Why Trying Too Hard Can Sometimes Be a Problem – Learning How To Learn for Youth by ASU #1


Barbara: What do you do when you just can’t
figure something out? For robots, it’s pretty simple. They can just keep bashing their heads against
the wall. But living brains are a lot more complex. It turns out that if you understand just a
little bit about how your brain works, you can learn more easily and be less frustrated! I’m Barbara Oakley, working with Arizona
State University. Arizona State wants to help you learn how
to learn! Together with my friend, motivational speaker
Greg Hammons, we’re bringing you some short videos with the secrets to learning more easily,
based on the book Learning How to Learn. Neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski—we just
call him “Terry”—will be helping you understand even more about what’s going
on in your brain. Terry: But don’t worry—I’ll help make
it easy! I’ll be back later to show you how. Greg: Whether it’s improving your soccer
skills or basketball game, learning to play the guitar, speaking another language, getting
better at video games, or studying math and science, we’re going to show you some tricks
to take your learning to the next level. Barbara: Today’s key point? Your brain has two different ways of learning! One is the “focused mode.” That’s when you’re paying close attention
to something. The other is the diffuse mode. That’s when you don’t seem to be thinking
about anything in particular! Learning involves going back and forth between
focused and diffuse modes. Greg: To better understand these two modes,
let’s start with a pinball machine. “Hey—watch it!” Well, anyway, here’s a pinball machine. To play pinball, you pull out on the plunger,
like this, and a ball goes out bouncing on the rubber bumpers. That’s how you earn points. The pinball machine works a lot like your
brain! This machine is like your thinking when you’re
in focused mode. The bumpers here are very close to one another. See this fuzzy pattern here towards the top? It represents familiar thinking patterns. Maybe involving something that you already
know, like how to multiply numbers. The ball is like a thought. You think a thought, like “I want to multiply
2 times 3.” The thought takes off, moving smoothly along. As it’s bouncing around on the bumpers, you’re
able to solve a simple, familiar problem. Barbara: But what if the problem you’re working
on needs new ideas or approaches? Ideas you haven’t learned or thought of before? For example, let’s say you know how to multiply,
but you don’t know how to divide. The new thought pattern you want to develop
is symbolized here towards the bottom of the pinball-brain. If you haven’t thought that thought before,
you don’t even know how to put that pattern there. And see all the tightly-spaced rubber bumpers
that are blocking your thinking? To get to this new thought pattern, you need
a different way of thinking. And that’s represented here, by the diffuse
mode. Look at how widely spaced the rubber bumpers
are. A thought takes off, look at how it moves
widely, bounces around. It can travel a long way before hitting a
bumper. In the diffuse mode of thinking, you can look
at things broadly in a very different, big picture way. Your thoughts can make new connections traveling
along new pathways. You can’t focus tightly to figure out a problem
or understand the details of a concept, like you can in the focused mode. But you can at least get to the new place
you need to be in to solve a hard problem or understand a new concept. Greg: When you’re learning, you’re either
in the focused mode or the diffuse mode. You can’t be in both modes at the same time. It’s kind of like a coin. We can see either one side or the other side
of the coin. But not both sides at the same time. Being in one mode prevents you from being
in the other mode. Barbara: When you’ve been focusing for a
while, and you get stuck, that’s perfectly normal! “Being stuck” is a signal for you to step
back from the focused mode for a little while, to let your brain’s diffuse mode go to work. To do that, turn to something different. Or just take a break! When you come back later, things will make
more sense. To follow along and learn a lot more about
learning during this course, and have fun while you’re doing it, go to Terry’s and
my accompanying book Learning How to Learn. In our next video we’ll learn an interesting
story about—poison! Barbara: I’m Barbara Oakley
Greg: I’m Greg Hammons Terry: And I’m Terry Sejnowski
Barbara: We, and Arizona State University, wish you happy learning!

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