The Course, Curriculum, and Idea

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In this post, I’ll explain four ideas that will help you learn insanely well …  To introduce the vocabulary, I’ll start with an example. The subject of trigonometry is divided into topics. Examples:

  • Trigonometric functions; this topic includes sine, cosine, tangent, …
  • The Unit Circle; this topic includes radius, chord, diameter, arc, central angle, radian, degree, …
  • Triangles; this topic includes the 30-60-90 triangle, the right triangle, the Pythagorian theorem, …

The pattern that is found in any subject is that the subject is broken down into topics and then each topic is broken down into subtopics. The subtopics, as needed, are then broken down into parts. An idea is the smallest unit of learning in this decomposition process. An idea can be figured out by a learner in a short period of time (e.g. 5 minutes).

A course in a collection of related ideas. Examples:

  • A course in Chemistry involves a collection of ideas that are related to the periodic table, atomic structure, chemical equations, etc …
  • A course in SCUBA includes a collection of ideas that are related to equipment, safe diving practices, diving physics, etc …
  • A course in Writing involves a collection of ideas that are related to sentences, paragraphs, grammar, audience, etc …

Next, I want to explain what learning a single idea means. When I have figured out one idea:

  • I remember this idea forever.
  • I have a strong emotional connection to this idea because I know why this idea is useful; literally I am in love with the idea.
  • I relate this idea to my everyday world. I connect this idea to other ideas that I know.
  • I apply this idea to real world tasks and problems.
  • I can explain this idea to nearly anyone. I can answer questions about this idea.
  • My view of this idea is very similar to what is presented in the best books and how the idea is explained by the best professionals.

Learning an idea means that the idea has become part of me. In the L4Do community, we call this grok, as in I grok this idea. To learn more about the term “grok,” see Wikipedia.

Big Idea: When you grok most of the ideas in Course XYZ, then you have learned XYZ very well. Thus, the path to learning any subject is to figure out the ideas of the course at the grok level. This allows learning to be broken down into tiny steps that involve learning one idea at a time. This is an application of the Law of Small Steps.

Becoming a great engineer or a great business person involves learning many ideas. Thus, the ideas are organized into courses and the courses are organized into a curriculum. A curriculum is a set of courses that are related so that you can become insanely good at something worthwhile.

  • An engineering curriculum is a set of courses that provides you with the ideas that you need to be an insanely good engineer.
  • A business curriculum is a set of courses that provides you with the ideas that you need to be an insanely business professional.
  • The life-skills curriculum is a set of courses that provides you with the ideas that you need to excel in both personal and professional life.

Summary: An idea is the smallest unit of learning. Ideas are the molecules from which all subjects are built.  To be insanely good at learning, figure out each idea using methods that allow you to grok ideas. To grok an idea is to learn it so well that the idea has become part of who you are. A course in subject XYZ is a structure that is useful for organizing related ideas. A curriculum is a structure for organizing related courses. The purpose of a curriculum is to give you a path to becoming insanely good at something.

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