Learning To Learn

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning -- Round 1

BOOKMARK: Chapter 3

The Discipline of Learning

The goal is to better harness intuition and develop our skill to recognize and apply patterns.


  • There is no substitute for thinking.

The Dryfus Model

  1. Novice
    • Not interested in learning, per se; just wants to get the job done.
    • More easily confused when error conditions arise.
    • Need context-free instructions to be capable.
  2. Advanced Beginner
    • Has basic context, but not the big picture
    • Not interested in the big picture, per se; don't want to get bogged down in the detail.
  3. Competent
    • Are interested in solving problems and do.
    • Often described as "resourceful" and "having initiative"
    • Can successfully obtain and apply advice from experts
  4. Proficient
    • Can learn from their experience or take object lessons and improve on their own.
    • They have a fairly clear mental model for how to operate within the discipline.
    • They can effectively apply maxims in context.
  5. Expert
    • Can solve problems intuitively. His mental model has become preconscious.
    • Can separate out the relevant details from unimportant details.
    • Got a targeted, focused, pattern matching.

The Progression from Novice to Expert

  • Move away from reliance on rules to intuition.
  • Perspective moves from a collection of bits to a whole with specific relevant bits.
  • Seeing one's self less as a detached observer to a part of the system.
  1. Shu — copy technique; imitate
  2. Ha — reflect; assimilate
  3. Ri — transcend; innovate

practice, practice, practice

  • You need a well-defined task.
  • The task needs to be appropriately difficult — challenging but doable.
  • The environment needs to supply informative feedback that you can act on.
  • Do it over and over again and correct for errors.

Herding Racehorses and Racing Sheep

  • Experts (thoroughbred racehorses) should be free of rules so that their intuition is not cut short with conscious thought around following rules.
  • Novices and Advanced Beginners should be given lots of guidance.
  • Agile methods assume individuals are at least competent.


  • With belief and continual practice, you can rework the brain's pathways.

Get In Your Right Mind

  • Lead with the R-mode, follow with the L-mode — get tacit experience, first, then noddle on it; more experience, more noddling…

Engage the R-mode of thinking:

  • Pair Programming (driver in L-mode, navigator in R-mode).
  • Use metaphor/analogy ("What's this like?")
    • The more distant two subjects are, the strong the metaphor that brings them together (e.g. love is smoke, Julliet is the Sun)
    • Try out http://wordnet.princeton.edu/ for lots of wordplay fun.

On Helping Others

  • They need to accept responsibility (how do you help someone see the importance and value in that?)
  • They need to get realistic about where they are at, now; and be motivated to improve.

Other Key Concepts

infinite regression
The phenomenon of how the reduction of a description of a technical task can have so many nuances that explaining it (regressing each little point further and further) could go on nearly infinitely.
a fundamental truth or principle within the discipline that, when properly applied in the current context, guides the practitioner to a high quality result.
second-order incompetence
not being aware that one is not competent in a certain skill

Raw Thoughts

  • The lesson of WoW — a fractal of objectives keeps the mind focused. The trick is to have meaningful short-term objectives. Terms are as long as necessary.
  • Consistency — study/learning needs to be habitual to be effective. Energy is wasted in the larger context switch of moving from one topic to another. How few topics can you keep in focus and still be effective on the job?
  • Reading does not increase confidence of mastery like "testing" does.

Seven Kinds of Intelligences

  1. Intrapersonal — Reflective (Self)
  2. Interpersonal — Empathetic (Other)
  3. Linguistic — good with words (Words)
  4. Logical/Mathmatical — logical, good abstract thinking (Numbers)
  5. Kinesthetic — good with their hands (Hands)
  6. Musical (Music)
  7. Visual/Spatial — drawing, painting, rendering (Painting)

Pragmatic Investment Plan (PIP):

  1. Have a *concrete* plan.
  2. Diversify.
  3. Make active investments…take responsibility, take charge of your skills development.
  4. Make regular investments. It's a habit, like going to the gym or spending time with people.

Practices for Making Learning Time More Effective

SQ3R = Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review

  • Survey — Take an hour to review the high-level aspects of the material. Start to develop a picture. Capture some high-level questions.
  • Question — Dive in a little and capture additional questions that arise.
  • Read — Plow through it.
  • Recite — here, engaging the R-mode can be really helpful to remembering material. Get creative with how you capture material. Is there a way you can draw a picture? Come up with a nursery rhyme to begin to commit to memory lists of things. Make it fun!
  • Review —

Test Driven Tutorials

  1. do SQ3R: Read a chunk/section/part of a tutorial and all explanations, but don't do it. Get ready because you're going to be quized.
  2. For the last "R" (Review) step, do the tutorial…without looking at the original text.

Also, I notice that completing a tutorial, entirely is the next kind of "test". Completing a tutorial generates positive feelings.

S.M.A.R.T. Objective List:


  1. I will learn Ruby so that I can automate repetitive tasks. I will have a personal model for what a "Function Language" is.
  2. I will learn how to learn better: faster with better retention. I will better understand how my mind works. I will know the ways I learn most efficiently/effectively.
  3. I will become competent with git. Using git, I will be able to perform local commits and re-ordering applied diffs so I have the freedom to commit frequently so as to easily have a way to rollback. I will know how to use git in conjunction with svn so that when I encounter svn repos, I can easily interface while still using git.
  4. I will become competent with all aspects of the core Spring Framework and proficient with specific features (basic BeanFactory functionality, frequently-used integration components: transaction declaration, …).

Ruby Objectives


  1. I will complete the Python Challenge using Ruby (all 43 puzzles), doing at least one puzzle a week.
  2. I will read through the "Pick-Axe" book, at least 10 pages a week.

Short-Term (This Year)

  1. I will have written a number of automation scripts including some procmail, re-write the "Documents_helpers" in Ruby,
  2. I will have a strong grasp of the key elements of functional programming including closures and list processing.

Long-Term (Three Years)


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