Brute force learning

Imagine someone from 100 years ago was given a modern day computer. Let’s say a laptop. And let’s assume they were intrigued. Without any guidance, they would struggle to learn much. They may not even figure out how to turn it on.

Given enough time, one can imagine they might find the power button. One may also imagine they might try putting various objects into the ports on the sides of the computer. Touching the display and breaking it. Pushing the keys and beating on the thing out of frustration. It’s hard to know.

Without guidance, it would take quite a while before they might be typing a paper.

This brute force approach to learning is often unproductive. But sometimes it’s all we have when we seek to learn. It doesn’t require a strategy other than studying everything and seeing what happens. It stands in contrast to relative learning and other styles of learning.

It entails analyzing every detail in the hope that eventually you’ll figure something out. It often misses the important step of first grasping a high level overview of the concepts you need to drill into.

And therefore a significant drawback is only acquiring a partial understanding. It’s not uncommon to be completely unaware of important subtopics. Perhaps you don’t probe enough. Perhaps you get burned out. You end up only being aware of the parts you studied.

Brute force unaware

What’s worse, if you put down the subject matter. You may never come back to it because you never grasped the important concepts that would have enticed you to pick up where you left off.

Someone from 100 years ago might figure out how to type on the computer. But they probably wouldn’t figure out how to email their writing. Instead you may find them carrying the laptop around to share their writing. I’m sure many of us have someone in our lives that actually does this.

The key to this type of learning is to apply it once you’ve exhausted every other possibility. For example, first you probably want to find some expert guidance if possible. A book, an article, a person. Then you want to see what you can relate to the unknown. After you’ve consumed available guidance, then you can brute force what’s left. This leaves you much less vulnerable to missing something important.