The reason I created the graduate unschool project is to study how I learn. I will do this by attempting to learn five different things at very rapid rates using a radically different learning approach for each course. I will be spending six months on each course and method so that I get enough experience to get a holistic view of the methods and am not biased by slow starts or short term fixes. At the end of the project I will incorporate what I observed to work into my own learning techniques, and I will form strong opinions on each method, which I will share on my website. It is essential to this project that all the methods are new to me. That being said, I am not an expert on how they work, or how to apply them. I plan on using my time to better understand the methods, how they are best applied, and how to express them in an actionable form to others, but right now I am unsure of how to pursue a subject following any one of them. Learning the methods is part of the project, and I will not be afraid to contradict some, or all, of what I write in this post six months from now. My goal with this post is not to be correct about the details; instead I am simply expressing the methods I will be using for each course.
Method 1: Recursive Learning/Deliberate Practice (Software Engineering). A few years ago Scott H. Young completed an MIT computer science degree, at home, for free, in one year, using the course material available online. His project was very transparent, and is clearly the inspiration for this course. In fact my MIT course list is the list of courses he recommends for students who want to attempt the project themselves (minus the math courses I have already taken). The method he employed was his recursive learning method, which can be broken down into three steps: Cover the material from start to finish (quickly), Debug your understanding through practice, projects, and challenges that apply the techniques and major concepts, and Insight, where you compress the ideas into a minimalistic form, demonstrating your mastery by teaching others. While what Young did was amazing, I have a few reservations about his approach, and since this I make the rules at this school, I am modifying the method in an attempt to improve it. Young’s goal was to pass the final exam in every class, which is certainly not my goal in this project. K. Anders Ericsson believes that deliberate practice, or challenging oneself to perform just outside their comfort zone, is the key to skill development. Combining what I believe is the highest yield part of each method, I will be spending the majority of my time, after covering the material, deliberately practicing the major topics of the courses (by completing the all problem sets and projects), and using the course materials to assist me when I reach stumbling points (debugging). This is very similar to the method I used to perform well in school, but am structuring the courses around practice instead of memorization (tests).
Method 2: DiSSS (Vert Skateboarding). Tim Ferriss makes the claim in his cookbook/book on how to learn, The Four Hour Chef (4HC), “It is possible to become world-class, enter the top 5% of performers in the world, in almost any subject within 6-12 months, or even 6-12 weeks. There is a recipe, and that is DiSSS”. As I have mentioned previously, I have had more difficulty learning skateboarding than anything else, so it is the perfect subject to test Ferriss’ claim on. Ferriss has always fascinated me and challenged my views on just about everything, and has achieved some remarkable results himself in very short amounts of time. While 4HC was meant to explain this method, I had trouble applying it. I was motivated to make a more dedicated attempt after watching The Tim Ferriss Experiment, where he tackles a different skill in a week shows how he applies the principles outlined in the book. I will be throwing all of his tactics at the wall while I attempt to achieve the seemingly impossible goal of a fakie 360 on a full sized vert ramp in just six months. The DiSSS acronym stands for Deconstruction, breaking the skill into a minimalistic and manageable set of sub-skills though personal experimentation and analysis, Selection, focusing relentlessly on the small set of sub-skills that will return the highest yield results, Sequencing, playing with the order and implementation of the sub-skills, and Stakes, creating consequences to guarantee commitment to the intense learning program. The first three elements will be uncovered through personal experimentation, but the stakes have already been decided. I will be making a series on YouTube chronicling my progress, methods, and what it feels like to learn at such an accelerated pace. In the series my success, or failure, to reach the 360 will be posted online for anyone (who is interested) to see, along with all the effort I have invested in it.
Method 3: Course a Week (Solopreneurship). I have recently become an information junkie, something I am becoming suspicious about. I am constantly consuming business, science, self-improvement, and health related media: books, blogs, podcasts, and sometimes even courses. However, I feel as though the gains I make from covering information are truly insignificant compared to a simple action. This is meant to be method of action. Each week I will be taking a piece of self-improvement media, translating it into a homework assignment, following the advice, and creating an actionable one-pager so others can easily perform the exercises. In fact my e-mail list (which led to this blog and project) was created after listening to Noah Kagan’s business advice on The Tim Ferriss Show. A major piece of this experiment is to see the difference between passive learning and active learning. My initial assumption is that almost all of the gains are made from “doing” rather than “reading”, and that personal experimentation is truly the only way to distinguish between actual wisdom and nonsensical fluff.
Method 4: Antifraglie (App Development). Nassim Talib’s Antifragile has made me more seriously consider the dangers of over intellectualization, theorizing, learning from professors, and not responding to incoming information. Taleb makes a few statements about a more natural learning process which I will be testing myself before forming any conclusions. Instead of covering material or following a course to reach a goal, I will simply approach the goal (developing an app) and learn only what I need to know as I learn that I need to know it. Instead of reading a book on programming languages, I will start making the app, then only look up answers to specific questions I run into first hand (how do I access the iPhone clock, why am I getting a segmentation fault, etc…) ignoring all irrelevant and “prerequisite” information (in my experience all recommended prerequisites tend to be irrelevant). I will also be applying the book’s philosophies on work, namely that it shouldn’t feel like work, and shouldn’t be done when one doesn’t feel like it. There is a chance that I will accomplish absolutely nothing following this method, or that my freedom in structure and curiosity will lead me to build a truly impressive application.
Method 5: 1% a Day (Secret Course). Last week I mentioned an anticipated ~515% improvement. While that seems wildly unrealistic, 1% improvement a day doesn’t even seem very difficult. To approximate a 1% improvement, I will be doing something, related to the secret goals of the course, to push myself out of my comfort zone everyday. In my experience I can only be sure I’m learning when I am practicing something that makes me uncomfortable (like the deliberate practice I mentioned earlier), whether that be writing code for an overly ambitious program (given my skill set), trying a new skateboard trick, posting these articles on my blog, or trying something that challenges my beliefs. In my semi-private journey I will be spending my time expanding my comfort-zone to see how reality aligns with my intellectual beliefs, and correcting the mismatch between what I think is true, and what I am too afraid to find out first hand (even if I am unaware of this fear). Practically, I will be completing a little exercise everyday that will challenge me, but will never truly exhaust me, since consistency is essential to this method.
Since I first shared this project I have become more excited everyday. Recently I have been feeling scared, uncertain, and anxious about this whole experiment. I’ve started to rationalize the idea of backing down from the project, citing the potentially huge cost-to-benefit ratio, the seemingly endless amount of time I have before I have to start (I could always do this next year), and how strenuous and humiliating this could make my life for the next six months. As a pinnacle of my active procrastination I even created a five pilot courses to complete before I can start, including an entire MIT course that I completed 8 out of 11 homework assignments for at the time of this writing (6.00, don’t worry this is a prerequisite for 6.01, I didn’t “cheat”). As I just mentioned, it is time to leave my comfort zone, so instead of listening to my lame excuses and continuing to take a traditional approach to life I will respond by doing what I fear the most, starting.
Next Week, August 3, 2015, it starts.
Footnote: by 6 months I mean 26 weeks.