What school taught me — meta-learning skills

So I wanted to write this article to reflect on my (admittedly quite privileged) experience at my amazing high school. I find that there are so many important skills that I started to hone during my high school years that I actually carry with me to this day.

Actually, up until tenth grade, I wasn't a spectacular student at all. I did very average on all exams, and didn't exactly stand out academically. It wasn’t until my final high school exams (HSC) where I really honed in on my ability to learn and develop myself through metacognitive reflection. Here are a collection of points that really changed me for the better, and concepts I apply to all areas of my life:

  • Getting the general idea of what a concept is trying to achieve or trying to say is important. This gives you greater understanding of the concept in the bigger picture, and allows you to make higher level connections. What this means in practice is, be cautious of simply learning for the sake of learning (i.e. passive learning or rote learning), or getting too caught up in getting the details right. Sometimes you only need a high level understanding of everything.
  • Try to rephrase every important concept or idea in your own words or diagrams. There is a reason why making notes work. It’s the process of sifting the knowledge, and summarising it, in your own way and your own thought processes. This allows you to really own the idea.
  • Note what type of learner you are, and use it to your advantage. I was most definitely a visual learner, so I drew out concepts and flow charts quite often, to deepen my understanding of a concept.
  • When problem solving, exhaust your toolkit. Try not to cheat by looking at answers too soon, there’s a lot of merit and benefit in solving something yourself. Use the art of deduction, if it’s not working, approach the problem differently.
  • Be careful of mental biases. Existing mental biases about the way things work can stop us from completely accepting and understanding a new concept.
  • Observe others who are great in their field, and learn from them. If I had a superpower, this would probably be it. I’m incredibly attuned to observing the way people go about work, interactions and daily life. Whenever I meet someone really genius at their craft, I would get to know them better and understand the process and the habits which they implement in their lives to achieve their successes.

These points of advice were all things that I discovered about myself that worked for myself, and for a lot of people around me. Although these bits of advice could be seen as specific to the act of studying itself, the other amazing thing about this is that I had learned to engineer my brain. I had learnt how to reflect on the processes happening within my brain, asking myself questions like "What is it exactly that makes this concept hard to understand?" or "What crucial connection am I missing to piece everything together?".

Not every profession requires you to learn new things all the time, but Software Engineering is no doubt a profession that demands constant intellectual growth, grappling with new technology, frameworks, design patterns, algorithms, mathematics on a daily basis.

I honestly think if I didn't nurture my ability to learn and problem solve early on like I did during high school, I would be far less equipped to tackle the Software world as it is today.

Published on 2020-03-02