Are you a visual learner?
Do you retain more by listening to your teacher?
Or, do you learn better from your textbooks?
The Blind Man Technique will save you time and headache by giving you the answers to the above questions.
Is Bill Gates Wrong?
Salman Khan, from Khan Academy, believes that the future of education lies in the power of videos and interactive exercises.
Khan started tutoring his cousins from New Orleans a few years ago by uploading videos on YouTube. His cousins found that the videos were better than learning from in-person tutorials. They could pause, rewind, repeat and come back to the earlier lessons. The videos started gaining popularity and soon, Khan was receiving positive feedback every day from students who found that they learned better from the videos than in classrooms.
Teachers were using the videos as supplemental tools in their classrooms.
Khan even received a letter from the parents of one autistic boy who said that his video on decimals reached his boy, where other learning supports have failed.
Clearly, this shows that videos and interactive exercises are the best forms of learning tools.
Bill Gates has enthusiastically backed up Khan’s project. He even uses Khan’s site to teach his children. Khan is Gates’ favorite teacher.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
My grandfather used to tell me fables and fairy tales when I was a kid and one such fable’s come to mind.
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form.
Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.
In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a drain pipe”.
For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan.
As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, “I perceive the shape of the elephant to be like a pillar”.
And in the case of the one who placed his hand upon its back said, “Indeed, this elephant is like a throne”. Now, each of these presented a true aspect when he related what he had gained from experiencing the elephant.
None of them had strayed from the true description of the elephant. Yet they fell short of fathoming the true appearance of the elephant.
If you think you are a visual learner and you watch only videos to learn, then you are just touching one part of the ‘Elephant’ in your study system.
Likewise, if you focus on classes and teachers’ explanations, you may find that some teachers do not explain well.
If, like most students I know, you prefer to stay in your dorm room and learn from your textbook, you’ll find yourself ‘pseudo-studying’ instead of studying. Textbooks tend to have this effect on most students. 😉
So you need to know which learning style or medium will allow you to retain the most in less time before you even start to study the subject. In other words, you need to know which style best fits a subject to study less and retain more.
How to make sure that you are touching one part of the elephant in your study system but are still getting a complete picture of it at the same time?
You do it by using the Blind Man Technique!
The Blind Man Technique in Action
Here are some of my personal case studies for you to understand this technique:
Case Study #1 : Learning Biochemistry
When I first began my medical studies, I used to hate biochemistry. I had trouble with all the various cycles. I attended all my classes religiously, watched videos, spent hours on my textbooks and I still would still miss some crucial steps in the Kreb’s Cycleor the beta-oxydation cycle.
There were too many cycles and too many steps.
Solution: I learned all the cycles in only 1 hour by using a simple memory technique known as a peg or link system. I converted the various steps in the cycles into easy to remember images and linked them all together in my mind.
I just had to convert the images back to get the steps.
It was simple. It was easy.
Case Study #2 : ECGs
I had trouble understanding Electrocardiograms or ECGs when I did that chapter in class. I was always lost in the various derivations. The teacher explained it horribly going into complex equations involving vectors, etc. My textbooks were not that helpful too. They contained clinical cases and were far too advanced. I did not know the basics; so the clinical cases were useless to me.
Solution: I came across a site offering videos, explaining ECGs in simple terms. It took me less than 1 day to watch all the videos and understand how ECGs worked. The site in question is www.ecgteacher.com.
I had the basics in place but I still had trouble doing the clinical cases. So I went online on amazon, went through the various books on ECGs and bought two: Easy ECGs and 150 ECG problems.
After going through the books, I had enough knowledge and experience to tackle the clinical cases.
Case Study #3 : Anatomy
Anatomy was a new subject to me when I did that in my first year. I had little background in biology. The textbooks were dense with lots of texts and labels. Here is an extract for the axillary artery from Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body I have cut 3 blocks from the original text.
1. The Axillary Artery—
The axillary artery (Fig. 523), the continuation of the subclavian, commences at the outer border of the first rib, and ends at the lower border of the tendon of the Teres major, where it takes the name of brachial. Its direction varies with the position of the limb; thus the vessel is nearly straight when the arm is directed at right angles with the trunk, concave upward when the arm is elevated above this, and convex upward and lateralward when the arm lies by the side. At its origin the artery is very deeply situated, but near its termination is superficial, being covered only by the skin and fascia. To facilitate the description of the vessel it is divided into three portions; the first part lies above, the second behind, and the third below the Pectoralis minor…
…Collateral Circulation after Ligature of the Axillary Artery.—If the artery be tied above the origin of the thoracoacromial, the collateral circulation will be carried on by the same branches as after the ligature of the third part of the subclavian; if at a lower point, between the thoracoacromial and the subscapular, the latter vessel, by its free anastomosis with the transverse scapular and transverse cervical branches of the subclavian, will become the chief agent in carrying on the circulation; the lateral thoracic, if it be below the ligature, will materially contribute by its anastomoses with the intercostal and internal mammary arteries. If the point included in the ligature is below the origin of the subscapular artery, it will most probably also be below the origins of the two humeral circumflex arteries. The chief agents in restoring the circulation will then be the subscapular and the two humeral circumflex arteries anastomosing with the a. profunda brachii.
Solution: You’ll need to buy my book on How to Learn Anatomy to get the solution! 😉
Here is what I did: I bought a Netter book, a set of drawing pencils and A4 papers. I discarded the text, just opened the netter book and started drawing. I used logic to retain the labels in places where the drawings were not complicated. In places where the drawings were too complicated, I used simple memory techniques.
Compare the text and drawing above to this simple drawing I made:
The labels are in French but you get the idea. With this simple technique I reduced my study time x10. I just had to go over the picture I drew to refresh my memory.
Case Study #4 : Pharmacology
Pharmacology is my nightmare. Imagine learning the brand names, generic names, properties, dosage, particularities and side effects of hundreds of drugs.
Besides, this market is evolving and new drugs are constantly coming up. Others are taken off the market after years of being prescribed to patients.
I was frustrated and constantly trying to find a system to learn pharmacology. Most medical students just leave this subject to rotations. If they are rotating in neurology, then they’ll learn the drugs used in neurology.
But some departments prescribed a few drugs compared to all the ones available. So you’ll know little about the drugs too. Often times, I’ve seen doctors who had no idea of new drugs on the market. Relying solely on their expertise is a costly mistake.
Solution: This is where the folks at mnemotechnics.org came through for me. When I first learned about competitive memorization, I knew that these mentathletes were on to something. I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about their techniques..
I came up with ideas and tested many systems. I developed my own system after 5 months of trials and errors. This system is solid and will last me for life. I can add, remove and change information about drugs.
I do it all in my mind.
So what is The Blind Man Technique?
Like the blind man, you’ll touch the ‘elephant’ only once but unlike him, you’ll get the complete picture at the same time.
The blind man technique consists of developing your learning style in line with your study materials and not the other way round.
There is no single learning style. You must not put a label on how you learn but instead view each learning materials as having its own style.
Just use the best material which will make you retain more in less time.
A good rule of thumb to go by when using this technique:
- Topics with snippets of facts and formulae to learn like chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics: Use memory techniques like pegs, link systems, mnemotechnics and simple imagery to memorize your lessons.
- In addition for topics like mathematics, physics or programming, interactive exercises are the best. I do a lot of clinical cases before certain rotations.
- You can learn about how to apply something by going to classes or watching videos. It is best to learn it by doing it yourself but I did not have an ECG machine at home. So the best alternative for me was to find videos on the topic.
- For facts intensive lessons like pharmacology or law, it is better to develop a solid system like I did and build on that.
With experience, you’ll be able to tell in split second which medium will best suit which material.
So is Bill Gates Wrong? I’d say ‘Yes’.
Salman Khan’s videos are very educational. I recommend his site all the time to my nieces and nephews.
He may revolutionize the education system but counting only on videos and exercises to do so, however interactive they may, is not a very good option.
The point is if a child sees a video and does not understand trigonometry; watching the same video over and over again won’t help him understand the lesson better. This is where a teacher comes into play. If he still does not understand the lesson after watching the video twice, then the teacher can his change the approach.
Instead of giving facts like he did in the video, if he uses a simple example, then the child can understand better. If the latter does not understand the example, the teacher can use a story to illustrate the lesson or a simple drawing.
Limiting yourself to one medium to learn is just like eating the same dish for lunch for the rest of your life.
At some point, you’ll find it bland…
Do you know someone who can take advantage of the insights revealed by this article? Someone who is a student? Someone who is struggling with his studies? Send them a personal email with a link to this article. They’ll thank you for it… as will I. 🙂
On that note, here’s what I’d like you to do next:
- Leave a comment letting me know how you plan to take action on the Blind Man Technique. Or if you’re struggling with how to apply it, describe your problem in the comment section.
- If you’re not on the email list, get on it. That’s where I share the GOOD stuff. 🙂