Learning to Learn
Learning how to learn is a meta-skill. It is a critical skill for everyone who needs to pick up and master new concepts frequently.
Understanding what is learning and how our memory works will help you understand why certain techniques work and how to use and adapt the techniques to your advantage.
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Learning how to learn is critical for everyone. Most of us have to deal with a changing world and to learn how to manage tons of new information.
However, most of our learning methods are outdated and far from optimal. It may even be giving us an illusion of learning, like re-reading and highlighting that don't provide proper feedback to show what you haven't learned.
Focused and diffuse modes provide two models for how we develop, elaborate, deepen and broaden connections. Both methods are important.
Spaced repetition describes the idea of reviewing new concepts at intervals that get spaced further and further apart.
For example, learning a concept in the morning, reviewing it 8 hours later, then recheck the next day. Reviews then get spaced out 3-4 days, then a week, a month, then again a few months later.
"Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject."
Learning is hard and takes effort on a personal level. It requires attention and physical energy.
Top-down learning is understanding the big picture. It allows you to put the main ideas into a big-picture map to understand how the information fits together.
Bottom-up learning, called "chunking" describes pieces of information that are linked together through meaning or use. Much of learning is developing a sufficient repository of these chunks.
Leveraging diffused and focused learning is key to truly understanding something. You learn chunks through the focused model, and you develop the broader conceptual map using the diffuse way of thinking.
First, learn the basic outline or core structure, then fill in the details. For instance, when reading a book, look at the table of contents (core structure) and scan through the material. Next, use focused reading to fill in the details.
Regressing or getting blocked when learning is not that uncommon, as your brain remaps a concept.
Skipping ahead may help. Take a break, sleep, and exercise, to give your brain time to put the pieces in order again.
We need to study things that interest us; otherwise, it will be hard to make much progress.
Learning is a highly personal process. You need to know yourself and how you learn best. Use the resources and techniques that you like and enjoy, even if they are not scientifically-speaking the most effective.
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A memory chunk is a solid connection in your mind that relates various bits and pieces of information.
Focus on the concept you want to form a chunk of. Write down the basic ideas of what the concept is all about. Build up from these fundamentals to finally create a chunk.
While reviewing material, recall it instead of just reading it passively. Try and recall in a different setting than where you studied it.
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When learning, there are times in which you are focused and times in which you allow your mind to wander. Both modes are valuable to allow your brain to learn something.
Take regular break...
The goal is to learn each concept in a way that they each become like a well-known puzzle piece.
In order to master a concept, you not only need to know it but also to know how it fits into the bigger picture.
Instead of highlighting or underlining, rather take brief notes that summarize keys concepts.
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But we can’t maximize the time we spend learning because our feelings about what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way.
If we are learning for work, then in our brains learning equals work. So we think we have to do it during the day, at our workplace.
We think that walking is not learning. It’s ‘taking a break’. We instinctively believe that reading is learning. Having discussions about what you’ve read, however, is often not considered work, again it’s ‘taking a break’.
When mastering a subject, our brain has two general modes of thinking: focused and diffuse, both important in the learning process.
The focused mode is what we traditionally associate with learning. But we need time to process what we pick up, to get this new information integrated into our existing knowledge. We need time to make new connections. This is where the diffuse mode comes in.