May 5, 2000
"There are no easy methods of learning difficult things; the
method is to close
your door, give out that you are not at home, and work."
Joseph de Maistre
That said, there is nothing easier or more natural than learning. In
fact, learning is easier than breathing. Even before we take our
first breath, we are already learning. Learning can be time-consuming,
but it should never be difficult.
Learning is also a very satisfying activity. Children all
enthusiastically love to learn before they start school.
Every person masters a tremendous number of facts in their lifetime.
It is my opinion that the "problems" in our educational
systems right now are not due to the students, parents, teachers or
administrators. These people are all better qualified, richer, more
experienced and better equipped than ever before. The problem is that
there is no way to quantify knowledge. If you can quantify knowledge
you get three benefits. People can negotiate clear and precise
expectations, they can measure performance explicitly, and you can
automate the process.
I feel that all that is needed is the addition of a good theory, a
good method, and a good software tool. What I present in this
document is an easy way to solve "The Teacher's Dilemmas",
the "Student's Dilemmas", the "Parent/Employer/Sponsor
Dilemma" and the "Administrator's Dilemma". It also
presents some simple and powerful methods to make teaching easier
than ever, turn testing into a fair and exciting learning experience,
and to make "grades" motivating.
The "Teacher's Dilemmas" are these: the captive
customer and the heterogeneous learning group.
A good teacher knows that 25% of their classroom job is to impart
facts to students and 75% is motivation, socialization, project
coordination, and the development of various types of thinking skills.
The problem is that the students (their captive customers) see
imparting facts as almost 100% of the teacher's job - with everything
else just a corollary to that. In fact, many students will resent a
teacher if they even mention that socialization is part of their job.
If a teacher can do that content teaching 25% of their job impeccably
well in a measurable way, then students will be extremely satisfied
customers. The teacher will enjoy the "goodwill" that comes
from having satisfied customers.
Secondly, teachers need an extremely fast and easy way to keep
students synchronized while learning. After summer break, they need a
way to quickly refresh the knowledge of the students. During the
learning, they need a way to check what progress students have made.
Finally, they need a way to synchronize students who get behind (for
any reason) so that they won't hold back the class.
My theory, method and software address exactly that 25% of the
teacher's job, and offer a tool for student synchronization
On top of that, it also offers an excellent tool for "Proactive
Learning" (my term), and helps a teacher organize curriculum,
testing materials, and grading. All this is explained in the theory
and examples section.
The "Students Dilemmas" are this: confidence and re-learning.
In other words, how do they know that they really know? Secondly, how
can they be confident that they have covered all the material?
Thirdly, how can they quickly recover previously mastered knowledge
after a break and be confident that they have recovered it?
The method (which allows you to quantify knowledge) and the software
(as the crystallization of the method and theory) allows students to
be absolutely confident that they have a complete and accurate
mastery of a body of knowledge. It also allows them to quickly
relearn previously mastered material.
The "Parent/Employer/Sponsor Dilemma" is this:
quality control. How can it be proven that the student actually
mastered the knowledge? How can I be certain that the knowledge will
be fresh and accurate enough to be useful at the precise moment in
future time when the student will need it?
By providing a common, complete and detailed testing basis at 100%
recall for students (self-testing), teachers (test preparation) and
sponsors (quality control testing), everyone can determine
cost-effectively that the student has mastered the knowledge.
By providing a convenient and powerful re-learning tool, everyone can
be confident that the natural process of knowledge decay over time
can quickly be rectified.
The "Administrator's Dilemma" is this:
communication. How can I quantify the knowledge that we will be
imparting to students and make it available to all interest groups to
achieve a consensus on curriculum? How can I prove in a fast and
inexpensive way that the school/teacher is meeting performance
expectations? The theory, method and software provide an explicit
medium of communication between all interest groups.
Input Easy was born out of my own learning needs. Several times when
I changed jobs, I had to learn about a new culture, company,
products, customers and a foreign language as quickly as possible. To
accomplish all this learning, I had one tired hour at night. I simply
did not have the time, structure and energy required by traditional
education methods. Since I am in the software business, I started to
develop some simple software tools to help me to learn faster.
The final result of over a decade of working on automating learning
tasks has produced this deceptively simple looking software product,
the theory and the method. Input Easy is the automation of my
learning method based in my theory of learning.
The most common objection is that it is just a fancy flash-cards
program. That is like comparing a distributed, quartz crystal time
system with a sundial. Both systems tell time, both have their
appropriate uses, but it would be hard to run a company or university
with sundials. On top of that, the theory and method are not
The theory, method and software product are useful for students,
teachers, tutors, seminar leaders, book publishers, not-for-profit
organizations, salespeople and company training departments. (Note:
It has been suggested that it may be able to help people with
learning disabilities - such as Alzheimer's Disease - to learn and
re-learn things faster but I have not tested this).
You don't need to know anything about my theory of learning or method
to use the software effectively. Below is just a short overview of
My theory of learning is called "A Theory of Learning Linguistic
Behavior based on The Power of the Question" (ATOL).
ATOL harnesses the power of the question to greatly improve learning
effectiveness and learner motivation. It also allows you to quantify
both knowledge and the time a learner will need to master a body of
knowledge. Quantification can be very useful and motivating. For
instance, many areas of science would be impossible with the time
concept of the "second".
The method derived from ATOL is called "Critical Path
Learning" (CPL). This method gets most of its effectiveness from
using tight feedback loops and enforcing information accuracy.
Firstly, students waste no time learning and reinforcing incorrect
knowledge, which they then must then unlearn before they can learn
the correct answer. Secondly, granularity (level of detail) and
precision ensure that each fact is learned as a crystal clear piece
of knowledge. Building a body of knowledge is a bit like building a
house. The stronger each brick is, the better the building will stand
up to the ravages of time.
The software Input Easy automates many overhead functions in existing
learning/teaching, offers some interesting new possibilities, and
provides a compact and portable format for storing huge amounts of
information. A major benefit is that any learning files you create
(such as class notes) can be shared by everyone on Earth because you
can email the files, you own the copyright on your files, and the
software is free.
Another major benefit is that you can easily, inexpensively and
conveniently store your learning files for a long period of time. You
can take your learning files with you when you travel. And finally,
you don't have to type anything if you don't want to. You can do all
the learning exercises with a pencil and paper, and one by just
sitting in front of your computer.
The theory, method and product "only" address the matter of
learning anything that is represented as linguistic behavior (words
and sentences). This does not mean that you can only learn textual
information and "basic facts". When the "question"
is a sound, picture or video of a bird, the "answer" is
still represented as a linguistic phenomenon (the name of the bird).
ATOL, CPL and Input Easy do not replace the need for lab work,
project work, analytical reporting, inter-student interaction, the
development of various types of thinking skills, or the incredible
work that teachers can do when they structure and personally present knowledge.