Things You Really Need to Learn

Guy Kawasaki last week wrote an item describing 'ten things you should learn this school year' in which readers were advised to learn how to write five sentence emails, create powerpoint slides, and survive boring meetings. It was, to my view, advice on how to be a business toady. My view is that people are worth more than that, that pleasing your boss should be the least of your concerns, and that genuine learning means something more than how to succeed in a business environment.

But what should you learn? Your school will try to teach you facts, which you'll need to pass the test but which are otherwise useless. In passing you may learn some useful skills, like literacy, which you should cultivate. But Guy Kawasaki is right in at least this: schools won't teach you the things you really need to learn in order to be successful, either in business (whether or not you choose to live life as a toady) or in life.

Here, then, is my list. This is, in my view, what you need to learn in order to be successful. Moreover, it is something you can start to learn this year, no matter what grade you're in, no matter how old you are. I could obviously write much more on each of these topics. But take this as a starting point, follow the suggestions, and learn the rest for yourself. And to educators, I ask, if you are not teaching these things in your classes, why are you not?

1. How to predict consequences

The most common utterance at the scene of a disaster is, "I never thought..." The fact is, most people are very bad at predicting consequences, and schools never seem to think to teach them how to improve.

The prediction of consequences is part science, part mathematics, and part visualization. It is essentially the ability to create a mental model imaging the sequence of events that would follow, "what would likely happen if...?"

The danger in such situations is focusing on what you want to happen rather than what might happen instead. When preparing to jump across a gap, for example, you may visualize yourself landing on the other side. This is good; it leads to successful jumping. But you need also to visualize not landing on the other side. What would happen then? Have you even contemplated the likely outcome of a 40 meter fall?

This is where the math and science come in. You need to compare the current situation with your past experience and calculate the probabilities of different outcomes. If, for example, you are looking at a 5 meter gap, you should be asking, "How many times have I successfully jumped 5 meters? How many times have I failed?" If you don't know, you should know enough to attempt a test jump over level ground.

People don't think ahead. But while you are in school, you should always be taking the opportunity to ask yourself, "what will happen next?" Watch situations and interactions unfold in the environment around you and try to predict the outcome. Write down or blog your predictions. With practice, you will become expert at predicting consequences.

Even more interestingly, over time, you will begin to observe patterns and generalities, things that make consequences even easier to predict. Things fall, for example. Glass breaks. People get mad when you insult them. Hot things will be dropped. Dogs sometimes bite. The bus (or train) is sometimes late. These sorts of generalizations - often known as 'common sense' - will help you avoid unexpected, and sometimes damaging, consequences.

2. How to read

Oddly, by this I do not mean 'literacy' in the traditional sense, but rather, how to look at some text and to understand, in a deep way, what is being asserted (this also applies to audio and video, but grounding yourself in text will transfer relatively easily, if incompletely, to other domains).

The four major types of writing are: description, argument, explanation and definition. I have written about these elsewhere. You should learn to recognize these different types of writing by learning to watch for indicators or keywords.

Then, you should learn how sentences are joined together to form these types of writing. For example, an argument will have two major parts, a premise and a conclusion. The conclusion is the point the author is trying to make, and it should be identified with an indicator (such as the words 'therefore', 'so', or 'consequently', for example).

A lot of writing is fill - wasted words intended to make the author look good, to distract your attention, or to simply fill more space. Being able to cut through the crap and get straight to what is actually being said, without being distracted, is an important skill.

Though your school will never teach you this, find a basic book on informal logic (it will have a title like 'critical thinking' or something like that). Look in the book for argument forms and indicator words (most of these books don't cover the other three types of writing) and practice spotting these words in text and in what the teacher says in class. Every day, focus on a specific indicator word and watch how it is used in practice.

3. How to distinguish truth from fiction

I have written extensively on this elsewhere, nonetheless, this remains an area schools to a large degree ignore. Sometimes I suspect it is because teachers feel their students must absorb knowledge uncritically; if they are questioning everything the teacher says they'll never learn!

The first thing to learn is to actually question what you are told, what you read, and what you see on television. Do not simply accept what you are told. Always ask, how can you know that this is true? What evidence would lead you to believe that it is false?

I have written several things to help you with this, including my Guide to the Logical Fallacies, and my article on How to Evaluate Websites. These principles are more widely applicable. For example, when your boss says something to you, apply the same test. You may be surprised at how much your boss says to you that is simply not true!

Every day, subject at least one piece of information (a newspaper column, a blog post, a classroom lecture) to thorough scrutiny. Analyze each sentence, analyze every word, and ask yourself what you are expected to believe and how you are expected to feel. Then ask whether you have sufficient reason to believe and feel this way, or whether you are being manipulated.

4. How to empathize

Most people live in their own world, and for the most part, that's OK. But it is important to at least recognize that there are other people, and that they live in their own world as well. This will save you from the error of assuming that everyone else is like you. And even more importantly, this will allow other people to become a surprising source of new knowledge and insight.

Part of this process involves seeing things through someone else's eyes. A person may be, quite literally, in a different place. They might not see what you see, and may have seen things you didn't see. Being able to understand how this change in perspective may change what they believe is important.

But even more significantly, you need to be able to imagine how other people feel. This mans that you have to create a mental model of the other person's thoughts and feelings in your own mind, and to place yourself in that model. This is best done by imagining that you are the other person, and then placing yourself into a situation.

Probably the best way to learn how to do this is to study drama (by that I don't mean studying Shakespeare, I mean learning how to act in plays). Sadly, schools don't include this as part of the core curriculum. So instead, you will need to study subjects like religion and psychology. Schools don't really include these either. So make sure you spend at least some time in different role-playing games (RPGs) every day and practice being someone else, with different beliefs and motivations.

When you are empathetic you will begin to seek out and understand ways that help bridge the gap between you and other people. Being polite and considerate, for example, will become more important to you. You will be able to feel someone's hurt if you are rude to them. In the same way, it will become more important to be honest, because you will begin to see how transparent your lies are, and how offensive it feels to be thought of as someone who is that easily fooled.

Empathy isn't some sort of bargain. It isn't the application of the Golden Rule. It is a genuine feeling in yourself that operates in synch with the other person, a way of accessing their inner mental states through the sympathetic operation of your own mental states. You are polite because you feel bad when you are rude; you are honest because you feel offended when you lie.

You need to learn how to have this feeling, but once you have it, you will understand how empty your life was before you had it.

5. How to be creative

Everybody can be creative, and if you look at your own life you will discover that you are already creative in numerous ways. Humans have a natural capacity to be creative - that's how our minds work - and with practice can become very good at it.

The trick is to understand how creativity works. Sometimes people think that creative ideas spring out of nothing (like the proverbial 'blank page' staring back at the writer) but creativity is in fact the result of using and manipulating your knowledge in certain ways.

Genuine creativity is almost always a response to something. This article, for example, was written in response to an article on the same subject that I thought was not well thought out. Creativity also arises in response to a specific problem: how to rescue a cat, how to cross a gap, how to hang laundry. So, in order to be creative, the first thing to do is to learn to look for problems to solve, things that merit a response, needs that need to be filled. This takes practice (try writing it down, or blogging it, every time you see a problem or need).

In addition, creativity involves a transfer of knowledge from one domain to another domain, and sometimes a manipulation of that knowledge. When you see a gap in real life, how did you cross a similar gap in an online game? Or, if you need to clean up battery acid, how did you get rid of excess acid in your stomach?

Creativity, in other words, often operates by metaphor, which means you need to learn how to find things in common between the current situation and other things you know. This is what is typically meant by 'thinking outside the box' - you want to go to outside the domain of the current problem. And the particular skill involved is pattern recognition. This skill is hard to learn, and requires a lot of practice, which is why creativity is hard.

But pattern recognition can be learned - it's what you are doing when you say one song is similar to another, or when you are taking photographs of, say, flowers or fishing boats. The arts very often involve finding patterns in things, which is why, this year, you should devote some time every day to an art - music, photography, video, drawing, painting or poetry.

6. How to communicate clearly

Communicating clearly is most of all a matter of knowing what you want to say, and then employing some simple tools in order to say it. Probably the hardest part of this is knowing what you want to say. But it is better to spend time being sure you understand what you mean than to write a bunch of stuff trying to make it more or less clear.

Knowing what to say is often a matter of structure. Professional writers employ a small set of fairly standard structures. For example, some writers prefer articles (or even whole books!) consisting of a list of points, like this article. Another structure, often called 'pyramid style', is employed by journalists - the entire story is told in the first paragraph, and each paragraph thereafter offers less and less important details.

Inside this overall structure, writers provide arguments, explanations, descriptions or definitions, sometimes in combination. Each of these has a distinctive structure. An argument, for example, will have a conclusion, a point the writer wants you to believe. The conclusion will be supported by a set of premises. Linking the premises and the conclusion will be a set of indicators. The word 'therefore', for example, points to the conclusion.

Learning to write clearly is a matter of learning about the tools, and then practice in their application. Probably the best way to learn how to structure your writing is to learn how to give speeches without notes. This will force you to employ a clear structure (one you can remember!) and to keep it straightforward. I have written more on this, and also, check out Keith Spicer's book, Winging It.

Additionally, master the tools the professionals use. Learn the structure of arguments, explanations, descriptions and definitions. Learn the indicator words used to help readers navigate those structures. Master basic grammar, so your sentences are unambiguous. Information on all of these can be found online.

Then practice your writing every day. A good way to practice is to join a student or volunteer newspaper - writing with a team, for an audience, against a deadline. It will force you to work more quickly, which is useful, because it is faster to write clearly than to write poorly. If no newspaper exists, create one, or start up a news blog.

7. How to Learn

Your brain consists of billions of neural cells that are connected to each other. To learn is essentially to form sets of those connections. Your brain is always learning, whether you are studying mathematics or staring at the sky, because these connections are always forming. The difference in what you learn lies in how you learn.

When you learn, you are trying to create patterns of connectivity in your brain. You are trying to connect neurons together, and to strengthen that connection. This is accomplished by repeating sets of behaviours or experiences. Learning is a matter of practice and repetition.

Thus, when learning anything - from '2+2=4' to the principles of quantum mechanics - you need to repeat it over and over, in order to grow this neural connection. Sometimes people learn by repeating the words aloud - this form of rote learning was popular not so long ago. Taking notes when someone talks is also good, because you hear it once, and then repeat it when you write it down.

Think about learning how to throw a baseball. Someone can explain everything about it, and you can understand all of that, but you still have to throw the ball several thousand times before you get good at it. You have to grow your neural connections in just the same way you grow your muscles.

Some people think of learning as remembering sets of facts. It can be that, sometimes, but learning is more like recognition than remembering. Because you are trying to build networks of neural cells, it is better to learn a connected whole rather than unconnected parts, where the connected whole you are learning in one domain has the same pattern as a connected whole you already know in another domain. Learning in one domain, then, becomes a matter of recognizing that pattern.

Sometimes the patterns we use are very artificial, as in 'every good boy deserves fudge' (the sentence helps us remember musical notes). In other cases, and more usefully, the pattern is related to the laws of nature, logical or mathematical principles, the flow of history, how something works as a whole, or something like that. Drawing pictures often helps people find patterns (which is why mind-maps and concept maps are popular).

Indeed, you should view the study of mathematics, history, science and mechanics as the study of archetypes, basic patterns that you will recognize over and over. But this means that, when you study these disciplines, you should be asking, "what is the pattern" (and not merely "what are the facts"). And asking this question will actually make these disciplines easier to learn.

Learning to learn is the same as learning anything else. It takes practice. You should try to learn something every day - a random word in the dictionary, or a random Wikipedia entry. When learning this item, do not simply learn it in isolation, but look for patterns - does it fit into a pattern you already know? Is it a type of thing you have seen before? Embed this word or concept into your existing knowledge by using it in some way - write a blog post containing it, or draw a picture explaining it.

Think, always, about how you are learning and what you are learning at any given moment. Remember, you are always learning - which means you need to ask, what are you learning when you are watching television, going shopping, driving the car, playing baseball? What sorts of patterns are being created? What sorts of patterns are being reinforced? How can you take control of this process?

8. How to stay healthy

As a matter of practical consideration, the maintenance of your health involves two major components: minimizing exposure to disease or toxins, and maintenance of the physical body.

Minimizing exposure to disease and toxins is mostly a matter of cleanliness and order. Simple things - like keeping the wood alcohol in the garage, and not the kitchen cupboard - minimize the risk of accidental poisoning. Cleaning cooking surfaces and cooking food completely reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. Washing your hands regularly prevents transmission of human borne viruses and diseases.

In a similar manner, some of the hot-button issues in education today are essentially issues about how to warn against exposure to diseases and toxins. In a nutshell: if you have physical intercourse with another person you are facilitating the transmission of disease, so wear protection. Activities such as drinking, eating fatty foods, smoking, and taking drugs are essentially the introduction of toxins into your system, so do it in moderation, and where the toxins are significant, don't do it at all.

Personal maintenance is probably even more important, as the major threats to health are generally those related to physical deterioration. The subjects of proper nutrition and proper exercise should be learned and practiced. Even if you do not become a health freak (and who does?) it is nonetheless useful to know what foods and types of actions are beneficial, and to create a habit of eating good foods and practicing beneficial actions.

Every day, seek to be active in some way - cycle to work or school, walk a mile, play a sport, or exercise. In addition, every day, seek to eat at least one meal that is 'good for you', that consists of protein and minerals (like meat and vegetables, or soy and fruit). If your school is not facilitating proper exercise and nutrition, demand them! You can't learn anything if you're sick and hungry! Otherwise, seek to establish an alternative program of your own, to be employed at noonhours.

Finally, remember: you never have to justify protecting your own life and health. If you do not want to do something because you think it is unsafe, then it is your absolute right to refuse to do it. The consequences - any consequences - are better than giving in on this.

9. How to value yourself

It is perhaps cynical to say that society is a giant conspiracy to get you to feel badly about yourself, but it wouldn't be completely inaccurate either. Advertisers make you feel badly so you'll buy their product, politicians make you feel incapable so you'll depend on their policies and programs, even your friends and acquaintances may seek to make you doubt yourself in order to seek an edge in a competition.

You can have all the knowledge and skills in the world, but they are meaningless if you do not feel personally empowered to use them; it's like owning a Lamborghini and not having a driver's license. It looks shiny in the driveway, but you're not really getting any value out of it unless you take it out for a spin.

Valuing yourself is partially a matter of personal development, and partially a matter of choice. In order to value yourself, you need to feel you are worth valuing. In fact, you are worth valuing, but it often helps to prove it to yourself by attaining some objective, learning some skill, or earning some distinction. And in order to value yourself, you have to say "I am valuable."

This is an important point. How we think about ourselves is as much a matter of learning as anything else. If somebody tells you that you are worthless over and over, and if you do nothing to counteract that, then you will come to believe you are worthless, because that's how your neural connections will form. But if you repeat, and believe, and behave in such a way as to say to yourself over and over, I am valuable, then that's what you will come to believe.

What is it to value yourself? It's actually many things. For example, it's the belief that you are good enough to have an opinion, have a voice, and have a say, that your contributions do matter. It's the belief that you are capable, that you can learn to do new things and to be creative. It is your ability to be independent, and to not rely on some particular person or institution for personal well-being, and autonomous, capable of making your own decisions and living your live in your own way.

All of these things are yours by right. But they will never be given to you. You have to take them, by actually believing in yourself (no matter what anyone says) and by actually being autonomous.

Your school doesn't have a class in this (and may even be actively trying to undermine your autonomy and self-esteem; watch out for this). So you have to take charge of your own sense of self-worth.

Do it every day. Tell yourself that you are smart, you are cool, you are strong, you are good, and whatever else you want to be. Say it out loud, in the morning - hidden in the noise of the shower, if need be, but say it. Then, practice these attributes. Be smart by (say) solving a crossword puzzle. Be cool by making your own fashion statement. Be strong by doing something you said to yourself you were going to do. Be good by doing a good deed. And every time you do it, remind yourself that you have, in fact, done it.

10. How to live meaningfully

This is probably the hardest thing of all to learn, and the least taught.

Living meaningfully is actually a combination of several things. It is, in one sense, your dedication to some purpose or goal. But it is also your sense of appreciation and dedication to the here and now. And finally, it is the realization that your place in the world, your meaningfulness, is something you must create for yourself.

Too many people live for no reason at all. They seek to make more and more money, or they seek to make themselves famous, or to become powerful, and whether or not they attain these objectives, they find their lives empty and meaningless. This is because they have confused means and ends - money, fame and power are things people seek in order to do what is worth doing.

What is worth doing? That is up to you to decide. I have chosen to dedicate my life to helping people obtain an education. Others seek to cure diseases, to explore space, to worship God, to raise a family, to design cars, or to attain enlightenment.

If you don't decide what is worth doing, someone will decide for you, and at some point in your life you will realize that you haven't done what is worth doing at all. So spend some time, today, thinking about what is worth doing. You can change your mind tomorrow. But begin, at least, to guide yourself somewhere.

The second thing is sometimes thought of as 'living in the moment'. It is essentially an understanding that you control your thoughts. Your thoughts have no power over you; the only thing that matters at all is this present moment. If you think about something - some hope, some failure, some fear - that thought cannot hurt you, and you choose how much or how little to trust that thought.

Another aspect of this is the following: what you are doing right now is the thing that you most want to do. Now you may be thinking, "No way! I'd rather be on Malibu Beach!" But if you really wanted to be on Malibu Beach, you'd be there. The reason you are not is because you have chosen other priorities in your life - to your family, to your job, to your country.

When you realize you have the power to choose what you are doing, you realize you have the power to choose the consequences. Which means that consequences - even bad consequences - are for the most part a matter of choice.

That said, this understanding is very liberating. Think about it, as a reader - what it means is that what I most wanted to do with my time right now is to write this article so that you - yes, you - would read it. And even more amazingly, I know, as a writer, that the thing you most want to do right now, even more than you want to be in Malibu, is to read my words. It makes me want to write something meaningful - and it gives me a way to put meaning into my life.
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I found the article interesting and actually in line with what I try to teach. I understand that it is my job to teach the curriculum but in my mind my real job is to help create good citizens for tomorrow. With the exponentially increasing access to information there is no fact or concept that is out of reach, but if students don't have a sense of self-worth and empathy, what good will ever come of this knowledge. Problem solving and the ability to be critical readers will also be vital for them to find their way through the information maze. Thank you for expressing so clearly what are fundamental building blocks for learn ears of all ages. I will have my students read this and see what they think of this. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Excellent post. My daughter is only 15 months old, but long before I conceived my husband and I decided that we would be homeschooling our child/ren due to the extreme limitations of mainstream curricular education. People should all be taught these 10 things, as well as other REAL character building concepts and human "talents".... How to LIVE in this world.... How to save money, how to drive, how to mediate an arguement, how to make a relationship work, or a friendship last, how to pay bills, economise, save, spend, cook, clean, converse effectively... how to make friends.... an endless number of important tutorials - none of which include the mandatory dissection of a frog or an eyeball, learning the table of elements, or knowing which precise date the battle of hastings fell on... or which of Henry VIIIs wives were beheaded.... I have actually saved the text from this post into the file of our teaching plans for our daughter as I found it illuminating and agreeable. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I agree. In fact, I believe there should be a class in all highschools, in every grade that teach these thiings. It would really help a lot of people out, includeing me. Also I think there should be an optional spelling class. Some people cannot spell, like me. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

This one goes on the front page of two websites, it's just outstanding, - and sent it to my kids as well. Good thinking, well organized, much appreciated!
Author: ADHD Medication Rules: Paying Attention To The Meds For Paying Attention [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Excellent post. A lot of great suggestions that can't be repeated enough. I love number one, predicting consequences...especially helpful in understanding that often the worst that can happen isn't that bad.

To answer your question at the end of paragraph 3, I'm not so sure that teaching these types of things would suit all learning situations. Maybe for basic forms of education. In my case, if I started overtly teaching some of these ideas to my students, many of them would think I was talking down to them or wonder why I wasn't teaching them language like I should be. Perhaps a better question would replace the word educators with parents and classes with children. Thanks. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

a comfort because I'll never learn how to write a 5 sentence email and don't want too anyway. the rest makes way more sense than learning to be a 'business toady" (another never learn and don't want to something)

part of learning to predict consequences is listening to yourself about it...

your list is all items that I already work on (some I do better than others) ~ can't say the program has made me a roaring success but I like living in my own skin [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

the best ...
nothing to say ...
i will follow [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thanks for this Stephen. I had a broad grin when I read the last paragraph :-) For me this article supported what I already believe, but you presented to me in a way that I took home a new meaning. I actually just sent it to both of my young daughters.

Question: You talk about how the brain is always learning and forming new connections. I find meditating (let's say sitting quietly to put it simply) helps me think more clearly when I am consistent in my meditation. Do you have any thoughts on what is happening in our brains from a learning (neural pathway) perspective?
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Stephen, This is a fantastic article and something well worth circulating and discussing.

I'd raise the question of whether this list is really best aimed at teachers. You talk about how teachers are supposed to be covering these points but realistically, I'm not sure how the average algebra or chemistry or even fifth grade teacher is suppose to get on top of this list. I think they would find this mandate somewhat baffling and in light of their explicit mandate to ensure good test scores, a real challenge for them to deal with competently and keep their job.

I think this list is best aimed at parents and at students. Parents are the principals of their children's education. They're the ones who decide what type of education their children will have. In the US, 3-4% opt to homeschool their students. Another 3% have their kids in charter schools. Around 10% pay for private schools for their kids. The remainder have their kids in the public schools where realistically, they should expect competent teaching of the educational materials and standards as currently defined. In all cases, the parents have a very significant educational impact on their children and I think your list really gives them a framework to think it through.

I'd also suggest that educational leaders and curriculum developers ought to be good recipients for the list. But aiming that list at teachers just seems odd to me. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Hiya Pandora,

One of the benefits of extending my own education is that I am well-versed in Pierce and the process you describe as 'abduction'. These days the principle is known as 'inference to the best explanation', some of the mechanics of which are described in some others of my works cited here, including the guide to the logical fallacies. Understanding the principles of education falls under section 3, distinguishing truth from fiction, and from your remarks I judge (by abduction) that you did not follow the references to see what I said on the subject.

The sticky language problem you describe ('the sentence above is false') is known more generally as the "liar's paradox" - see - and has been the subject of philoisophical disputes over the years. In the 20th century, probably the most important attempt to resolve the liar's paradox was through the development of meta-language, which distinguishes between the reference of a sentence, and the sentence itself. But really, the paradox is never resolved, and this results in Godel's incompleteness theorem. So we understand (I would say) that no language can prove the truth of its own statements.

It's important to learn logic, but not to be seduced by it (that applies to the learning of language and of mathematics as well, which are extensions of the same system). That's why I say things like "Do not simply accept what you are told. Always ask, how can you know that this is true? What evidence would lead you to believe that it is false?", and in 'Principles for Evaluating Websites', I say explicitly that people should trust their own knowledge and experience.

None of this goes to show that empathy doesn't work - and in fact it all argues *against* the idea that "we all share values, attitudes, and beliefs which keep us together." Empathy is important, I think, because we cannot simply assume that people talk, think and act like you do. They're different, and understanding that difference requires *feeling* that difference (because the cognitive awareness of that is, again, subject to the incompleteness theorem - we can't know intellectually, we have to try to feel, and ground our own understanding in experience).

All of that said - these are hard questions, and in raising them and working on them and posing them against my own analysis, you are doing exactly the right thing, and exactly what I would want any person to learn how to do, and feel able and entitled to do. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thanks Kat. As for further study, you could do worse than to look at the other materials on this site. Not that I'm trying to plug my own work, it's just a lot of it has revolved around similar themes for a long time. This, say?

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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn


I'm an 18-year old university student and one who likes to pride herself on her intelligence, too. I have been trying to find this kind of writing for MONTHS untl I bumped into this!

Thank you so much for writing it, it is absolutely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. This is the sort of thing we need to be taught, really.

I wonder if you have any recommendations for further study on this? I guess I'm used to looking for a bibliography under everything, haha....

Anyway, just wanted to say I'm sure you make one hell of a teacher and I wish at least half, if not all, of my professors were like you!

Keep up the good work and thank you so much for sharing :)


P.S. I actually registered just in order to submit this message.
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I just got this blog post as at Nov. 23, 2010.

I do agree with almost everything. Where I differ is in the canonical treatment of
"T" ruth. The way human beings and language work, 'truth,' is a matter of abduction as much as it is a matter of deduction or induction.

We can get caught on the sticky paper of language. For example;

"The following statement is true.
The statement above is false."

The brilliant English anthropologist Alfred Gell, who sadly died too soon, but who wrote "The Technology of Enchantment, The Enchantment of Technology," used principles of abduction (as developed by American polymath Charles Pierce), to explain the illogical, yet real (truthful) relationships human beings develop in their cultural and social webs. Kamikaze pilots, anorexics, and business decisions I think may be explained better through abduction than other processes of logic.

Living together so illogically as we do, argues that empathy doesn't work. Locked into our own consciousness, we all share values, attitudes, and beliefs which keep us together. Technology development and use is intimately connected to the values of the individual, society, or cuture. The chinese made fire crackers with gun powder and although a moveable type printing press was developed in Asia 500 years before Guttenburg, the impact was not nearly as significant. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

The title does not mean 'Thinks you need *in order* to learn', it means 'thing you need to learn' in order to be successful, happy, etc. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

If you change the the title to "Things You Really Need to be Educated", I'll possibly agree to Stephen's major premise. Even with this change, none of the things he lists are necessary for "learning" to occur. IMHO, human learning (and most other species) is as natural as aspiration. Learning occurs both consciously and unconsciously, and voluntarily and involuntarily.

Even with the change, some of the the things he lists are socially situated and must be qualified by which cultural milieu it applies. Ergo, one cannot use the general case for all education in all cultures.

Despite having voiced my disagreement, I believe Stephen's proposition, in the context of North American education, is insightful and worthy of praise. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I agree that people aren't that much of an expert when it comes to predicting the outcomes. See, it doesn't happen that way, I mean us getting what we usually want. Nothing comes out great if not for hard work.

Great job, Stephen!
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I just want to know if online courses provide the same knowledge as those from proper education (college/university)? Because I know that a lot of people, especially those who are really busy, often take those and I never really got to know the outcome of it.
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

This is really an informative post and great help on my study about Palm Beach Private School. The title of this article "Things You Really Need to Learn" really reflects on the idea of article is all about and this is worth for sharing. Thanks I will bookmark it and serve as my reference... [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I think you may have left out a word in number three: "The four major types of writing are: description, argument, explanation and definition." These, of course, do not necessarily include aesthetic forms of writing, which may do all of the above, but reading it well is not quite the same as finding keywords and "cutting through the crap." You make it clearer in your linked post that you're referring specifically to expository writing.

And (perhaps because I write fiction) I must take issue with "distinguishing truth from fiction." There is a great deal of truth in fiction. I think what you mean is "understanding how arguments and claims are framed rhetorically" or "understand warrants and claims" or "be able to recognize good evidence, solid logic, and emotional appeals." But truth and fiction are not binary and opposite categories, and truth itself is a pretty slippery fish.
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Excellent article, emphasizing a point that I came to appreciate playing those RPGs so many years ago. Wisdom does not equal intelligence. It's more important and harder to learn. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

This was an excellent article. Thanks.

Your comment moderation script tells me that 'This was an excellent article. Thanks.' is not long enough to post. So, I'll say it again. Good points. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Good question. Let me think about that. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

positive energy, zest...
is all abt u r articles...
tx :)
one ques.. at wht time u implemented 10 point in u r life? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn


Thank you for your very wise words, which I'll pass on. Sparked many thoughts, one thread of which derives from Point 6 (on communicating clearly).

How long did it take you to write 'Things You Really Need to Learn'?

I'm challenged by the idea that 'it's quicker to write clearly than to write poorly', because I usually find the opposite, but perhaps that's because I rely on writing to help me think. I suppose It depends upon what you consider to be the starting point of writing.

Of course, the preparation stage is paramount; one needs to have the ideas/facts straight, before being able to present a written 'product'. For those (lucky souls) who think in a linear fashion (and/or are well-informed), clear writing should, therefore, indeed be quick.

In contrast, I need lots of time (and writing attempts) to mull things over because so many different ideas and approaches occur to me at once. This can be a blessing as well as a curse (and leads to a rich, if tortured, inner life), but perhaps you'll see why my writing is, consequently, rarely quick.

To speed up my writing, your idea about 'speaking without notes' seems likely to be effective, although I'm viewing it with some trepidation. Do you have any further ideas/comments/resources on the thinking-organising-writing process?

The writing above has taken over 90 minutes, and many iterations, to 'perfect', so I hope I've made myself clear! And I'm wondering again: how long did it take to distil your blog post?

Will look forward to reading more of your work.


I've enjoyed this piece of 'work' and will now set about deconstructing it according to your guidelines in Point 2 (on how to read), to see what I really meant by it! ;-)
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

You remind us that learning involves empathy, connection, and appreciation. This is one of those articles that makes you glad to be alive. Thank you! [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Your school will try to teach you facts, which you'll need to pass the test but which are otherwise useless. In passing you may learn some useful skills, like literacy, which you should cultivate. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

What a great blog entry. I have been exploring many education blogs recently and have found this one entry to be the most inspirational. Certainly, all humans need these skills! [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I consider these the most liberating 10 points I have read so far. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

You have renewed my quest for a meaningful life,thanks. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thank you! All of these are thought sometimes but very accidentially.Your saying have helped me to think about it again. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thank you! All of these are thought sometimes but very accidentially.Your saying have helped me to think it again. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

thanks, haven't been surrounded by this much humanistic education in a long time. Makes sense! - super education for us.

Bill Dare [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Stephen Downes,
Having read your work, I am impressed as to "how easy it is" to just simply "learn" . . . turn off the television, rid yourself of the "cell phone" and look around for older folks to learn from . . . set a goal, write "things to do" list . . . keep a record and then look back on the record . . . I am sure that you will find an increase in your learning ability . . . once again, thank you for this fine article . . . I look forward to more. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Stephen, do you think you could share with us what you know about taking care of eyesight? Many times as students learn, I notice they may sacrifice their eyesight for reading more and gluing their eyes on their computer screens.

A.T. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I enjoyed reading this article. As I read those last sentences I knew that reading it was the thing I most wanted to do... :)

I strongly agree with your list of "things you really need to learn". But I disagree about the statement: "schools won't teach you the things you really need to learn...". In my opinion some of today's schools are better than you picture them in this article. There are good teachers around the world who try to teach those "things you need to learn to be successful in live" besides the factual knowledge of their field... I dare to say this because at least 5 good teachers and my parents (also teachers) have thaught and still are teaching me.

... Nevertheless, I agree that many schools could prioritize differently and focus on those important tools for living happily ever after.

Thanks for sharing this article!

Best regards,
Anna [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thanks Stephen - your lesson should be taught to all 6th formers, for their own sake and society sake! Study is important, but no good if you don't know how to live!
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Fixed. Sorry Liu. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I can't find the article 'Things You Really Need to Learn'.
where is it? There is only one paragraph.

Liu [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Thank-you,Stephen. I'm proud to wear and live in my L-plates!
eve [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I hadn't seen the Bateson link before, but I agree, it's well worth sharing. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Hi Stephen
Here's something related to your list of things we really need to learn. It's from the mind of Gregory Bateson (don't know if you've heard of this fascinating man):

His thoughts are focused on a different level, but also touch on some of the things (they're not "things", of course) that you mention.

The list is an excerpt from "Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity". This is not intended as criticism, but I find your list more self-evident - other people could also have come up with something similar. This doesn't make it any less useful, of course. Bateson's thoughts are much less obvious, but profound in their implications for how we would live in and relate to our lived environments.

Enjoy - it's brilliantly conceived stuff.

Andre [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I think the most important thing is that Mr.Downes is willing to share his fantastic ideas with us and let us benefit from those truths that could be took years to form. Thank you Mr.Downs,you are my hero. I will definitely return and read your wonderful articles. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I think the most precious thing is that Mr.Downes is willing to share what he got with us and let anybody else benefiting from the imformation which could be took years to abtain. And those truths really speak to me. thank you Mr. Downes from my bottom of heart. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

Wow, this page has so much truth in it.
I bookmarked it for further reference and will look it over time to time.
Thank you. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I assume you are referring to this paragraph:

"Thus, when learning anything - from '2+2=4' to the principles of quantum mechanics - you need to repeat it over and over, in order to grow this neural connection. Sometimes people learn by repeating the words aloud - this form of rote learning was popular not so long ago. Taking notes when someone talks is also good, because you hear it once, and then repeat it when you write it down."

But - it's not wrong. When you need to remember somethi g that is disconnected from the rest of your thinking, and which won't come up again in the natural course of things, you need to use rote learning.

Somebody gives you a phone number, for example. Repeating it to yourself five or six times will increase your liklihood of remembering it (whjich is exactly why people do such things). The old idea of tying a string on your finger works the same way - it brings the same thing to mind over and over again. And - yes - this is how worksheets work as well.

Do I therefore recommend worksheets? Not in the main. In general, the learning of disconnected facts by rote is not a good idea, because it works against the other things you want to do, like creating things and communicating with others. Rote learning is a focus on a single point of learning, when you could at the same time be engaged with multiple points of learning.

But sometimes you just want to drill. When I played darts, I would throw at the board, over and over. Just to drill.

But here's the other thing about worksheets - it's one thing to opt to do drill type exercises for yourself, and quite another to be told to do them. When you have not entered into such a practice voluntarily, you do not drill with the same emphasis you might otherwise. I think the personal choice to drill is important. Which means that worksheets must remain only an option, and not something assigned to students.
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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn


Your "How to learn" point has an example of rote learning in one of the progenitor paragraphs.

As much as I want people to read and understand the concept of making metaphorical connections (to connect new patterns to existing ones and use as little of your brain as possible), this small and strategically misplaced example will undermine the entire argument (See, Stephen says worksheets are necessary).

I unfortunately can't direct people to this tome. Is a rewrite possible? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn


I am 38 years old and came across this page through a web search for "valuing yourself". Wow !! Am I glad I read what you have written!!

Practical ideas that encompass the whole of life. Powerful ideas that can transform lives. And all of this without any gimmicks. Thank you.

My thinking and the way I live has already changed for the better, thanks to your article.

Are you by any chance able to direct me/readers to additional resources that deal with each of the points in greater detail? If yes, that will be great.

With best regards,
Muthukumar Udayappan [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I agree - perceptive... I have two teenage sons that have never been in a
group school setting - home schooled to 'unschooled' but doing good on
GED and SAT tests. They will have to thread the test/regurgitate hurdles
of college to get their 'credentials'.... I am sure they will seek out the
best in people and learn continuously.....

I appreciate all you good words and work to make a difference..

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Re: Things You Really Need to Learn

I must admit Stephen , this is one of the most informative , awesome sites I have ever seen . I am totally impressed . Thank you for sharing this . I will be back again .

MJB ( Yahoo 360 ) [Comment] [Permalink]

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