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.