Assumption: Problem > Content

In order to learn something, you need to want to learn it, really. Content (information, slides, examples) doesn't imply learning. Desire implies learning.

How do you create desire?

Pain => Desire

From birth there is one universal concept that drives our desires: PAIN. Pain causes us to desire to change something. We change ourselves. We change our world.

Let's consider how we learn, from birth.

I feel pain (i.e. hunger). I cry because it hurts.

It's pretty instinctive.

And then

I get fed, the pain goes away. Food eases the pain of hunger.

Now I may feel other types of pain, but I learn that if I can get food when I feel this type of pain, I can make the pain stop.

Where does food come from? How can I get food for this pain instead of rocking or a diaper change or other attempts?

Through observation I eventually notice that food comes from mommy. Through exploration I eventually notice my hands and that hey can point.

If I point to food, I can solve this pain instead of another.


If I can speak food, I can solve this pain faster.


If I can get food for myself, I can solve this pain immediately.


As we experience pain, we are constantly trying to find a way to stop the pain - and then to stop it faster.

We try having others solve our pains. We try solving our pain ourselves. We pay to remove pain. We work to remove pain. We even prempt pain to solve it before it happens.

My car won't start. I don't want to feel pain (embarrassment), which will happen if I show up late.

Oregon Trail Crossing

In order to solve programming problems, we must experience pain and realize that this pain can be eased by programming.**

We must ask What is the problem?

Attempt !=> Solution

Back to the baby example.

I have no idea what the in the depths of fiery doom is going on - and I don't even have words necessary to think this hypothetical thought! Crying feels pretty natural though... I'll resort to that for a few months.

Just because we experience pain, doesn't mean that we know what's going on.

Why are you changing my diaper? Having attention feels good. I'm happier. [2 minutes later] Wait, my pain is still here. You didn't fix my pain.

Just because we employ a solution, doesn't mean that the solution completely solves the problem - even if it kinda solves the problem.

Think of e-mail validation; Just because the e-mail you enter is syntactically correct doesn't mean that I can send you mail (

And just because I can send you mail doesn't mean that my e-mail address conforms to your conventions (

The question becomes How do I know that I solved the problem?.

Solution !=> Success

Think for a minute and imagine a moment of triumph in your life. Think of a big win. A time you felt great. A time you got ish done like a boss.

Take a minute and really think about it. Really

Now imagine that only you know about it. It's something that no one else will ever care about... well, unless you tell them.

You may have conjured up a memory that is, in fact, very personal, but generally the first thing you want to do after a big win is share it - in whatever way you can.

If you couldn't share that experience at all, your joy would probably be somewhat diminished.

But if you can share it, your joy is amplified.

If you share it and your big win can be a big win for them (you also solved their problem), it's an even stronger amplification.

How do I share my solution? If I share it, I'll probably feel a greater sense of success.

Sharing !=> Understanding

One last note I want to throw on the pile here is that just because you share something with someone, it doesn't mean that they'll understand it.

The presentation of the solution is key to sharing it.


  • Experience pain (and pose it as a problem)
  • Confirm that the solution solves the problem
  • Share the solution (in a well presented / articulated fashion)
  • Feel Successful!

Problem > Content && Meta

Much of the kind of pain that is easy to create (i.e. punch to the face) isn't necessarily pain that is easy to solve by a skill you learn (although manners may prempt a punch to the face, learning to program won't).

The real world problems (pain) have to be translateable into problems that are solved by the content.

Luckily, when you're in a classroom there are social pains that need addressing and if there's anything we've learned from the Facebook, it's that computers can be used to solve social pain.

Assumption: Success => Motivation

Piano is a perfect example of something that is difficult to learn (for most people) and in order to be great you must have meticulous detail to finger positioning, timing, etc.

All of that stress is.. stressful.

A lot of students drop piano because the learning process creates more pain than it alleviates for too long of a time.

feedback loop

The feedback loop is basically the time between doing work and feeling successful about it or, more precisely, the time between taking an action and seeing understanding the result.

When learning piano if you play a note (right or wrong), you hear it immediately. That's awesome. But I feel successful when I play a correct note. The more correct notes I can play, quicker, the better I feel.

If it's taking too long between learning material and being able to play notes - more importantly correct notes - I lose interest.


In order to stay motivated, I need to experiece a high ROI (return on investment). At least, I need to feel that the return to investment ratio is pretty close to 1 to 1 (preferably 2 to 1 or higher).

I need to feel successes consistently and at evenly spaced intervals. The longer a feedback loop takes, the less likely it is to feel enough success to stay motivated.

Jon Schmidt solved this pretty well for Piano (see the Jon Schmidt Note-Reading Method) by creating a method that focused on learning the rewarding parts first.


Getting your finger position correct isn't very rewarding when you can't even play a simple melody.

Getting your fingering correct when perfecting a generally well-played piece is rewarding.

If you focus on minute details too early on, you're not solving a problem.

Instead, focus on the details that solve an immediate problem.

Ambition => Desire

... to be continued ...

By AJ ONeal

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