Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

23rd January 2020

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. Range has been recommended to us by a number of LHTLers, and now that we’ve finally read this marvelous book, we can see why. It lays out, in clear and convincing detail, why being a narrowly-focused expert may seem like the way to go in your life and career—but it actually makes you less capable of creativity, not to mention more narrow-minded. As Epstein notes “I dove into work showing that highly credentialed experts can become so narrow-minded that they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident—a dangerous combination.”  

Key graf: “‘Eminent physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson styled it this way: we need both focused frogs and visionary birds. ‘Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon,’ Dyson wrote in 2009. ‘They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time.’ As a mathematician, Dyson labeled himself a frog, but contended, ‘It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper.’ The world, he wrote, is both broad and deep. “We need birds and frogs working together to explore it.’ Dyson’s concern was that science is increasingly overflowing with frogs, trained only in a narrow specialty and unable to change as science itself does.”

Epstein makes the case that even those without any advanced education can sometimes think more clearly, and make more intelligent insights about intractable problems than the so-called experts.  Read this marvelous book to discover why. (This is also a good book for audio listening.)

The Unexpected Impact of the MOOC Hype

Here’s another interesting article from our friends at Class Central—the BEST source of information about the online courses you want and need. As Dhawal begins: “While listening to [an] episode on TikTok (one of the world’s fastest-growing apps), I learned that the founders of Musical.ly (later merged into TikTok) started out as a MOOC competitor… Here is how the story goes…”

The Developing Bilingual Brain

This video from the recent EnlightEd conference in Madrid showcases the work of Pat Khul, Bezos Family Foundation Endowed Chair, Co-Director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences UW, and an expert in bilingual brain development. The panel discussion following Pat’s talk helps place the work in context.

And Speaking of an Additional LanguageDoes “Dutch Courage” Help?

There has long been a popular belief that alcohol improves foreign language abilities. But is it true? This study by experimental psychologist Fritz Renner and colleagues studied precisely that phenomenon. The results? “Participants who consumed alcohol had significantly better observer-ratings for their Dutch language, specifically better pronunciation, compared with those who did not consume alcohol… Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the pronunciation of a foreign language in people who have recently learned that language.” We’ll raise a glass of wine to that finding! [Hat tip: José Fernando Gallego Nicholls]

Chess, Chunking, and Writing

This interesting post by writing teacher John MacGuire, based on David Robson’s The Intelligence Trap, describes the counterintuitive connection between chess and writing.  Key graf: “what De Groot discovered about chess playing is true about all complex skills, including writing. Expert chess players see the board more simply than the rest of us, who are dumb-founded by the infinite number of moves possible. Likewise, students who have taken a Readable Writing course see writing a lot more simply than others. They see patterns and can work with them.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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