I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the amazing MOOC called Learning How To Learn that is taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley. The course is free and is offered online by edx.org.

Below are the notes that I took from the course.

There are two modes of thinking:

  • Focused mode: Concentrating on things that are usually familiar.
  • Diffused mode: A relaxed mode of thinking "your thoughts are free to wander".

When you don’t desire doing/learning something, go through it and just start. The discomfort goes away and, in the long term, this will lead to satisfaction. Make use of the pomodoro technique.

When you learn something new, make sure to take time to rest, then come back to it and recall what you learnt.

Spaced repetition (repeating things after few days) is the best way to build and strengthen the synaptic connections.

Sleep is very important. It clears the metabolic toxins from the brain. It is best to sleep directly after learning new things.

It was shown that exercising and/or being in a rich social environment helps your brain produce new neurons. Stay active and spare time for exercise (including general physical activities) and friends daily.

Chunks:

Chunking is the act of grouping concepts into compact packages of information that are easier for the mind to access.

Pieces of information bond together through use and meaning. They can get bigger and more complex, but at the same time, they are single easy to access items that can fit into the slot of the working memory.

You have to solve the problem yourself. Just because you see it, or even understand it, doesn't mean that you will be able to solve it (illusion of competence). It is always easier to look at the material, even if you think it’s easy, then doing it yourself.

Transfer; a chunk you have mastered in one area can often help you much more easily learn other chunks of information in different areas.

Master the major idea and then start getting deeper. However, make sure not to get stuck in some details before having a general idea.

Recall mentally without looking at the material. This is proven more effective than to simply rereading. Reread only after you try to recall and write down what was in the material.

Test yourself to make sure you are actually learning and not fooling yourself into learning. Mistakes are a good thing. They allow you to catch illusions of competence.

Don’t always trust your initial intuition. Einstellung problem (a German word for Mindset). An idea or a neural pattern you developed might prevent a new better idea from being found.

Mix up the problems (Interleaving) from different chapters. This is helpful to create connections between your chunks. It can make your learning a bit more difficult, but it helps you learn more deeply. Interleaving is very important. It is where you leave the world of practice and repetition, and begin thinking more independently.

Don’ts:

  • Highlighting too much and creating maps are often ineffective without recalling.
  • Repeating something you already learnt or know very well is easy. It can bring the illusion of competence;
  • A big mistake is to blindly start working on an exercise without reading the textbook or attending the class. This is a recipe of sinking.

Procrastination:

The routine, habitual responses your brain falls into when you try to do something hard or unpleasant. Focusing only on making the present moment feels better.

Unlike procrastination which is easy to fall into, Willpower is hard to come by.

Procrastination shares features with addiction. At first, it leads you to think that if you study too early you’ll forget the material. Then, when the class is ahead of you, it leads you to think that you are inadequate or that the subject is too hard.

The first time you do something the deluge of information coming at you would make the job seem almost impossibly difficult. But, once you've chunked it, it will be simple.

Habits:

Neuro-scientifically speaking, chunking is related to habit.

Habit is an energy saver. You don’t need to focus when performing different habitual tasks.

Habits can be good or bad, brief or long.

Habits Parts:

  • The cue: The trigger that launches you into zombie mode (habitual routine).
  • Location. Time. Feelings. Reaction to people or events…
  • The routine: Routine you do in reaction to the cue.

You only need to use your willpower to change your reaction to the cues.

Actively focus on rewiring your old habits.

Give yourself bigger rewards for bigger achievements. But after you finish them.

Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.

Only once your brain starts expecting a reward will the important rewiring takes place that will allow you to create new habits.

The belief: To change your habits, you need to change your underlying belief.

Memory:

Use your visual memory to remember things.

Images help you encapsulate a very hard to remember concept by tapping into visual areas with enhanced memory abilities.

The more neural hooks you can build by evoking the senses the easier it will be for you to recall the concept.

Handwriting helps you deeply convert what you are trying to learn into neural memory structures.

Memory Techniques:

Create meaningful groups and abbreviations.

To remember numbers, associate them to memorable events.

Create mnemonic phrases from first letters of the words you want to remember.

Memory Palace Technique: Use a familiar place (like the blueprint of your house) and associate visual images of things you want to remember with physical places.

Exercising is by far more effective than any drug to help you learn better. It helps new neurons survive.

You learn complex concepts by trying to make sense out of the information you perceive. Not by having someone else telling it to you.

Metaphors and analogies are very helpful, not only to memorize, but to also understand different concepts.

Deliberate practice is what helps the average brain lift into the realm of those naturally gifted. Practicing certain mental patterns deepens your mind.

Right hemisphere:

  • Helps us put our work into the big picture perspective and does reality checks.
  • When you go through a homework or test questions and don’t go back to check your work, you’re acting like a person who’s refusing to use parts of his brain.

Left hemisphere:

  • Interprets the world for us but with a tendency for rigidity, dogmatism and egocentricity.
  • May lead to overconfidence. Ex: believing dismissively that your answers are corrects.

Best practices:

Always step back and recheck to takes advantages of abilities of both-hemispheres interactions.

Brainstorm and find focused people to analyze your work with.

Your errors are sometimes easier to be found by others.

Explaining yourself to others helps you understand more.

Studying in a team helps you catch what you missed, or what you can’t see.

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t blindly believe in your intellectual abilities.