Most students learn because it’s what they’re “supposed to do.” Supposed to isn’t a very powerful motivation.

Here is one of the most important things you can learn about learning: It’s much easier to learn about something you care about.

The more you care about something, the faster you will learn about it.

The holy grail of education is motivation. I’m going to show you how to solve that problem by avoiding it altogether.

Educators have been searching for it for decades but it’s never been found.

Motivation is not something that everyone is good at forcing.

Even if a person is good at forcing (or faking) it, it’s not as effective as a genuine motivation.

If you want to learn any subject significantly faster then you have to solve this motivation problem for yourself.

Articles have gone over a number of different methods of solving it throughout this blog (and the previous blog) but I consider this method to be one of the most powerful.

Tangential learning is about finding a single point of motivation in any subject. Ignore the “important” parts as deemed by your teacher. Find what interests you.

If a particular subject was a planet then your space shuttle of interest could just scrape the surface of its orbit.

For example, you could learn math to better understand baseball statistics. Baseball statistics are based on math but it’s only a tiny fraction of the required information for a math class.

Learning it still helps in a number of ways.

The first and most important way is tangential motivation.

Motivation of Tangents

When you can find a practical use for something, you can find a way to learn it. 

A student that hates math often hates math because they don’t have a practical use for it in their life.

Sure, not everyone that has a practical use for something loves the subject but virtually everyone that uses math daily doesn’t hate the math that they use.

When a student learns baseball statistics because they love baseball, they also get to learn a little bit of math.

More importantly, they learn how a better understanding of math could be helpful to them in the long run.

This doesn’t completely change the average person’s motivation instantly.

It’s just a small change in perspective that makes future growth in math easier.

If a student can find one good use for math then they’re much more likely to accept there is probably another good use for it.

Learning a subject tangentially doesn’t necessarily help in test scores immediately but this long term change in perspective that’s possible can change everything. If learning the subject tangentially adds just a sliver of motivation then it can increase grades year after year.

Textbook Tangents

One of the most useful ways a student can milk tangential learning for everything it’s worth is to use it in subjects you’re already motivated about.

Let’s face it.

Academic sources suck for motivational purposes.

Even the most ardent of history buffs get a little irritated at the prospect of reading the average history textbook.

When you’re required to learn a subject for class, learning it from the textbook can be a painful process.

A list of facts is not good for memorization, entertainment, or virtually anything.

It’s better to learn the subject tangentially through an alternative source that you actually find entertaining.

If you’re supposed to read a textbook chapter on the fall of the Roman empire then, instead of, or in conjunction with, reading the textbook, you might find a more entertaining book, podcast, or documentary on the subject.

One of the most important things to take note of with this strategy is that you’re not learning the basic stuff through anything but the textbook.

You may miss out on important information that your textbook mentions and your source doesn’t mention. You may also learn a ton of information that your textbook would never tell you.

This is a negative because the time you’re learning stuff you don’t need appears to be a waste.

That being said, the motivation can provide a surprising boost to your productive studying.

Reading boring textbooks may give you all the required information but it will take a superhuman feat of discipline to remember it all for the test.

When you’re working with a less academic source of information, you may not get the exact information but the information you hear is going to stick with you much more effectively.

There is one more important means of using tangentials to consider.

Guided Tangentials

Learning from other people can be one of the most powerful ways because they’ve already figured out the right way to think about it.

There is an old comedy movie that has a wonderful example of effectively using guided tangentials.

One of the characters is headed back to his college to take a major philosophy test. To prepare that character for the test, another character tells the history of philosophy as a metaphor using professional wrestling. (This philosopher is this wrestler… etc.)

This is a really awesome method for learning something.

There are a few problems.

First of all, you need an awesome source of information to provide it.

It’s hard to create these complex metaphors on the fly.

Second, you need to know where the metaphor starts and where it stops.

To pull this off, you may have to do the creation of the metaphor yourself.

It can be a real challenge.

The reason I mention this is not to get you to try and create your own metaphors but to introduce the possibility in case you stumble on any.

If you’re reading a subject and think, “wow, this is just like…” run with that thought pattern and see what comes up.

That’s your brain doing what it does best.

It’s taking facts in your brain and linking them up to make everything in your brain significantly more accessible.

Sometimes you don’t need to focus on individuals facts to learn most effectively.

Sometimes the tangents are where you can make the most out of your education.

They allow your brain to use it’s most efficient methods for learning the things you need to learn.


Image Sources: simpleinsomnia, kafka4prez, Garry Knight

The Magic Of Tangential Learning

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5 thoughts on “The Magic Of Tangential Learning

  • October 25, 2015 at 5:05 pm
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    Running with thought patterns? That sounds to me like trouble waiting to happen. One second I’m thinking about the synapses of the brain and the next I’m wondering how a college student can feel comfortable with ninja turtle comforter even when it’s meant as ironic.

    Dang… what was the first thing I was thinking about?

    Reply

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