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Principles of Learning

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

How do humans learn best?

By WEquil.School founders Sumay, Aila, and Joe McPhail.

During the pandemic the WEquil Family began an experiment in education. We interviewed hundreds of families, read dozens of books, and spent countless hours trying to answer a single question...

How do people learn best?

Not surprisingly, thousands of thought leaders, parents, teachers, and scholars have tried to answer this question. In this article we share ten perspectives together provide powerful answers. We provide summaries and links to each perspective...and then summarize them into the five principles of learning that we now use at WEquil.School. We also wrote a Tweet Thread Summary:

Ten perspectives to prepare young people for the New Digital Economy

  1. Documentary on High Tech High - Most Likely to succeed

  2. Ken Robinson - Do schools kill creativity?

  3. Jordan Peterson - Importance of Reading and Writing

  4. Paul Graham - The Lesson to Unlearn

  5. Elon Musk on why he created a homeschool

  6. Steve Jobs - Stay hungry ... stay foolish

  7. Rick Flurie - A different approach to education

  8. Jeff Maggioncalda - The future of jobs and education

  9. Sal Khan - Let's teach for mastery

  10. Naval Ravikant - Arm Yourself With Specific Knowledge

Let's jump right in!

1. Documentary on High Tech High - Most Likely to Succeed

Most Like to Succeed is an educational documentary available on Amazon Prime. Public education became necessary during the industrial revolution, when people needed to be trained in specific skills to perform well at factories. Now, technology is continuing to replace jobs that don’t require human creativity. Some examples of these jobs include cashiers, receptionist, and waiters. Yet despite these technological changes, the public education system has largely stayed the same. In order to succeed in the modern world, Most Likely to Succeed says we must first adapt to technological advances and approach learning differently. Most Likely to Succeed mostly focuses on a charter school called High Tech High that is implementing a new radical approach to education. One principle of High Tech High is project-based learning (PBL), which they demonstrate at the end of each year to the public. This helps students retain their knowledge and skills because the information they learn is relevant. While creating projects, they also developing soft skills such as confidence and public speaking that are becoming more valuable in today's economy. Read our article about how we use Project Based Learning!

2. Ken Robinson - Do schools kill creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson is a British author and education advisor. He is critical of the public education which he says drains creativity and stigmatizes failure. Back in the industrial revolution if you had a degree, you were guaranteed a job. That isn’t the case anymore, but the education system hasn’t changed. Robinson believes that education should be personalized because everyone learns differently, and that arts and creative subjects should be held in the same esteem as math and science. Read our article on the Personalized Economy!

3. Jordan Peterson - Importance of Reading and Writing

Dr Peterson is a clinical psychologist, author and professor. He often stresses the importance of reading and writing to develop your ability to think. According to Peterson, the first step to writing is to find a problem you are interested in and then research it so you have something to say about the problem. Once you’ve done that, you can start organizing and summarizing information from your resources.

Remember to include your opinions to add value to the reader. Pick the right words using trial and error, socialize your ideas, and apply sound judgement. By reworking your sentences, you hone your ability to articulate. Your speech is your most powerful tool and will lead you to success. Never change your writing to please others, especially if you don’t agree with it. This will slow the process of finding your true voice.

4. Paul Graham - The Lesson to Unlearn

Paul Graham is a co-founder of the YCombinator, the most successful startup incubator in the world. In this essay he talks about why students should not focus their learning solely on getting good grades. He criticizes public school homework and tests for being highly hackable, meaning students notice trends in tests and adapt their learning to get better grades. This is because they can only test for facts.

This is very different from the real world, where graduates are tested on things that are not hackable. These real world “tests” are not based on fact and not enforced by an authority. This is problematic because students who are trained to hack the test don’t have practice facing real world, unhackable tests such as creating something valuable to others.

5. Elon Musk on why he created a homeschool

In this video, Musk stresses the importance of explaining the application of learning. He mentions that the brain discards information it believes is not relevant, so teaching a student about something without demonstrating its real life application will decrease student retention. The last point he makes is to teach to problems instead of tools because you will learn the tools along the way, and will automatically know the application and relevance.

6. Steve Jobs - Stay hungry ... stay foolish

In a graduation speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs encourages the new graduates to follow their curiosity, no matter where it takes them. He says that you should dive into what you are interested in even if it doesn’t seem to be practical. Jobs recounts that after dropping out of college, he sat in on a calligraphy course. At the time, he was simply interested in calligraphy; and in no way did it connect to his aspirations in computer science nor would it get him a job. Later, however, he discovered useful applications for what he learned!

His experience in calligraphy class actually helped him develop aesthetically pleasing computer styles and fonts that are so distinguishing to the Mac. Jobs also points out that everyone dies at one point, and life is too short not to do what you love. By reflecting on his mortality it would help him focus his mind on the things that matter most. Above all his message is to find your interests and follow them to create value for others. Discover how WEquil.School helps students create projects that build on their strengths and interests while also adding real value to the world!

7. Rick Flurie - A different approach to education

In this video, Flurie points out that public schools are following the same process that they did a century and a half ago. Back then, public schools were created to prepare students for jobs in factories. However, the economy has changed drastically. Technology is rapidly replacing jobs that only require following routine directions.

Flurie predicts that there won’t be enough qualified workers to fill the creative and entrepreneurial jobs that are needed. He points out that everybody has unique strengths and interests and by introducing them to a project based, self-directed, and individualized education models, they will be more excited to learn and better prepared for the future. Grading does not allow you to improve upon failure and learning from failure is one of the best ways to learn. Discover how we help students learn through an iterative creative process that helps students maximize learning from successes and failures!

8. Jeff Maggioncalda - The future of jobs and education

This video features an interview with Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of the online learning platform Coursera. Coursera is revolutionizing education by making college courses available online and introducing microdegrees. You can get many microdegrees on lots of different subjects you are interested in instead of solely dedicating yourself to one field.

Jeff points out that in the future most jobs will be working with data in some way shape or form and we should prepare our future workforce for that. With technology improving so rapidly, Maggioncalda states that it is crucial for people to continue learning through their entire lifetime and it shouldn’t be that when you stop schooling, you stop trying to learn altogether. You want to distinguish yourself in the workforce and one way to do that is to have a broad array of microdegrees. Learn how we support teachers of all kinds build classrooms that improve from projects created by students!

9. Sal Khan - Let's teach for mastery

Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy hosts a Ted Talk about the concept of mastery in learning. He says that the academic model commonly used in public schools is not based on mastery and therefore leads to gaps in learning. Mastery requires 100% understanding, yet grading systems often accept 80% and above as proficient. This becomes a major problem as classes build on each other.

Consider Khan’s example of building a house. First, you tell your architect to build the foundation in two weeks. After two weeks pass, the foundation has a couple cracks and wet glue, but it is mostly done. So you tell him to build the first floor. Like the foundation, there are also a few problems. But not quite enough to cause major worry. You carry on this process until the third floor when the house collapses. The little problems added up, and combined with the pressure from the weight of new levels, caused the collapse.

You can equate this concept with education. Khan says the goal of learning should be to always achieve mastery on each level to avoid a collapse in learning. He points out that this was previously impractical, because teaching would have to be individualized to each student's abilities. Now, however, tools such as khan academy allow students to fill in their gaps and achieve complete mastery. Learn how we help students use platforms like Khan Academy and local resources to personalize learning to the needs and learning styles of each student!

10. Naval Ravikant - Arm Yourself With Specific Knowledge

Naval Ravikant a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who created He provides many insights relevant to the new digital economy and how to succeed on YouTube. The concept of Specific knowledge is one that our CEO Sumay has focused on while building WEquil.School because of its importance in leverage our unique qualities to make us irreplaceable. In her words..."Specific knowledge is knowledge that people can not teach, but can learn. They can learn this through experiences and all the different circumstances you have. Some examples are: your childhood, your friendships, different conversations, your interests, your personality." You achieve Specific Knowledge by creating a series of experiences that match one strengths and interests with adding value to others. By following this path you discover ways you can become most valuable to the world because no one can be a better you than you.

Why we created WEquil.School

Our Co-Founder Sumay provided a deep dive into everything that we learned about educating young people over the course of our research in this interview with Google developer Pawan Kumar. Her interview received over 7,000 view in the first week, and her school was inundated with over 1000 applications. One reason seems to be that our Principles of Learning provide a path to improve education for young people in a world that is better suited for creative thinker, entrepreneurs, growth seekers, lifelong learners, and problems solvers.

What changed is that the technology for kids to learn and signal that knowledge is now almost entirely free. WEquil.School frees the minds of young people anywhere by helping them channel their unique strengths and interests to add value to others using these five principles of learning.

Five principles of learning:

1. Teach to problems not tools

2. No grades, iterate and improve

3. Share and learn with others

4. Build on strengths, interests and passions

5. Teaching is a great way to learn

In our experience, these principles allow kids to learn far more effectively because their education experience is tailored to them and reflects how value is created in the real world.

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Founders of WEquil.School

Sumay, Aila and Joe McPhail Click here to learn more about our story!


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