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Learning is not enough: How Dr. Barbara Oakley and Prof. Hau Lee learn how to learn

Dr. Barbara Oakley in her first time at VinUniversity!

Learning is ever-important but the 21st century calls for a more indispensable and seminal set of skills - the ability to learn, relearn, and unlearn. This trend has been endorsed and practiced widely by many of the greatest minds of our time, two of whom have come to inspire VinUnians.

Barbara Oakley: The power of understanding your brain

Last November, VinUniversity was honored to welcome professor Barbara Oakley, one of the most prestigious professors on Coursera, as the host of the public lecture titled "Learning how to learn.”

More than 1300 esteemed guests have come to learn from our beloved professor!

As someone who used to struggle with numbers, Professor Oakley shared how she managed to understand and train her brain all the way to becoming an engineering professor. According to her, our brain is made of neurons that are to be built and rebuilt over time. Thus, in order to train our brain, she discovered that we need to take learning once at a time by starting with small amounts of knowledge and constantly going back with relaxing periods in between.

No cramming allowed!

What makes her method so fascinating is that it goes against almost every learning style adopted by students, including me. Some of the methods are cramming (stuffing your brain at the last minute), rote learning (learning by heart and hoping it would stick forever), and procrastination (failing to put your brain in a focused mode). These learning strategies, deliberate as they might sound, have been proven scientifically to be ineffective and time-consuming in the long run. One can expect to pass a Microeconomics or Programming exam solely by learning by heart but will never accumulate enough knowledge and expertise to master either subject. Learning, hence, is not enough. You gotta learn the right way.

Hau Leung Lee: Leaders, too, need to learn how to learn

The last and probably, most prominent open lecture I had attended before going home for Tet was delivered by the famous Professor Hau L. Lee from Stanford University. If you are not aware of professor Lee (just like I was when I first heard of him), professor Lee was the genius behind several ground-breaking research in Operations Management and the man whom if you share a photo with can guarantee you to be hired at any company (said my Program Director).

Learn to be a leader from a real leader!

Despite his established academic background and accomplishment, professor Lee still took time to listen to and learn from other leaders. He cited a quote from a famous writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

According to him, as the world is constantly changing, the skills and knowledge that serve you well today might not be applicable tomorrow. His story of legendary basketball player Magic Johnson bore testimony to that notion. After retiring from his athletic career, Johnson turned to invest in movie theaters and hired Lawrence Ruisi, a man with 30 years in the cineplex industry to advise him on opening his first movie theater in Harlem, New York, predominantly occupied by African-Americans. Counting on his prior experience, Ruisi did not prepare large amounts of heavy food, such as hotdogs or chicken wings, for the opening day as he expected low demand.

Will you eat hotdogs and chicken wings for a movie night?

The result was the opposite. Hotdogs and chicken wings quickly ran out as the theater failed to make profits from hungry movie-goers. Turns out, since most local customers were low-income residents who cannot afford two forms of entertainment: dinner and movies per night, their only option was to have dinners instead of light refreshments while watching movies.

It was real-life stories like this that taught professor Lee not to let his prior experience and expertise misguide him. Even a leader like Ruisi or Lee himself risks seeing their knowledge fall into oblivion. The only sustainable way of learning is learning how to learn, relearn, and unlearn.




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