Variable-speed learning

When I was in college, one of the professors seemed to lecture at a sort of quadratic pace, maybe even an exponential pace.

He would proceed very slowly at the beginning of the semester, so slowly that you didn’t see how he could possibly cover the course material by the end. But his pace would gradually increase to the point that he was going very quickly at the end. And yet the pace increased so smoothly that you were hardly aware of it. By understanding the first material thoroughly, you were able to go through the latter material quickly.

If you’ve got 15 weeks to cover 15 chapters, don’t assume the optimal pace is to cover one chapter every week.

I often read technical books the way the professor mentioned above lectured. The density of completely new ideas typically decreases as a book progresses. If your reading pace is proportional to the density of new ideas, you’ll start slow and speed up.

The preface may be the most important part of the book. Some books I’ve only read the preface and felt like I got a lot out of the book.

The last couple chapters of technical books can often be ignored. It’s common for authors to squeeze in something about their research at the end of a book, even if its out of character with the rest of the book.

One thought on “Variable-speed learning

  1. Interesting. This makes me wonder if our books should be written to spend more time discussing basic concepts, so that the “density of completely new ideas”, as you put it, is constant or at least closer to constant. It seems plausible that the earlier chapters of a book generally focus on material which seems trivial to the person writing it, so that person is likely to underestimate how much effort will be needed for a reader to understand that material.

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