Active Learning: Taking the Step from Apprentice to Master

The whole idea of mastery is you’re going to eventually become a greater master than you’re mentor.  

There are two forms of learning.  There’s passive learning and active learning.  And passive learning is what we generally do in university.  We read a book and then maybe we write a paper or we take a test.  We’re just simply sponges absorbing information that we kind of get out at the end.  Active learning is actually practicing what you’re learning.  You’re actually hands-on doing it, and involved in the real world. 

When you have a mentor, the tendency is to become passive. This person is a genius and you're going to listen to what he or she has to say and you just follow it.  

The whole idea of mastery is you’re going to eventually become a greater master than you’re mentor.  That’s the job.  That’s the task.  As Da Vinci said, “You’re a poor apprentice if you never surpass your master, your mentor.”  So that’s your goal.  You’re going to become even better than he or she. 

So at some point you want to become active in this relationship.  And you want to start giving some feedback.  And you want to be involving yourself more. And, in fact, you are teaching the mentor some things.  This will happen two or three years down the road, but the idea is you don’t want to stay trapped in the sort of passive mentor-disciple relationship when you’re worshipping somebody and you’re known for developing yourself and you’re never developing your own initiative and you’re afraid to take that step. 

At some point you have to slightly distance yourself, slightly rebel even a little bit and give some back and forth where you’re saying, “Well, I like what you’re doing here but I want to maybe go in another direction.”  I give the example of Glenn Gould, the famous pianist from the 40s and 50s, the greatest pianist of that era.  And he had an incredible mentor.  And this mentor kept giving him music that he felt was right for him.  And finally Glenn Gould said, “I want to do a different kind of music.”  And he basically told him the kind of music that he wanted to start practicing.  And then he was able to go off in a totally new direction.  That’s the spirit and energy that I’m talking about. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy fo Shutterstock

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

(MPH Photos/giphy/yShutterstock/Big Think)
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
Keep reading Show less

Trauma in childhood leads to empathy in adulthood

It's not just a case of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Mind & Brain

  • A new study suggests children who endure trauma grow up to be adults with more empathy than others.
  • The effect is not universal, however. Only one kind of empathy was greatly effected.
  • The study may lead to further investigations into how people cope with trauma and lead to new ways to help victims bounce back.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.