Learning is a lifelong imperative, but with an exponentially increasing amount of new knowledge, it can be a huge challenge. Richard Hamming, mathematician and computer science pioneer, offers advice on how to cultivate a style of thinking, an orientation toward the future, and motivation to continue learning:
Rule 1. Cultivate lifelong learning as a “style of thinking.” When learning something new, don’t be a slave to facts. Facts often go out of date by the time you need to use them. Instead, try to look at the “big picture” of principles, fundamentals, or patterns. This will expand your knowledge network.
Rule 2. Ride the information tsunami. During an average working life, the amount of valid knowledge in any field will at least double, while more than three-quarters of what we think we know now will be obsolete. But our brains can only process so much information at a time! We need to structure our learning if we are to ride the information tsunami rather than drown in it.
Rule 3. Be prepared to compete and interact with a greater number of researchers. The number of researchers worldwide continues to increase rapidly. It’s estimated that about 90% of the scientists who ever lived are alive today. Keeping up with new research is an ever greater challenge, but an exciting one!
Rule 4. Focus on the future, but remember the past. We should always aim to be prepared for the future, but the past has important information you may not be aware of. For example, an article in Nature under the headline “Where have I seen that before?” draws attention to the 103 years that elapsed between an experiment already done in 1908 and its accidental replication as the discovery of “new chemistry” in 2007.
Rule 5. Make it personal. Remembering a personal angle, private detail, or scientific feud can help you anchor key concepts in your mind within a meaningful and significant context. In fact, some scientists even publish personal details, as they can can contribute to remembering details of the science involved.
Click here to read the last 5 rules for lifelong learning.
For more learning and research tips, visit the Public Library of Science (PLoS) 10 Simple Rules series.