I did the Cousera’s course Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. It was a pleasant course with many useful informations and a lot of useful techniques to speed up my learning ability. One point that caught my attention was the Illusion Of Competence and I would like to share with you how I added this knowledge to my day.

Illusions of Competence

Our brain can fool us in many ways. When someone explains a subject and we could follow the explanation, we believe that we understood it. Furthermore we think that we are able to work with this new information. But we are not. Give you a example, think about learning to ride a bicycle. The only way to learn it is by doing it. That’s why when our teachers explained a subject to us, they as a rule gave us exercises to practice that subject.

Illusions of Competence in a developer’s day

After doing the course I started paying attention to verify if I had some moments of Illusions of Competence in my day-by-day. And indeed, it happens a lot. I could observe that during a Project’s Inception my colleagues and I heard explanations a few times. But when we had to use what we just learned we could not make a good use of it. This is because we didn’t learned the subject. Or… Instead of acquiring competence in the subject we had a Illusion of Competence.

How to avoid it

After noticing that the Illusion of Competence was happening to me, actually us, I decide to fight against it. But, here comes the question: How? The same way we did at school:

  • Making questions
  • Explaining to a friend
  • Doing exercises

Making Question

It was easy to do not value a explanation or be hard to focus on a explanation. One way to keep focus in a explanation is to get involved in the explanation, been part of it. Making a question is a good way to tell your brain that you are part of the explanation.

Explaning to a friend

When someone explain anything it’s common to finish a topic saying:

  • Did you get it?
  • Did you understand?
  • OK?

And we are used to answer: “Yes”, “Uhum”. But that is born of the Illusion of Competence. To avoid it, now when I receive the question: “Do you understand?” My answer is: “Can I explain to validate that I understood it?” By explaining what I just heard is a great opportunity to find gaps or raise points that were not covered by previous explanation.

Doing exercises

When I learn a new process|workflow I like to draw it and show it to how explained it to me. That’s a good way to be sure that I’m able to reproduce the process|workflow.