So a bit of background about me before I go into the question.So I am sophomore studying Mechanical Engineering in India.
I have noticed that I have forgotten about 80-90% of the course-work that I did during the first year.Don’t get me wrong,I studied the courses properly and not for the test.Still,if you were to ask me how much of the course I remember now, I would at the very best remember the general idea of the stuff I read.
This is very startling from a long time perspective.College-work in India is generally more overloaded than other countries(from what I have observed),so what this means is people consume a lot of knowledge in a very short amount of time and forget it before they can make any use of it at all(leaving aside the question whether the knowledge is useful in the first place).This occurs despite the best intentions to learn and especially so with complicated stuff.I am not just talking about the facts here but whole concepts and ideas of the subject tend to be forgotten sooner than we can find any use for them.I am pretty confident this applies in most colleges(India or not).
This throws up a host of questions for me.The major premise/reason for attending college is to gain knowledge that I can further apply to job/life.The other touted premise is “Learning to Learn or Solve Problems”.If that were the objective,I fell college apparatus is a very ineffective way of achieving it(will elaborate on this if required).Assuming that the former premise is the actual one,I do not think the college system accounts for my forgetting curve.Even if you were to take proactive steps and learn the material properly,you are still likely to forget it before you use it.It is impractical to practice spaced repetition for multiple semesters worth of course work.And if you were to do it,the question here(which I will go into detail further),is it worth to put this much effort into pre-learning it,effort into remembering it and then finally using some small portion of it later on in your lives?
All this is I feel part of a bigger question:
What utility do I gain from pre-learning any knowledge at all that I am not going to use in my near future ?
This question is asked presupposing that you are not learning out of pure curiosity and rather with the hope of using it later on.Basically you expect that this knowledge will help you meaningfully constrain your anticipation and help you make your decisions.
This question I feel has multiple sub-questions to it,which I only partially have found an answer(hence the post/question).
1.How exactly do I quantify my forgetting curve?
2.How much of what I am pre-learning is going to be useful?(This differs on a individual basis)
3.Assuming that what I have learnt is useful,how much extra effort do I have to put in to make sure that my knowledge stays intact at the time of use?This may the effort through spaced repetition or any other retention method that you use.I feel a useful parameter to define ,in addition to the forgetting curve,is “time/effort required to reach 50%,80% of knowledge at start” at any point in time.I would highly appreciate if you give me any paper on this(hopefully where the subject learns undergrad math-level concepts).
4.What should be the exponential(negative) scaling factor of the utility when you finally do end up using it?(This also might differ on an individual basis).
5.Finally answering the previous 4,is it worth to invest your time on something to pre-learn?We can debate on the degree of pre-learning here.I feel the amount that we generally do in college is waaaay off.
PS:This is the first time I am posting on LessWrong. So I am not exactly sure whether this qualifies as a question or as a post.So forgive me if the post itself is a bit rough.