“Good Student”, Bad Learner

When I was in college, I was always wowed by the international kids who would lock themselves up in the library and study for hours on end. Excessive, but effective I guess.

When I was teaching in Japan, I saw more of the same. Plenty of kids would stay after school to go through their books. They’d come in on weekends. They’d even come during vacations!

Again, very excessive, but if it was effective for the person… who am I to tell a person not to study?

That’s the attitude of the Jon Dao of old, but not of 2017!

The seed for this change in attitude happened a couple years back. I was still teaching in a classroom then. And with teaching one of the upper levels, I saw a very clear divide with my students:

  1. Kids who were good students, yet failed to pass tests.
  2. Kids who were– and I can say this now that I’m not working there anymore–  fucking shitheads, yet succeeded in passing every test.

Tests, just like interviews, aren’t the best way to gauge a person’s ability. Sometimes people are just good/bad at taking tests. These were the main things, and they’ve influenced the way I operate today as a coach (i.e. let’s build real-life applicable skills, worry less on academics, etc.)

Lately, my clients got me thinking about study habits again. Even to this day, I work with who get caught up being a “good student”. After years of doing it this way, I guess it’s hard to break out.

A “good student” is a false positive. It looks like s/he’s putting in the effort– and in many cases s/he is— but how much is actually being learned? Just like with dieting, your body can only absorb so many nutrients at the time.

You can try to perfect the materials and environment, but the absorption rate is always going to be limited. This is why people can have such different takes after reading the same book.

Another problem with a “good student” is that the approach is too input focused. What “studying” means for a lot of them is just reading. Over and over. Again and again. Rote memorization without application.

Let’s be clear: for some tests, yes, you’ll have to cram.

But for the long term? You’ll need to maintain a steady minimum of input, but an increase of output. Share what you’ve learned.

Don’t spend so much time talking about what you plan to do or how hard it is. Talk about what you’ve covered so far and what still doesn’t make sense.

Don’t be satisfied with a single way to explain a concept. You need multiple solutions. Multiple expressions.

A “good student” can be a bad learner by being too diligent for the task at hand. All the effort they put in now is so temporal, it really doesn’t do much to embed concepts for the long-term.

And to put in all that effort and stress for something you won’t even remember years from now? That’s a damn shame!

Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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