A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post looking at the technique of spaced repetition. With my (hopefully final) exams now completed I wanted to revisit the topic and add a few additional points that I think complement this approach to learning. These are ideas that I have come across over the intervening years of using spaced repetition, as well as from ongoing study around learning techniques. One of the most useful of these resources has been the free online course “Learning How to Learn” by Dr Barbara Oakley and colleagues on Coursera ( I believe I have read that this is the most popular course on Coursera). This course highlights some of the key evidence-based approaches to effective learning and I would strongly recommend the modest time investment involved in completing it. In addition, although I was still digesting it at the time of writing my initial blog post, I feel I have been able to absorb more of the concepts from the brilliant book ‘Make it Stick’. Although this is a more detailed dive into the evidence, this blog post from Eva Keiffenheim provides an excellent summary of some of the key themes which is well worth a look at. But now I’ll give a quick summary of some of my own learning points. These are all related to the optimal use of my flashcard deck using the Anki app, so some points may be more or less applicable to you depending on your own approach.
There is a saying that I like: "even a stopped clock is right twice a day". Now this is usually used as a bit of a mean joke when someone gets something right when you might not expect them to. However, we can use this as an example of a 'Gettier Case' (I think it is probably my favourite one). As I alluded to at the end of the last post, Edmund Gettier was a philosopher who demolished the classical definition of knowledge (Justified true belief) with a concise paper consisting of a few examples where there is a belief that is true and justified but is quite clearly not knowledge. Why is this important? Well his observation, demonstrated through his examples, made it quite clear that we don’t really have a great way of describing why one thing would count as knowledge, and another thing would just count as fluke, or a lucky chain of events. This is an issue that can impact significantly on how confident we can be in some of the things that we ‘know’. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
Welcome to the second post in this series looking at epistemology. As I alluded to in the introductory post, I wanted to start by looking at the very definition of knowledge itself. Now this may seem like a bit of an odd starting point to some of you. Indeed, you may feel that you have a pretty clear idea of what we mean when we say the word knowledge. And it is probably this fact - this innate feeling of the term - that provides some of the fascinating thinking points. This is because, as we shall find out when we start to unpick the definitions that we have been using, we start to find problems with what we ‘feel’ is knowledge, and how we actually articulate that. Let’s explore!
Welcome to the start of a new blog series: How do we know? This is a series that I have been aiming to get started for some time now. The primary goal is to look deeper into the topic of epistemology; the domain of philosophy that explores what knowledge actually is, how we can best approach it, and some of the many challenges that this path imposes. It aims to describe my exploration of this field as I look into the different lines of enquiry that many great thinkers have taken to try and answer some of these hardest of questions:
“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come, when the strength of men fails,
When we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship.
But it is not this day!”
Aragorn, King of Gondor
As we enter the first days of the tempest that is the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like a suitable time to put pen to paper again to document the landscape. It seems likely that we are living through a moment in history (a ‘once in a century event’ our health secretary has called it), and it is already starting to feel a little surreal from here. I can imagine that this might be what it was like in the early days of the great wars, or the worst days of the cold war: a sense of colossal forces moving throughout the world, whose potential impact is unclear, but almost certainly massive. A slight variation on this feeling is that we, as healthcare workers, are the footsoldiers in this upcoming battle, and with the knowledge that first contact with the enemy is imminent (I appreciate that, at the time of publishing this, the first contact has probably arrived for many of you). But enough over-dramatic build up for now, and time to do some more useful writing. Here, I hope to put down a few thoughts to entertain (or maybe just occupy) those who are stuck in self-isolation at this time, and also provide a reference point for posterity; to allow myself (and anyone else that is interested) to look back at the time before the wave hit, and recall what we were thinking.
Once again, some time has passed since my last post and it felt as if that needed changing. As such, this outing is a mild departure from some of the more clinically-directed recent posts and looks at a slightly more parallel topic: that of habits. More specifically, this is a reflection on one of my recent reads which I have found to be particularly worth eulogising.
The book in question is “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and it follows in the footsteps of another fascinating (though slightly less recent) read of mine: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. You’ll not win any prizes for guessing that the topic of these books is habit formation and the manipulation of such habits towards one’s desired goals. In a profession such as medicine, some of the concepts here have huge potential, and I so I thought this would be a worthwhile exploration.
A collection of our most recent posts on articles, guidelines and interesting thoughts.