Friday, August 29, 2014

Learning how to learn.

I enrolled into the course Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects by Dr. Terrence Sejnowski and Dr. Barbara Oakley as part of my personal preparation to go back to law school. If you are an adult learner, I strongly recommend that you signed up for the course because there has been many new developments in field of adult learning since the last time I was at school.

This blog post is part of the project submission of this online course.

As part of the course requirement, I will talk about three major things I picked up from this course and how I am in the process of trying to apply myself in law school.

a) Focused and Diffused modes of learning.

The first key learning of learning that there are two modes of learning. When you are aggressively studying, like in my case, when I am trying to read a legal case or a text-book, what I am doing is focused learning. This is the hardest part about law school. Particularly alien to most engineers are Latin terms like Ejusdem Generis, Stare Decisis and Oribter Dictum. I would even go further to say that event he English terms are alien to most readers. What does it mean when something was based on a demurrer ? What happens during a promulgation ?

Prior to this online course, I was very old school when it comes to learning. Learning is rigorously attacking problems and solving sample test questions.

Fortunately for us, there is an alternative form of learning: Diffused learning is allowing your mind to rest. It occurs when you are taking a stroll and having a walk. This allows all the work that I've done during focused learning to settle down in my brain. With diffused learning, my mind is relaxed and allows me to form Eureka moments to link ideas together holistically.

My primary form of diffused learning is to play Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. In a tabletop RPG game, I play the role of a Dungeon Master (DM) , someone who referees a game and ensures that it runs smoothly. A role of Dungeon Master is very similar to that of a judge, except a whole lot more fun. Players will make up all sorts of rulings where an ambiguity takes places, it is up to the DM to arbitrate disputes.

One example in my game are the rules of a spell ( In D&D 1st Edition ) called Firetrap.

The rules state that:

You can cast a Firetrap at at any closeable item. Eg. A chest, a cover or a lid.

A mischievous player, reasoning that his mouth is closeable,  wanted to cast Firetrap spell on his mouth and bite a fellow player character.

In ordinary cases, most DMs would not have a sufficient to cover strange rule anachronisms in the game, unless this DM is also legally trained.

To resolve the issue, I was able to determine that a purposive interpretation of the rules mean that the spell was meant to be cast on inanimate objects. Using the concept of Ejusdem Generis, a reasonable ruling would be that a mouth is a living organ and is not the same category as a chest, cover or lid.

This is classic diffused thinking at work. I get to play part of a judge in a stress-free situation and my players constantly come up with crazy game rulings to test my powers of adjudication which reinforces my understanding of legal theory.

b) Metaphor, Visualization and Storytelling

The other concept I learnt in this class is the power of metaphor, visualization and storytelling. I have employed this concept to assist me in memorizing legal cases.

I noticed that a few classmates actually used Mind Maps to reinforce their recall of materials. I thought, how could I take this step further and turn the crunching of legal cases into a game. At the same time, I was playing with my daughter and noticed that my wife was having a hard time trying to get her to draw anything on a piece of paper.

Then I had an eureka moment - What if I could play Pictionary with legal professionals ?

I would draw a graphical depiction of the cases and get lawyers to guess what they are. The above diagram shows the various pre-Donoghue cases which leads to formation of the Law of Torts. From top to bottom they are as follows :  Winterbottom v Wright, Heaven v Pender, George v Skivington and the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson.

As I move towards exam preparation, I will of course create mindmaps but I will also use pictionary to test my understanding of cases.

c) Life-long learning and broadening of one's passions.

The final point I would like to make is that is that the journey of learning never stops. Having done engineering and finance, many people would think that this is enough for a more than a lifetime.

I choose not to think that I have invested my time in three disparate fields but instead see my legal training as extensions to what I have learnt in engineering and finance school.

Ultimately, this can lead to interesting questions and developing new capabilities :

a) Can a random forest algorithm operate on a data-frame of key legal terms used by a prosecutor to predict the chances of a favorable verdict ?
b) How would a verdict of negligence affect the next dividend cash flow for a business trust ?
c) If you wish to draft a regulation to prevent the use of machine learning in a financial market, how would you word the regulation ?

Knowledge comes before Wealth.
Wealth comes before Power.
With power, you can have all the toys and fun you aspire to in your life.


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