Monday, 5 October 2009

Mike Posner: Learning difficulties

Why have I had such a hard time learning to change a light bulb, fix a car and cook dinner, while for others it seems such a breeze? Generally I did pretty well in school but ran into deep problems with analytic geometry, inorganic chemistry and differential equations. Others do it, why not me? I am well aware that many will say just try harder, but I think it must be something other than that.

After more than 50 years of psychology I think I am just beginning to understand. We are learning about neural networks underlying skills and how they are shaped by genetic variation and early experience. New skills often reshape old networks: my problems in sequential movement in handwriting might make other multistep tasks difficult to learn. My learning handicaps are still a mystery but now I know where to look.

Mike Posner is Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon and Adjunct Professor at the Weill Medical College in New York (Sackler Institute). He is a pioneer in the field of attention and in 2002 was listed among the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century by the Review of General Psychology.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's all about knowing how to be good at being good at something, in my experience. Many times, there is simply some key to understanding that stands in your minds way of wrapping itself around a concept. A friend of mine can be taught something only up to a certain point where he gets enormously frustrated and gives up. But persistence is not the right way either. Robert Peirsig put it best in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," by saying that the best way to fix something you can't figure out is to go away, do something else to get your mind off of it, then when you go back and rethink the process, the answer becomes obvious. This is much like enlightenment and is a feeling I personally live for (I'm a repair technician). It's like trying to blaze a new mental path through the forest that is a person's mind. You've got your head buried in the process of making the path and when you hit a tree, you don't see the tree for the path you've made. Someone with learning disabilities (or someone with a predisposed aversion to the topic) either tries to knock down the tree and fails (get's frustrated and quits like my friend)(this is also why persistence doesn't work), or starts over and blazes a new path over and over again until they just happen to avoid the trees. Someone who really wants to learn it but has the will power to try and see through why they can't, looks up and eventually sees the tree and the obvious work around. This is the missing link, where understanding and learning forge new neuron pathways in the brain due to the overwhelming relief of understanding causing an imprint upon it. For example, I only tentatively understood calculus enough to get good grades (because I was good at algebra and logic), but it wasn't until I took Calculus based Physics and Calculus for electronics that I TRULY understood it in a way that allowed me to be confident about it and was no longer just numbers, letters, and logic.

This is all just my humble opinion, of course.

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