Michel Thomas Teaches Phlebotomy
December 13, 2012 1:49 PM   Subscribe

What brilliant pedagogical methods/courses/CDs/books are there for me to learn things that I don't already know?

I've recently started to learn French using Michel Thomas CDs, and I'm amazed at the results. This is some of the best teaching (and learning) that I've ever experienced. He lays an excellent foundation, and structures the course perfectly, reiterating just enough to familiarize me with the words while staying close to familiar material, but introducing enough so that I remain interested while constantly learning new material.

From what I recall of the bit of education I studied at college, this is called instructional scaffolding, but before these CDs, I've only ever heard that term used for pre-school-aged children. Are there courses that use instructional scaffolding for adults?

I also found it extremely impressive that he begins the course by saying that the responsibility of education is on the teacher, and the student should never have to worry or memorize, and should be able to relax and think. And I've largely found that to be the case as I've progressed through four of his CDs.

What other things can I learn using incredible methods that I don't currently know about? I know about things like Khan Academy, but for some of the Khan Academy courses, I find myself getting pretty lost unless I watch certain videos over and over again, use outside references, and take copious notes. How can I do some solid learning without doing much extra work beyond paying close attention?

I'm set on languages (I have plans for Michel Thomas teaches German next), but I'd be delighted to learn anything from circuitry, to history, to blacksmithing, to bee-keeping. And I'm open to pretty much any medium, though I'd prefer things that don't require video. (But if you know great video sources, lay them on me anyway!)
posted by taltalim to Education (8 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that I would say his teaching style features some kind of "incredible method" (outside of being quick-witted and rich in detail), but Robert Greenberg's classes on music are really great. I've only done the audio courses (IIRC I finished three—Great Music, Bach, and Beethoven) and I'm not sure that the video version would enhance the experience.
posted by bcwinters at 2:13 PM on December 13, 2012

I'm a huge fan of The Great Courses. ALL the courses are good. The professors are outrageously good teachers. For example, I finally have a firm understanding of the classical music repertoire and the composers who populate it, and of the history of ancient Anatolia, based on these course. I'd suggest always buying on sale.
posted by bearwife at 2:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

He lays an excellent foundation, and structures the course perfectly, reiterating just enough to familiarize me with the words while staying close to familiar material, but introducing enough so that I remain interested while constantly learning new material.

This is called "spaced repetition". In other words, you are exposed to a new datum, then re-exposed a short time later, then again after a bit longer of a time, and so on. Pimsleur is the other popular audio language course that uses an SR system.

Since you are set on languages, which is my hobby, I recommend using a SRS app on a smartphone and going through it daily to increase vocabulary. One can easily learn at least twenty new words a day without too much difficultly using such a system. I use Anki on my iPhone, but there are a few other SRS apps out there. They are not video-based but text-based. I recommend a smartphone app because it is always with you and you can pull it out to do even a few minutes of work while waiting in line or otherwise idle. Those small study intervals really add up. SRS can be used for learning facts in any discipline, of course, not just foreign language vocabulary.

I really don't think there is any such thing as "solid learning without doing much extra work beyond paying close attention", though. On Michel Thomas specifically, I am familiar with the programs and have used a few of them. Some of the courses are better than others. While I think they can be a good jumping off point, I disagree with his idea that the student has zero responsibility for their own learning. How much and how well you learn is entirely up to you.

I study foreign language every day, and it is entirely auto-didactic. SRS systems are essential, but you still need framework and structure and most importantly, to put in the time. For foreign languages, there are tons of free materials such as the FSI Courses or the DLI Courses. Using the structure of these courses combined with SRS for their content can really pay off. If you are serious about learning languages, I really urge that you continue with a structured self-study course after the introductory MT course rather than simply moving on to the next MT course. I think MT is a great introduction, but that is all it is.

Feel free to MeMeil me if you would like some language learning tips or resources.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:21 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thirding the recommendation for The Great Courses, and especially Robert Greenberg's How To Listen To And Understand Music, which my family listened to while I was in elementary school and from which I picked up a foundation for understanding classical music that I still greatly appreciate. I know we listened to his Beethoven course as well, and to courses from a number of other fields that were also interesting, but it's the music courses that made the greatest long-lasting impression on me; the interspersing of music with explanation makes those courses especially enjoyable.

I'd also note that quantitative science and mathematics especially don't lend themselves to being taught purely or even mostly in a lecture format, at least in a way that actually allows you to solve problems or build things with that knowledge. Reading a science or math text for learning requires one to frequently ask oneself, "Why is this true?" and trying to work the examples oneself as much as possible: watching someone else work examples doesn't impart the ability to do them! I'm not aware of many online interactive resources that encourage this process, which is too bad. The closest thing I've seen is codecademy for programming.
posted by beryllium at 3:37 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: Tim Ferriss' new book, The 4-Hour Chef, is basically a primer on meta-learning (learning how to learn more quickly and efficiently) that uses cooking as the primary example, but also includes sections on various random skills (shooting a basketball, memorizing a deck of cards, etc).

Scott Young just jammed through the entire online undergraduate curriculum for the MIT computer science major in one year which you can read about here: http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/mit-challenge/, along with his ideas on how to learn this quantity of material this quickly.

Cal Newport runs a fantastic blog called Study Hacks that is more focused on making the most of your traditional high school or college experience, but often includes information on meta-learning.
posted by zanni at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding The 4-Hour Chef. Tim Ferriss' is hitting the podcasts pretty hard right now, too for publicity. You can listen to him for free to see if you like his style, if you don't want to buy the book right off the bat. (It is a lovely book-- Ferriss is a talented designer as well as author, and laid out the whole thing to be digested in two-page spreads.) I've heard him twice in one week-- once on Gweek and once on Robb Wolf's Paleo Podcast. He is always interesting to listen to, and "learning interesting stuff fast and well" is pretty much his major obsession right now.
posted by seasparrow at 10:40 PM on December 13, 2012

Also recommending Robert Greenberg. His Haydn was terrific.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:32 AM on December 14, 2012

Just wanted to mention that the Great Courses discs are often available at public libraries, so definitely check there if you're thinking of checking them out.

You might also want to check whether your library has any of the O'Reilly Head First books - lots of them cover programming, but they also have books on physics and statistics and algebra. They incorporate lots of visual elements and lots of quizzes and activities designed to make learning easier.
posted by kristi at 3:26 PM on December 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

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