Nov 22, 2009

BkRev: Edwin Locke's Study Methods & Motivation

Personal Value for Me. Dr. Edwin Locke's Study Methods & Motivation: A Practical Guide to Effective Study has been one of the most important books in my life. When I was a child, I saw my parents performing the usual household skills—from cooking to simple carpentry. I asked a child's equivalent of, "How do you know how to do this?" In my family, the answer was always the same: First a shrug, and then, "You either know it or you don't." I felt bewilderment and anxiety -- bewilderment because the answer didn't make sense (where did the knowledge come from?); and anxiety because if it were true that you were supposed to already have the ability to perform a task, the world would be an unbearable place in which to live for one lacking such innate knowledge, as I did.

I started to read Ayn Rand's writings at age seventeen (1961). I saw that one can indeed learn how to do things, not through uncovering innate ideas, mere mimicry of others' actions, or some sort of osmotic absorption of methods, but through reason, that is, through understanding the process. In the following years, while working for two businesses, I learned -- in consciously held terms that I could use to improve my own performance and to train others -- particular work methods such as organizing my time, systematically editing my own or my employees' writings, and conducting interviews. Not until I was in my mid-forties did I fully realize that specific methods—both mental and physical—could help me do what I loved to do: study history, understand it, and then write about it. Dr. Locke's book first made that insight explicit to me.[1]

Nature of the Book. Following is a selection from the Table of Contents:
.... Ch. 4. How To Do Abstract Integrative Reading.
.... Ch. 6. How To Program Your Memory: The Nature of Memory.
.... Ch. 7. How To Program Your Memory: Specific Techniques.
.... Ch. 10. How To Manage Time.
.... Ch. 11. How To Take Lecture Notes.
.... Ch. 13. Study Monitoring.
.... Ch. 16. Blocks To Mental Effort.
.... Ch. 19. Motivational Monitoring.

Even this sampling shows the breadth of the book's coverage. Let's examine one chapter, and I will show you why I am delighted to have used this book.[2]

Consider Ch. 11, "How to Take Lecture Notes." This ten-page chapter begins where it should begin—with the nature of lectures themselves. Some lectures present only new material not found in assigned texts; other lectures clarify assigned reading material; and so forth. Identifying the nature of a particular lecture determines the nature of the notes one should take from the lecture. This procedure is typical of Dr. Locke's objective approach: Given certain values as context, facts determine methods—facts about sources of information, facts about the nature of one's mind, and facts about the purposes of the information. Dr. Locke takes an integrated approach: facts, values, and methods.

Dr. Locke differentiates, as well. For example, in the second section he distinguishes lecture note-taking from reading note-taking. In the third section, he devotes four pages to "Common Errors in Lecture Note-taking." They include: "Errors of Omission," "Errors of Commission," and even the physical problem of "Inadequate Note Paper and/or Margins." In the fourth section, "Using Your Lecture Notes," he recommends critically reviewing lecture notes immediately after the lecture; and then he covers: editing; underlining; organizing; reformulating and integrating; and programming one's memory. The chapter ends with a half-page summary and four exercises to ensure absorption and application of the material covered. All these elements in this chapter show that Dr. Locke is writing to active minds.

Note also that the idea of psychological "monitoring" appears in both Chs. 13 and 19 listed above. This idea—of watching one's own mind while engaged in an activity—is crucial for developing better methods of doing things. The idea comes from an Objectivist Dr. Locke cites.

Study Methods & Motivation is not a book for academic students only. Anyone who studies may gain from this book.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] This review revises one I wrote several years ago and now appears on The Ayn Rand Bookstore website page for Dr. Locke's book. If the latter link does not work, then search for "Study Methods" in the upper left corner of the ARB homepage.) [2] I read and still have the first edition. Its title is A Guide to Effective Study. The content appears to be the same as the second edition, Study Methods & Motivation.


Roberto Brian Sarrionandia said...

Thanks for this post, I will definitely purchase this book.

I remember being told the same thing about ironing clothes. Fortunately, I was sensible enough to realise right away that I was not the bewildered one.

Burgess Laughlin said...

In a private message, I received this comment:

Mr. Laughlin, you might want to note the difference of seventeen pages or so between the editions, reducing the length of the second edition. Since your review is based on the first edition, I hope that you can evaluate the revised edition for the changes.

[1st ed.]
A guide to effective study
Author: Edwin A Locke
Publisher: New York : Springer Pub. Co., [1975]
OCLC Number: 1174738
Description: xiii, 201 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.

Study methods & motivation : a practical guide to effective study
Author: Edwin A Locke
Publisher: New Milford, Conn : Second Renaissance Books, 1998.
Rev. 2nd ed
OCLC Number: 39078873
Notes: Rev. ed. of: A guide to effective study. 1975.
Description: xii, 183 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.

I don't know what accounts for the 18-page difference between the editions. Is the second edition shorter because of more efficient formatting or because material was dropped from the first edition? I don't know. I know of no reason for thinking my review would be substantially different in its recommendation to buy the book.

I note that (the last time I checked) the review published on the Ayn Rand Bookstore page for the book is the same review I wrote for the first edition, and it is being used to advertise the second edition.

Halidryn said...

Mr. Laughlin, after a comparative inspection of the two editions I do not think your review of the first edition would be amended in any significant manner for the second. The principal reason for the 18-page difference is, as you surmised, a matter of formatting. There are several revisions to the text that do not affect the value of the book; these are identified below.

The text in the second edition has been spread wider across the page, without reducing the character size: on a 10-pitch scale (i.e., 10 characters to the inch) the block of text is 43 characters wide in the first edition, but five characters wider in the second. The top and bottom margins are not significantly different between editions.
Interestingly, the text block in the first edition is 42 lines per page, but in the second only 38 lines - and the difference in the spacing of the lines is not noticeable! The book designers, who are credited on each title page verso but not identified in the catalog record, are indeed clever & subtle folks...

A more obvious distinction, which also has an impact on the placement of the text, is the space allowed at the head of each chapter: in the first edition, each chapter has a 10 cm. margin (half-page), while in the second this is pretty much disregarded, allowing only a (noticeable) 2.5 cm. chapter head margin.

The author's note to the second edition does not describe any changes or revisions. Nevertheless, I found these changes: Prof. Locke deleted the dedication to Anne H. Locke, and revised the Acknowledgments to delete the reference to Dr. Allan Blumenthal. In Chapter 13 (Study Monitoring), Prof. Locke retains the citation to Dr. Blumenthal's essay, "The Base of Objectivist Psychotherapy," but omits the second note expressly acknowledging Dr. Blumenthal's explanations and personal discussions. In Chapter 13 as well Prof. Locke deleted several comments on "good monitoring" behaviors from "Evaluating Your Answers" in the Exercises for the chapter.

A final, minor note: in Chapter 7 Prof. Locke uses a blank telephone dial to illustrate a point about intention and memorization: in the second edition this illustration has been revised to show a touch-tone pad.