When trying to learn a complicated skill, how much time should be spent developing background knowledge first? For example, how much should you study a new language before trying to speak it? We learn cognitive skills – such as arithmetic as a child – through a combination of memorization and learning processes. It’s impossible to reason from principles all the time, so memorization is useful. But memory requires direct experience first. Memory is dominant for routine situations, while following a procedure steps in for non-routine situations. There’s no simple answer to the question of whether we should dig deep or dive right in.
- We can learn by rote memorization or by learning a process; children learn math by a combination of both.
- We use memory for routine situations, but need to dig deeper at increased levels of expertise.
- With skill acquisition, there are often necessary prerequisites to learn, but routine performance often only draws on direct experience.
“Consider machine learning. One way to learn this field would be to master first the underlying math. Then, when you encountered the programming commands for certain mathematical functions, you’d know what they are doing behind the scenes.”