Learning, Memory, and Imagination

Experts seem to be everywhere.  How does one become expert, or a more expert expert?

Here are two conventional definitions of “expert”:

  • Expert adj. : having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience
  • Expert n. : one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject

Both definitions presuppose a body of knowledge (know-what) or skill (know-how), of which knowledge is gained through learning and demonstrated in practice at a high level of performance.

A functional definition informed by recent findings in the fields of psychology and neuroscience might include these two additional dimensions: memory and imagination. The former looks backward (and, in fact, also helps to create the present moment), and the latter looks forward (while also affecting the present moment).

Knowledge gained through learning is valuable (and an “expert” is only expert) to the extent that relevant and appropriate knowledge and skills are retrievable from memory in the present moment.

Given this, any intentional, mindful practice that improves learning for later recall is likely to yield significant benefits for anyone, and especially for would-be experts.

Author and associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dr. Anthony J. Green, PhD, writing in Scientific American Mind, provides seven tips for “getting the most from your memory” (July/August, 2010; 27):

  1. Think of as many relevant connections as you can between what you are learning and what you already know.
  2. Make sure that you understand what you are trying to learn.
  3. Explain what you are learning to yourself as though you were teaching someone else.
  4. Outline your thinking as logically s possible.
  5. Determine the main points of what you are learning, and then expand for breadth and depth.
  6. Learn in chunks; don’t cram or overload.
  7. Practice [do] your learning early and often.

I have emphasized several words to highlight the connection to the “Learn-Do-Teach-Lead” growth leadership model.

Learning for recall and practice builds fundamental competence.  Becoming adept at learning for recall and practice yields accelerated learning and movement from proficiency to mastery (expertise).  As we get better, we get better at getting better, which leads to more rapid and exponentially connected learning.  Promulgating, reinforcing, recognizing, and rewarding this view and practice within work-group members is an example of enlightened leadership.

A leap beyond knowledge-based expertise is imagination-based expertise (this is not just making stuff up).  As Greene illustrates by comparing two functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI), imagining the future closely resembles remembering the past, at least in terms of apparent brain function.

It seems to follow that the “more expert expert” is one who, in the present moment, faced with a unique set of circumstances (the problem set), is (1) better able to access an enriched memory of knowledge and practices from which can be created (2) an enriched, imagined future (the solution set).

  • More tools in the tool-box (learning)…
  • Retrieved as needed (memory)…
  • Applied creatively (imagination).

Expertise = memory + imagination.

What are your thoughts on or experiences with intentional, memory optimized learning in the workplace?

–Erik
Organizational Psychology: “Putting the mind (and brain) to work at work.”

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4 Responses to Learning, Memory, and Imagination

  1. Dick Webster says:

    Makes sense to me: “Expertise = Memory + Imagination.”
    And then there’s the “Expert.” Persons who can apply their expertise to benefit others.
    Perhaps the point is that: “The Expert is MIA.”
    No, not that one ….
    Expert = Memory + Imagination + Application (the ability to use one’s knowledge and skills, developed and honed by experience, to put their mental resources, including eQ, to work to benefit others).
    Your thoughts on this …?

  2. erikjul says:

    Yes, you rightly add other dimensions that build upon the fundamental need for (1) knowledge and skills that are (2) retrievable based on present conditions coupled with (3) an ability to envision their future application followed by (4) skillful implementation or execution.

  3. Pingback: Index: Titles by Date | Learn-Do-Teach-Lead

  4. Pingback: The Road to Wisdom | Learn-Do-Teach-Lead

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