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Education

Uptime Hack: Learn Like an Inventor 

 October 1, 2022

By  Peter

My book “Maker Education Revolution” is an Editor Pick at Uptime, the 5-minute Hack app!

Quickly, what is a Hack? a Hack is a 5-minute distillation of books, courses and documentaries. It’s a powerful tool for busy people that want to use their downtime uptime smartly. Instead of spending dozens of hours on a book, take 5 minutes to learn the gist. If you want more, proceed with the original.

My Hack on Uptime contains three insights from two chapters of Maker Education revolution (which you can read, free of charge, on this website).

In Chapter 5, titled “Learning like an inventor“, I argue that we, learners facing a complex and unpredictable modern world, should pay attention to how inventors solve problems.

In Chapter 6, titled “Inventors and their process of make, test, learn“, I show the process that Inventors follow when they work towards solving a problem.

You can read the long version of those chapters (along with the entire book) on the Tech Explorations website. Just click on the links above.

However, if you prefer the Hack version, continue reading here.

What is this Hack about?

This hack will help you think like an inventor to learn like an inventor.

“Learn like an inventor”, 5-minute Hack on uptime.app

The context

Most of us went through the traditional education system.

This system was designed in the 18th and 19th Centuries for people of that time to solve social and day-to-day problems.

In the 21st Century, our children still attend an education system that our grandparents would easily recognise.

To thrive in the 21st Century we need an education that can help us deal with 21st Century problems, using 21st Century tools and knowledge.

I am an educator and engineer and have worked with young adults as a University Lecturer for over 15 years. I have witnessed the limits of traditional education as it leaves students ill-prepared to take on modern challenges.

To address this issue of obsolete education standards for our modern world, I have learned from Inventors. Inventors are people that can use their imagination, curiosity, limited resources, and their uncanny ability to learn quickly to solve problems.

In this hack, you will understand how an inventor thinks and learns so that you can use their learning process in your personal and professional life.

Be in charge of your learning.

Knowledge is alive.

It interacts with the real world; as a result, it evolves, spreads, and creates new knowledge.

Combine knowledge with creativity to create solutions to problems.

Modern problems, whether personal or business, are increasingly complex.

To solve modern problems, you need diverse and extensive knowledge and creativity.

These two problem-solving ingredients allow you to (1) understand the essence of the problem and (2) identify the nuggets of knowledge that can potentially contribute to a solution.

Creativity is what enables you to go beyond what you have already learned. Creativity is at the heart of the problem-solving process.

Before you can acquire knowledge, you must learn. To solve unique problems, you must be in charge of your learning.

Being in charge of learning is what children do when they play without interference from adults. It is an innate skill we lose as we grow older and transition into adulthood through the traditional education system.

Being in charge of their learning is something that inventors do naturally.

Today, the learning opportunities outside of the formal education system are enormous. Whether the motivation is curiosity or need, you can understand the principles of nuclear fusion or supercomputing without stepping foot in a University amphitheatre.

To be in charge (and responsible) of your learning, identify the unique problem or problems you are trying to solve and decide on the attributes of an acceptable solution. Second, research to identify the nuggets of knowledge that can contribute to the solution and provide the necessary time needed to learn them. Third, use your creativity to create a solution.

Action point #1

Be in charge of your learning. Identify the unique problem you want to solve and the attributes of an acceptable solution.

Identify and learn the relevant nuggets of knowledge. Use creativity to create a solution.

Learn like an inventor

Inventors are exemplary problem solvers.

Their motivation for learning stems from their drive to solve a practical problem they feel is important.

For an inventor, knowledge does not exist in silos. Rather, knowledge is unified, made of associated “nuggets” that they can discover, learn, and apply to their prototype solution.

Without a system, inventors could be wasting their time pursuing learning dead-ends, never reaching a satisfactory level of competence and confidence that could lead to a solution.

How does an inventor decide what is worth learning?

The answer is simple: experimentation.

The inventor uses experiments to test ideas. The invention process is continuous experimentation, learning, and improvement until a satisfactory solution to a given problem is achieved.

In an experiment, the inventor will rig a prototype that implements an early version of a possible solution to a problem. The prototype is important because it allows the inventor to test their ideas. Testing yields information that the inventor can use to decide what to do next: learn new knowledge, improve an aspect of the prototype, or stop the effort.

The inventor’s process of experimentation is not very different to that of a scientist. The scientific method is an iterative process of testing and experimentation. It uses objective and verifiable facts to create new knowledge.

An inventor uses the same process with one important difference: the objective is to solve a practical problem. While the inventor will generate new knowledge, that is only a valuable by-product.

Action point #2

Follow the inventor process to solve an important problem: Use experiments to test a solution idea.

Use the experiment to guide your learning. Iterate until you are satisfied with the solution.

Make, test, learn

At the core of the inventor’s process is that anything they do is grounded in the real, tangible world. They solve problems in the real world by creating physical solutions.

They follow an iterative process according to which every design decision they make is implemented, validated and improved upon.

Using the data they extracted from each iteration, they make new decisions: “Should I replace component A with component B?”; “Should I try a new configuration for this sub-circuit?”; “Is my current design capable of solving the problem to specification”?

Being an inventor is hard on the body and the mind. Thomas Edison, perhaps America’s greatest inventor, said:

“Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.”

Thomas Edison

Despite the hardships, inventors also seem to enjoy what they do immensely. Given a choice of spending their time in a lab working on an exciting problem or at a tropical beach having cocktails and sunbathing, they will always choose the lab!

Once the inventor identifies an interesting problem she will evaluate it to determine if it is important enough to solve. The process, which heavily resembles the systems thinking approach, can be approximated into the following steps:

  1. Find a problem.
  2. Evaluate its importance (is it worth solving?).
  3. Conceptualise and analyse the problem (understand the problem in every possible detail).
    • Has this problem been solved before?
    • Can I re-use or modify an existing solution?
  4. Devise a draft architecture for a solution.
  5. Analyse the problem into functional components.
  6. Implement a prototype solution and evaluate it.
  7. Collect performance data from the prototype solution.
  8. Evaluate the performance data and use it to reassess prior assumptions at all previous steps, i.e. is the problem still important? Is the solution practical and worth the effort?
  9. Evaluate the possibility that this iteration has produced an acceptable solution. If yes, this is your solution. If not, reiterate, and try to get closer to an acceptable solution.

Within this process, the inventor must make a series of decisions, apply knowledge from different domains, investigate, and learn new knowledge to deal with any new unknowns.

Despite the legends around supposedly lone inventors like Tesla and Edison, the invention process is collaborative. Inventors will always build their work on top of the work of others and reciprocate it by sharing it with others.

An inventor is, above all, a learner.

The learning that the inventor does is guided by the inventor’s objective, which is the creation of a physical object that is new, at least to them, and perhaps has never existed until it is conceived in the inventor’s mind and turned into reality by their hands.

Action point #3

Found a problem worth solving? Congratulations!

To solve your problem like an inventor, first, you must understand it.

Break it into small sub-problems and solve each one.

Combine all sub-solutions into a solution for the main problem.

Iterate.

Wrap-up

In the context of a modern, rapidly changing and unpredictable world, you must be in charge of your learning.

Learning independence will allow you to solve unique and increasingly complex problems.

You can use the process that inventors use to solve complex technical problems.

This process emphasizes iterative experimentation and prototyping to test solution ideas and guide learning.

Experiments generate objective and verifiable facts that the inventor can use to reach a solution.

An inventor is a learner that draws from the entire body of human knowledge.

You are an inventor.

Got more time to read? Check out Uptime, and head over to Maker Education Revolution.


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