This week, I’ve been blogging about “outliers” in Generation iY. These are teens or twenty-somethings who are exceptions to the rule: they aren’t slackers, they are not narcissistic, and they have a good work ethic. You and I both know—you can find these kids everywhere, but they are different than their peers.
Today, I want to introduce you to a book written by historian and educator Ken Bain. This book, What the Best College Students Do, draws a road map for students who want to stand out, not just blend in.
Bain believes there are three types of learners:
- Surface Learners: who do as little as possible to get by
- Strategic Learners: who aim for top grades rather than true understanding
- Deep Learners: who leave college with a real, rich education
Bain then introduces us to a host of real-life deep learners: young and old, scientific and artistic, famous or still getting there. Although they each have their own insights, Bain identifies common patterns in their stories. Below are a few of them:
Pursue passion, not A’s. When he was in college, says astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, he was “moved by curiosity, interest and fascination, not by making the highest scores on a test.” As an adult, he points out, “no one ever asks you what your grades were. Grades become irrelevant.” In his experience as a student and a professor, says Tyson, “ambition and innovation trump grades every time.”
Get comfortable with failure. When he was still a college student, comedian Stephen Colbert began working with an improvisational theater in Chicago. “That really opened me up in ways I hadn’t expected,” he tells Bain. “You must be O.K. with bombing. You have to love it.” Colbert adds, “Improvisation is a great educator when it comes to failing. There’s no way you are going to get it right every time.”
Make a personal connection to your studies. In her sophomore year in college, Eliza Noh, now a professor of Asian-American studies at California State University at Fullerton, took a class on power in society: who has it, how it’s used. “It really opened my eyes. For the first time in my life, I realized that learning could be about me and my interests, about who I was,” Noh tells Bain. “I didn’t just listen to lectures, but began to use my own experiences as a jumping-off point for asking questions and wanting to pursue certain concepts.”
Read and think actively. Dean Baker, one of the few economists to predict the economic collapse of 2008, became fascinated in college by the way economic forces shape people’s lives. His studies led him to reflect on “what he believed and why, integrating and questioning,” Baker says: ”I was always looking for arguments in something I read, and pinpointed the evidence to see how it was used.”
Ask big questions. Jeff Hawkins, an engineer who created the first mobile computing device, organized his college studies around four profound questions he wanted to explore: Why does anything exist? Given that a universe does exist, why do we have the particular laws of physics that we do? Why do we have life, and what is its nature? And given that life exists, what’s the nature of intelligence? For many of the subjects he pursued, “there was no place to ‘look it up,’ no simple answer.”