Learning Surprising Things (02/02/2012)

I came across a great thing to day in Thinking, Fast and Slow. “Our mind,” writes Kahneman, “is strongly biased toward causal explanations.”

Subjects’ unwillingness to deduce the particular from the general was matched only by their willingness to infer the general from the particular. This is a profoundly important conclusion. People who are taught surprising statistical facts about human behavior may be impressed to the point of telling their friends about what they have heard, but this does not mean that their understanding of the world has really changed. The test of learning psychology is whether your understanding of situations you encounter has changed, not whether you have learned a new fact.

It’s a really interesting observation and turns on its head the way you teach people things. Humans seem to generalise from the particular.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “teaching” people recently. Partly because of how to manage the software team I look after. And partly because I’ve been building a web application at work.

I’m really trying so hard to make it as easy to use as possible - big buttons (and not many of them), smart defaults, drop downs, feedback etc. One thing I have realised is that it doesn’t matter how simple you make it. Someone will always get confused. Not because they’re stupid, but because their mind is on other things. Until it consists of one button that says “Click”, someone will struggle.

One of the things I’ve realised, actually as I type this, is that I need to put fewer words on the site. I’ve had a tendency to explain things, and I think those explanations, if they stay, need to be hidden more.

I’m not entirely sure if this discovery that you need to teach from particulars will help in teaching web or computer skills, but it was definitely a fascinating read.