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How do I learn about something very quickly?
April 10, 2011 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn a large amount about a topic in a few days?

I've got a job interview coming up in which I need to prove myself more than up-to-date on street bikes (motorcycles). I've ridden before so I know the basics (top brands, how they work) but it's not a topic I follow.

So -- how can I cram enough info into my brain within the next three or four days to seem like I'm on top of things? I don't need to be an expert, just at least appear to be knowledgeable about the industry, current trends, latest releases.

I'm not really looking for names of blogs and magazines, but rather tips on learning a topic really quickly. I want to be able to ask smart questions and give smart answers.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese to Education (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well not exactly blog related but I find subscribing to mailing lists and forums to be a great way to understand a niche area so long as the mailing lisit/forum has a good mix of new and established people. The premise being that if you read enough of the postings you'll see what people's likely questions and thoughts are around a topic area. Given enough posts I bet you could synthesize that communities' conventional wisdom about other topics.
posted by mmascolino at 7:32 PM on April 10, 2011


I recently went to CNS, and there was tons of amazing work on memory. I also work in a memory research lab. Here are some things that might help:

Believe it or not, sleep has a very beneficial effect on memory. I saw Drs. Payne and Kensinger speak (respectively) at CNS; they are both brilliant. While their research shows that the memories that are preserved best after sleep are the strong emotional ones, overall (and I'm sorry I don't point to any research here) memories in general are preserved much more so after 8 hours of sleeping than 8 hours of waking time.

Therefore, I would say that your best bet is to sit down after dinner or dessert (not too late), with all the information you need to learn, and do what's called study-test trials. This method is surprisingly effective for learning information, especially if you are already familiar with a particular topic. The basic gist is that you have the information on study cards (or on your computer screen), and you go through each item, doing your best to commit them to your memory. Don't spend a lot of time on each time; usually around 2-5 is good. After the "study" trial, you will flip over your study cards (or whatever you use) and go through them, testing yourself on the information immediately. It doesn't matter how well you know the information yet. If you can't guess after 5 seconds, show yourself the answer and move on. Continue alternating between study and test trials for as long as you like, I'd say 10-15 times at least, and always do study-test-study-test, etc. No study-study-test-test, etc. In the morning, repeat. Keep repeating morning and night (even in the afternoon, if you have the time and willpower). You should be a whiz in no time!

I hope you get the job!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:48 PM on April 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


2-5 seconds, that is. Proof-reading fail!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:50 PM on April 10, 2011


In studying for (essay) exams, I like to go take old exams where available. While this doesn't really work per se in a job interview situation, is there a way to somewhat recreate the conditions? For example, come up with some sort of scenario that you are likely to encounter in the position and then write a plan/solution for it. So, if it is a researcher/producer for some sort of television show about street bikes, think about a segment that would likely be part of a show and write a plan for how you would make that happen and the kind of information you'd need/what should be highlighted and of interests to the enthusiasts who watch the program, fill in what you do know and research what you don't. Or pretend you are presenting at some sort of conference about the subject. What topics would you be interested in hearing about from others? What would you like to speak about? Research those topics and write up an outline for those talks. (Sorry, without knowing exactly what the job entails, the explanation for this method might not be the clearest.)

Alternately, come up with a list of questions about the industry that you think are interesting and then research the answers. You'll discover what's already out there and perhaps be led to other questions or topics that are percolating in the industry. Basically, if you can do several days of intense-ish research and writing about it in some fashion, you'll be forced to work your way through information, process it, synthesize it and then explain it. A self-created essay test, if you will. Granted, this is an area about which I know nothing, but depending on the number of topics/scenarios you play around with, chances are you'll draw on other topics you've already covered or are yet to cover and thus end up working with and reapplying the material you need to learn, which makes it easier to remember/more familiar since you are processing rather than just cramming.

Also, as juvenile as it sounds, hand making flashcards about things that are flashcardable. Depending on your learning style, not only will going through them help you remember things, the very act of making them helps the information to stick since you have to determine the subject matter, the question and the right answer and write all of that down.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 7:51 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Personally, it helps me a lot to read more theory-oriented stuff if I want to learn about a topic. It gives me a sort of "skeleton" I can hang the rest of the knowledge on. So maybe peruse an academic "motorcycle engineering" book, if such a thing exists?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:00 PM on April 10, 2011


Basically, if you can do several days of intense-ish research and writing about it in some fashion, you'll be forced to work your way through information, process it, synthesize it and then explain it.

My advice - having had to do this recently - is basically Honoria Glossop's. Pick specific questions, do research to learn the answers, and force yourself to write the answers up (or even to create a short blurb about each that you deliver out loud).

You could even frame it to yourself as if you were answering a series of Askme questions about this area.

What are the most recent advances in performance and safety for this type of bike?
What are the major sub-types of this type of bike?
What are the reputations of the major manufacturers (eg is one known for style and the other known for maneuverability; is one more of a "girl" bike and the other more of a "posers who want flash" and the other more of a "real experts" type)?
What are the major price points - do manufacturers make bikes at four price points - starter, middle, high-end, and super-crazy-high-end? What features are standard in the newest models at those price points? How does that differ from what was standard for the models of three years ago?
What's the model year calendar? When are the big industry events, when do new models come out?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:15 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


And if you are trying to pass as someone who habitually follows this area, something you can do is to find a couple of influential blogs on the topic and read through their archives. Even just looking at their tags/keywords that they've attached to posts will give you a sense of what the big topics are, what the blog controversies are (this new model came out and blew everyone away last spring; some public figure in the industry said something stupid that got everyone riled up and you may be expected to know about the controversy, the changing fashions of how the bikes are painted, which celebrities are known for being into bikes, that sort of thing).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:25 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sleep.

Sleep is very effective at consolidating memory. Try cramming, then taking a nap (making sure you can enter REM). Or even just make sure you sleep enough.

Being interested or even *super* interested in the subject matter can make stuff stick. Do you care enough about bikes to want a job where you have-to/should know about bikes?

You can fake knowledge by cramming, but its much harder to fake enthusiasm (hint: enthusiasts not only know a lot of minutiae but have opinions on those minutiae).
posted by porpoise at 8:30 PM on April 10, 2011


Learn actively. Just reading things doesn't (for most people) make it stick. Take detailed notes, then synthesize the notes into a summary at the end of each day.
posted by auto-correct at 9:05 PM on April 10, 2011


Teaching/explaining what you've learned to someone else is also fantastic for making sure you've got it down and can clearly say what you know. Give them a verbal summary of what you learned that day, hopefully someone who's also interested in bikes and will ask questions. Particularly helpful for practicing for an interview.
posted by lizbunny at 8:15 AM on April 11, 2011


Practice talking about this stuff. As auto-correct says, take notes, synthesize into a (written) summary. But the best option is, do you know anybody who's into this stuff who likes to have beer bought for them? Do you have any friends who would be absolutely delighted if you got a job and would be happy to listen to you even though they don't care about bikes? Go out. Tell someone what you've learned today. Ideally you'll know someone who's at least kind of into this who can ask questions, but someone who's willing to have information thrown at htem will do, too. The point is, talking about information can be different from writing about it. So practice talking.

Tell them the difference between different makers. Explain different theories of how widget X affects performance Y and what your opinion of that is. What's the big controversy that people take sides on and neither one is entirely right or entirely wrong? When was the last major show in the industry, and did anything noteworthy happen there? If you went to the next show, what would you be excited to see?
posted by aimedwander at 8:20 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, great answers! Thanks for all the suggestions. I'm at this moment using many of them, including two lights above the sea's ideas on study-test trials. Especially looking forward to the sleep part of the process. (That's where I'm a viking.)
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:26 PM on April 11, 2011


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