What would be the most effective way to develop skills to be able to simplify complex information?
The cognitive skill that is mostly used for tasks that involve simplicity and complexity is cognitive processing speed. As a measure of cognitive proficiency, processing speed entails the use of all cognitive resources to recognize, perform, and complete a task. People who perform with this noted ability are often referred to as "fast thinkers".
Research in the field of gifted education shows that these "fast thinkers" are individuals who:
- look for, and identify patterns in order to
- make connections
- revert to their schema (activate their prior knowledge)
- synthesize information
- skim and scan for relevant facts
- organize and categorize data
- select from a variety of strategies, often even working backwards
Far from a merely gifted skill, cognitive speed processing can actually be increased in all individuals. From a Vygotskian perspective, the best way to increase cognitive processing is by making a habit of working at a zone of proximal development (ZPD). This means to complete tasks that are one or two levels above your comfort zone. Chomsky calls this formula the i + 1 (input plus one), which also means to push ourselves to work at a higher intellectual level. This is not a simple task, but research shows that increasing cognitive speed is what helps individuals simplify complex information. This is because, when connections are made, and there is an instant recognition of relevant facts and patterns, the "extras" of a task become obsolete and the solution of problems can be found almost immediately.
Hence, exercising the neuroplasticity (the principle that states that our brains are malleable) of our brains consists on changing the ways in which we are used to do things so that we can recognize the differences and similarities, as well as trends and patterns, of all kinds of different situations. Synthesizing (simplifying) tasks include:
- List-making -making a habit of categorizing and organizing facts by similarities.
- Trend-watching- Understanding cause and effect.
- "If/then" thinking- creating the habit of always finding a possible answer or plausible solution to any problem.
- Interactive problem solving- getting used to come in and out of the information using bare facts.
- Paraphrasing- making a habit of re-tell what the information says in simpler language, with less verbiage, and to the point..
- 1-2-3 Summarizing- making a habit of explaining one piece of information in three smaller steps.
- "The essential question" approach- prior to attempt to solve a problem or after having received complex information, a best practice is to ask "where is this information taking me", or "what does this problem want me to really do".
Simplifying complex information is a skill that directly results from the ability and speed with which we process information. If we gather data in a proficient way, make all the proper schematic connections, and create new habits to re-visit information, we will be able to simplify information almost automatically.