept of solving equations’. And these will have relevance even outside the domain of Quadratic Equations. Now try to remember each of these concepts as independent entities and try to revise them as such. As an entity in themselves. Not a part of some other tag. And you will see, that this will help you understand these concepts better and you will almost effortlessly remember them, probably forever.

Now, I still call this idea a theory and not a law because I still don’t have enough evidence to prove that this is effective. And if you have read this far, I am sure you are interested in this idea. So I would request you to try this technique to learn better, to whatever you are learning and leave your experience in the comments below. I would make it a point to mention you in my speech when I get my Nobel Prize.

An alumnus of IIT Bombay himself, Bhanu Pratap has spent more than five years coaching students for IIT. In his new role as Product Manager at Plancess, Bhanu is helping us create a platform that can provide the student the experience of a personal tutor. In his spare time he likes sharing his vision and experience through blogs.

One comment: On Learn better: Lessons from a lost wallet

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