Learning skills - Deepstash





Learning to Learn

Learning skills

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However, most of our learning methods are outdated and far from optimal.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.

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Learning to Learn

Learning to Learn




Key Ideas

Learning how 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.

Focused and Diffuse Mode

Focused and diffuse modes provide two models for how we develop, elaborate, deepen and broaden connections. Both methods are important.

  • The focused mode of learning is about bringing related concepts together into a unit, called a chunk. 
  • The diffuse mode operates through a wider net of connecting general ideas across different fields. We use this diffuse mode while we sleep, exercise or daydream.

Spaced repetition

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.

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

"Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject."

In order to learn, we need to sleep

Learning is hard and takes effort on a personal level. It requires attention and physical energy.

  • When you start learning, you need to pay careful attention to bring that information into your short-term memory. Lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention to. Even memory champions can only hold 5-7 pieces of information at a time.
  • When you sleep, short-term memories are moved to a different region in the brain for long-term storage. Your brain then consolidates the information and select what information to forget.

Top-down and bottom-up learning

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.

Combine diffused and focused learning

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.

Regression is not uncommon

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.

The optimal process for learning

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.



Just start, break the initial barrier

Every task has a certain Activation Energy (AE), where you initiate certain steps in order to start a task.

Reducing the Activation Energy of new habits you want to form will make it i...

Practice chunking

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.

Learn, Practice, Recall — Repeat
Just forming chunks is not sufficient. You have to maintain them. The more you look after the chunks, the longer they last.

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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“Focused” and “Diffused” Modes

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...

This is the idea of breaking what you want to learn into concepts. 

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.

Beware of Illusions of Competence
There are many ways in which we can make ourselves feel like we have “learned” a concept.

Instead of highlighting or underlining, rather take brief notes that summarize keys concepts.

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Learning is necessary for our success and personal growth

But we can’t maximize the time we spend learning because our feelings about what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way.

When our brains equate learning and work

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’.

The focused and diffuse thinking modes

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.