Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dr. Faulkner: How to Learn by Elon Musk

You likely have heard of Elon Musk.  He co-founded PayPal and is the founder of the Tesla electric cars and SpaceX.  He is also a proponent of the mission to Mars and a project to connect America via a system of underground tubes containing hyper-speed vehicles.

So this guy is no slouch.  He is an entrepreneur extraordinaire and you would think he is very intelligent.  As reported on the Inc. website, in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), a fan asked, “I know you’ve read a lot of books and you hire a lot of smart people and soak up what they know, but you have to acknowledge you seem to have found a way to pack more knowledge into your head than nearly anyone else alive.  

How are you so good at it?”

Musk’s response was very interesting.  He give two pieces of critical advice.

      “I think most people can learn a lot more than they think the can.  They sell themselves short without trying.”

      “One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

As we begin a new academic year and a new semester at Vol State these are good lessons for us to remember as we teach students (We are all educators.) and as we seek to continue our own education (We are all learners.)

First we need to challenge our students and ourselves to stretch beyond what we think we are capable of attaining.  As a faculty member and department chair I’ve heard the same things you have.  “I’m just not good at math.”  I’m just not good at science.”  I have a learning block when it comes to languages.”  “That’s just the way I am.”  Saying these things is making an excuse for not trying.

Second we need to practice good andragogy by structuring our lessons to be sure we cover the fundamentals before diving into the details.  There is much research that show that learning occurs when we connect something new to something we already know.  If there are no branches then there is no place to hang the leaves.  We must construct our lessons so that there is a sound framework while at the same time understanding that student will have their own construct based on their own experiences and prior learning.

Who can know if the next Elon Musk is attending Vol State right now?

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