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The Importance of Re-Learning for Knowledge Updates

Neil Saunders thinks about learning:

Some years ago I read an article – I forget where – describing how our general knowledge often becomes frozen in time. Asked to name the tallest building in the world you confidently proclaim “the Sears Tower!”, because for most of your childhood that was the case – never mind that the record was surpassed long ago and it isn’t even called the Sears Tower anymore. From memory the example in the article was of a middle-aged speaker who constantly referred to a figure of 4 billion for the human population – again, because that’s what he learned in school and had never mentally updated.

Is this the case with programming too? Oh yes – as I learned today when performing the simplest of tasks: reading CSV files using R.

The specific task involved ways to read a list of CSV files in R, though the impetus behind the post is ways to keep that knowledge up to date. This is one reason why it can be useful to attend introductory-level sessions on topics you already know: there might be new things in recent versions of software which change the game. There are also times when you learn something en passant: in a talk (or blog post or video) about topic X, the author might casually use some technique or tool not related to the topic itself.