Metaphors for Big Picture(-first) learning

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on August 2, 2010

Another metaphor. I’m getting addicted.

Seeing the big picture is about seeing high level relationships. Specifically, big picture-learning involves understanding how the various parts of a subject relate to each other.

A big picture approach is a top-down approach. A detail-first approach is a bottom-up approach.

When you want build something robust you first set up the structural framework, before filling in the details.

Before putting things together you have to know how to fit them together. Figuring how things fit together while building in the details is like building a house of cards. At each stage you are worrying about the structural integrity of the whole thing.

Big picture learning is like building a house (not of cards, something you would actually live in). You first build in the main structural elements before filling in the cosy details. This way, all you have to pay attention to at each stage is the current module. No distractions.

In practice, getting the big picture requires knowing some details (as in the construction metaphor). Nevertheless, one’s understanding of the subject will be enhanced, and one’s learning rate increased, if one tries to first figure out the big picture as much as possible before filling in the Devil’s details..


2 Responses

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  1. expectimax said, on August 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

    More metaphors (or similes):

    Big picture learning is like some progressive/online breadth-first or best-first graph search: first you learn the low-hanging fruits; learning those gives more accurate estimates with which to further direct one’s learning.

    The search algorithm here has to be non-greedy: greedy search algorithms are more like detail-first learning in that they direct attention further down to the currently pursued option, regardless of whether a far superior alternative exists in some other branch further up. The metaphor/simile holds true for the advantages of detail-first learning too: sometimes greedy search produces good enough, even optimal results, whereas a non-greedy one will simply take too much time.

  2. André Branco said, on August 5, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Hi, there. Great posts/tweets.

    For me, the best visual metaphor for big-picture learning are these Mona Lisas here — the second, in particular, of course:


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