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Real world consequences

Drive a car.
Play Chess.
Build a website.

These are all things I haven't done in a long time. Yet, if I were to do them today, I would be reasonably good at it. Enough to hold my own.

Speak Spanish.
Construct a balance sheet.
Detail the historical achievements of Aurangzeb.

These are all things I haven't done in a long time either. But, if I attempt to do them today, I would be quite poor at it. Nowhere near good enough to hold my own.

The difference between the first category and the second is the way I learnt them.

For the items in the first category, I had immediate real-world consequences for doing something wrong. When I didn't release the clutch properly, the car jumps and halts, forcing me to do it again. When I make a wrong move in Chess, I lose an important pawn and I lose the game. When I make a mistake while creating a website, it won't work as I expect it to, forcing me to rectify the mistake.

For the items in the second category, I didn't have immediate real-world consequences for doing it wrong. I learnt to speak Spanish on Duolingo, which is good to get started with basic vocabulary and grammar, but not to be a fluent speaker. Any mistake I made meant I could always revisit the lesson and try again. I could still get along with my life as though I had done it right the first time. There was no immediate real-world consequence. I learnt to construct a balance sheet from a text book, again with no real world consequences for getting it wrong, except for a few marks lower, which was inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. The same with detailing the historical achievements of Aurangzeb.

Thus, in the first category, I really learned. Because of the human brain's inherent ability to prioritize avoiding real world pain. In the second, I learned and soon forgot once there was no need for retaining it. The brain isn't wired to retain things which don't help us avoid real world pain for long.

Thus, the best way to learn is by doing. And adding real world consequences to doing it wrongly.

If you are learning something, figure out how to introduce real world consequences. 

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