Monday, August 24, 2015

The science behind human capital acquisition

Sometimes I forget to mention things I had planned to say in class and sometimes there just isn't enough time for everything.  This tag is for both of those circumstances.

You should be aware that there is quite a bit of research on how people learn.  Some of this is summarized nicely in an online volume that came out perhaps 15 years ago but has been updated since called How People Learn.  It makes for a quite interesting read.  I want to zero in on the third chapter which is about Transfer.  That means applying what was learned to a new context.  You understand something if you can transfer it appropriately.

A related notion is called Deliberate Practice, which is how expertise is acquired.  So to learn how to transfer an idea to a novel context, you have practice transferring the idea to many different contexts.  You get better at transfer with practice.

I will probably say this 100 times during our course, the first time here.  Memorization doesn't produce human capital.  At best, memorization can help get you familiar with some jargon that makes it easier for you to do the practice of transfer.  At worst, however, students view memorization as a substitute for practice at transfer and, unfortunately from my view, too many courses encourage students to think all there is to school is memorization, by making exams essentially spitting back the lecture notes.  That is not transfer.  And it really has very little long term value, though it might get you a good score on an exam designed this way.

We didn't talk about getting good grades in class as an alternative goal to acquiring human capital.  We should do that on Wednesday.  If I don't mention it, I hope one of you will remind me to do so, because it is an important point and generalize to behavior in organization issues quite well.

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