Pitfalls of Learning (and How to Avoid Them)

As we all know, everything should be done in moderation.  The same goes for learning.  We need wisdom from God to learn what we need (and to some degree, want) and eventually, draw the line, topic by topic.

  1. Learning is not memorization.

You can learn key principles without holding too tightly to neighboring details.  In fact, that was a very good piece of advice from a high school teacher.

From what I have heard (as well as in some experience), professors can trim or summarize content of courses from the designated textbook to deliver the intended content of that course.  Moreover, sometimes the textbooks themselves are truncated to make a “custom” edition.  From much of my collegiate experience up to now, it often made sense why certain facts were less important than others.

Even when the core facts are extracted, they are still liable to fade.  In the final analysis, you are getting a degree (read: piece of paper) that qualifies you for so much more than what you did in the four-odd years you spent in school.

2.  Don’t dwell on, constantly review, or routinely “test” recently learned facts.

This kind of mentality makes learning look compulsive, just like smoking, drinking, gambling, etc., can be.  When you’ve grasped the key ideas on a subject, you’re pretty much ready to move on.

In fact, this can easily be observed in the lives of many adults long after their college days are over.  Once they graduate college or other post-secondary program (or even grad school!), most of your knowledge will be pruned in the direction of what you do as a career.  If you were a biology major and deal chiefly with plants, your acquired zoology and its more specialized branches you may have taken is likely to fade (save perhaps entomology, since insects are key figures in the plant world, even though they are animals).  Or an engineer may focus far more on statics than thermodynamics, so statics would take the crown.


3.  Understand why you’re learning a subject.

A book I read about computers many years ago puts it very cogently:  it’s more important to know what you use an electronic device for than how it works.  After all, owner’s manuals don’t disclose the latter, though a more technical manual for professionals may!

So, would you rather watch the Super Bowl for the game, or to judge the quality of the TV’s vertical hold?  (See what I mean?)  Leave the latter to the pros (you know what I mean, not the players you’re watching).

4. Know when to draw the line.

The breadth and depth of subjects can range greatly for a certain topic.  When it’s too easy, it’s boring.  The same is often true for many advanced forms of the same topic!  Too much detail can obscure the “big picture.”  Perhaps that’s why the “lecture filtering” mentioned above by professors is so important in cases as such.  After all, they’re getting paid and are not there for nothing.


The Bible warns about excessive study in verses like Eccl 12:12 and about worldly wisdom in the book of 1 Corinthians.  While learning is good, it should not become an idol.

Facts are like calories, they must be “burnt” to get the full effect of them.  Otherwise, they’re empty.  But at the same time, an “empty fact,” unlike an empty calorie, just gracefully drifts away, reversing the situation!

So, consider what you really need, what you enjoy, whether it’s at school or just when your reading about things.

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