I have a theory of learning. If it’s basically right, then there are ways to significantly accelerate how quickly and well we learn things in general. And anecdotally this seems to work.

Originally my plan in graduate school had been to finish my Ph.D., get a position as a professor, write a bunch of grants for studies to test this learning theory and figure out how to apply it, and then a decade or so later open an alternative high school that would teach based on these ideas. The hope was that we could focus on making students skilled at learning in general, develop their emotional and social intelligence including compassion, and give them the knowledge and skill base they’d need for whatever market could plausibly arise as technology and worldwide culture changed the demands of people entering the work force.

Instead, shortly before finishing my Ph.D. in 2012, CFAR offered me funding and a team right away. I just had to focus more on “rationality” and on training adults.

To which I said “Sure!”

Until quite recently, CFAR didn’t have the resources to test this theory very well, so I’ve been just collecting anecdotes and trying to articulate the theory. Along the way, courtesy of Leah Libresco‘s love of alliteration, the theory got deemed “Turbocharging Training” in 2013.

I’d like to try articulating that theory in more detail now. But caveat emptor: this theory is often intuitively compelling, but we haven’t yet asked nature its opinion on the theory’s truth.

I intend this post to be sort of a table of contents. The theory has a lot of components, so this will take the form of a series of posts. Below is a list of the posts as I currently intend them, roughly in order, though both the content and order might change as I write the series. I’ll try to come back and hyperlink the posts here as I write them.

  1. Types of knowing. It turns out that it’s really hard to talk usefully about skills, and this creates a funny kind of illusion about what learning is.
  2. Familiarization and play. A lot of American stereotypes of what learning looks like is an attempt to skip the majority of the work. Properly understood, the bulk of learning is fun, enriching, and a little bit surprising.
  3. You learn what you practice. People tend to assume that the intent of practice and the result of practice are the same. They usually aren’t, and this matters a lot.
  4. The rule of intensity. In the same way that you can learn to notice what “getting defensive” feels like, you can learn to notice what “learning faster” feels like. This helps you change what you’re doing to increase your learning rate in real time.
  5. Learning by resting. Across all skilled disciplines I know of, people often report coming back from a hiatus more skilled than when they left. I think this is unsurprising and is something we can use intentionally.
  6. The meta-skill. The components of Turbocharging are skills that improve skillfulness. This means they can be used to improve Turbocharging. The self-reference here has really nice practical structure and helps to unify the theory into a discipline.