The problem with most learning methods is:

  • it’s by rote (take in facts, memorize and practice techniques, parse known and like facts using method to achieve practical empirical results); or

  • it’s by blunderbuss osmosis (lots of content, some increased probability of lateral interplay, less but still real endgame substance to the evolution of one’s understanding – that isn’t just empirical knowledge-memory).

Rote learning can be laid bare by quantifying constituent variables and setting up parsing method algorithms to then create apposite results. This is done by the conscious mind and increasingly by AI – the former more flexible when variables and parser is less precisely defines since it can connect laterally by dint of an unconscious arsenal of problem solving, the latter more effective when definitions are pinpoint by dint of superior calculating speed and consistent accurate recall.

The world is currently too complex to be defined in any anthropological way with pinpoint accuracy, reality (above the reductive scale of salami sliced parameters) is presently beyond the scope of relevant algorithms; so blunderbuss osmosis remains the only way to learn and evolve complex understanding in things of sufficiently disparate component parts. AI is at best a prosthetic here, aiding a human intelligence but not replacing it. This is a key rubicon dividing calculation from intelligence.

Rote learning is, to varying degrees, well represented in general education and increasingly in the progress made by developing AI. At times it’s necessary in life to engage rote learning and it can be a catalyst for making advances in complex understanding (as a corollary, though, not reliably). The more tricky question is how best to direct the blunderbuss osmosis so it’s most effective, least wasteful, best fitted to drive fundamental evolution of the mind without an inordinate amount of time spent sorting the wheat from the metaphysical chaff.

University holds its own as the best venue for deeper learning despite its partial hijack by rote (vocational training, ideological dogma, lazy time-serving, etc). This is because, even in a nebulous way, the confluence of time, focus-essential testing, accredited non-trivial standards, fellow students and proximate experts amounts to an environment – however imperfect – best suited to driving forward a person’s mental vigour and applying it to a somewhat less haphazard blunderbuss more likely to achieve absolute intellectual development.

But university isn’t possible for everyone, nor sustainable as an environment for almost anyone. Most people get at best a compromised three or four years adulterated by the demands of future career objectives, distributive requirements in aggregated testing, unaccustomed freedom and social gadflying (all of which is important too). Post-university life doesn’t insist on anything but practical skills – at least for a while – and by the time one’s old enough to have need of a better developed intellect, the habit that was little nurtured in the past seems alien some decades later.

Small wonder there’s an increasing interest in online or distance learning, especially as awareness grows that even the pragmatic approach – focus on job, money, future security – has less and less certainty of working out cradle to grave.

If revisiting university isn’t feasible – as for most it isn’t – addressing this unfulfilled desire to learn and self-develop becomes more and more pressing.

But how? Self-help books and courses and apps are OK.The internet is full of facts either in a vacuum presented without “showing the working” or curated by unreliable groupthink opinions (or mere algorithm). The familiar is itself click-bait, reinforced by a prior choice history that inevitably cordons off into echo chambers dominated by lowest common denominator identity tribalism and eloquent demagogues (or soundbite pedagogues) preaching to their choir; in both cases degrading choice and preference and interest into the mere passive selection between known brands. Logos distilled into logo, denuded of the nuance essential in any real intellectual challenge.

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