I was lucky to attend a private talk with Barbara Oakley, famous for her MOOC “Learning How to Learn”. That was mostly the topic of the 1H-talk. These are my notes.
Some key elements to learning complex things are:
- deliberate practice
- rest: breaks and quality sleep
- time and repetition: used spaced repetition
- focus: allow quality time for learning, disable notifications, setup systems like pomodoro technique
- create images, stories, connections that will ease memorisation
Goals of this talk
- how to keep focused when learning a dense and complex subject ?
- how to prioritize ? How to learn and remember ?
- how are our learning capacities affected by online learning ? What are the methods to learn online ?
Julius Yego is an athlete from Kenya (javelin throw).
- He watched top instructors from Youtube, then practiced, then watch, then practice…
- he became the world champion!
- you can learn anything online, even competitive sport, through deliberate practice.
What is learning?
Learning anything means creating sets of links between neurons in the brain. When something is not learnt, those sets of links have not yet been created.
What is the most powelful technique to help you learn most efficiently ? Some options are:
- highlight or underline?
- retrieval practice (“recall”, using flashcards)?
- concept map?
Highlighting only allows our eyes to skim at the surface of the page. We tought for years that concept map was the best, but retrieval practice is better: every time you have to retrieve an information, you are strenghtening the sets of links you have created on something.
It is at night, when you are sleeping, that the connections are being created. We can see it happen physically. Sleep is very important. Get enough sleep at night.
spaced repetition: you have 5hours to spend on learning something ? instead of spending 5h in a row, spend 1h on monday, tuesday, wednesday, friday and sunday. That’s the same amount of time, but the strength is better. it takes time to learn something deeply, in the same way that creating a huge amount of muscle doesnt happen overnight.
procrastination: can be overcome with pomodoro technique
- turn off all distractions (cellphone, baby ;), notifications)
- set timer for 25 minutes
- rest! for 5mn or so at the end
This rest period is the one that allow you to create those connections. If you are in the flow and don’t stop at 25mn, that’s ok, but there’s evidence that taking breaks helps in the long term. In Asia, many cultures have such focus on hard work that they don’t take those breaks, that allow for creativity to happen, so asians have the reputation of being less creatives.
Nelson Dellis has many videos about how to learn effectively.
- Learning is easy.
- Learning fast is much harder. If you can turn facts into pictures, it becomes much easier. eg: chinese character “ren” -> see it as a person with legs that move.
memory palace: famous memory technique for memorizing fast many things. Challenge is that it is not very suitable in day to day life. ex: learning wavelengths for brain waves
Sounds complicated ? Picture them in your living room
- 4 delta planes on the couch -> delta = 1-4Hz
- theta looks like an 8, so it’s between 4 and 8Hz.
- alpha ? no idea how to memorize this. Lets put a beta next to it for now
- beta looks like 1 and 3 -> 13
By creating an image, a story, it’s possible to learn complex things quickly and for a long time.
- it is important to create sets of links in the neurons
- how do we ensure those sets of links stay for long ?
Declarative vs Procedural learning
Learning can be done in 2 different ways, declaratively and procedurally.
- you’re mostly conscious of it
- develops through explicit instruction
- you can explain it
- involves sequential tasks
- Fast to learn, slow to use
- flexible Procedural:
- quick & intuitive learning (eg: learning a first language as a child. you are barely conscious you are learning)
- develops through practice
- you can’t explain it (or not easily)
- involves complex patterns
- inflexible (ex: learning to type on a keyboard. If you change the layout, you are lost)
As a consequence, 1 week corporate trainings are not a good solution. It’s too fast. You may need more (way more) time to grasp the concepts you want to learn in the first place deeply. Online, self paced learning is better.
Interleaving You need to play around with closely related ideas to the concepts you want to learn with
How to prioritize what to learn ? learn some key ideas about a topic first, then you’ll have notions about where to go next. Prioritization will happen on its own.
Questions and answers
So could we say the best moment to take a course would be juste before getting to sleep ?
- some people are morning person, some are evening person
- don’t try to learn when you are very tired
We try to learn many things. Is it better to focus on thing for a week, then learn something else the next week ?
- learning happens over time, so divide the time you have so that you spend enough time on each topic for 4 weeks
- multi-tasking is a problem though. Avoid too many context switches. You’ve gotta have closure, in order to avoid having residue, being halway between 2 tasks.
- multi-tasking should not be avoided ! it has hidden benefits
- however, dual tasking that uses the same ressources (driving and texting both use your vision) do not work
- creativity arises from multi-tasking:
Is our ability to learn each day limited ?
- oh yes. We are human. Different people learn differently, at different speeds.
You talked about retrieval practice, and procedural Learning, I was wondering if vizualisation can be considered as a form of practice and if some brain waves states are facilitating Learning ?
- you can have a long lasting effect with training
- play action-style video games.
- it does not improve your working memory (how many things you can have in memory at once), but your cognition
See a typo ? You can suggest a modification on Github.