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Fail productively... how to turn yourself into a super-learner

Make It A Challenge

Most learning techniques with lots of theory and colorful infographics do not assist in making the information stick in our minds.

There is a need for ‘desirable difficulties’ which exercise our minds and translate into long-term retention of knowledge.

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Fail productively... how to turn yourself into a super-learner

Fail productively... how to turn yourself into a super-learner

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/feb/16/neuroscience-become-a-super-learner-scientific-research-better-learning-long-term-memory

theguardian.com

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Key Ideas

Learn A New Skill

Learning a new skill can be tough. Those of us trying to master a new language, learn a musical instrument, or take an online course, will find that when the initial enthusiasm dries up, things move at a snail’s pace.

It’s easy to assume that our brains aren’t capable, but that’s not true. Anyone can master a new discipline with the right tools and strategies.

Make It A Challenge

Most learning techniques with lots of theory and colorful infographics do not assist in making the information stick in our minds.

There is a need for ‘desirable difficulties’ which exercise our minds and translate into long-term retention of knowledge.

A Pre-Test Quiz

.. or a Q&A session primes the brain to absorb the information afterward, and failing to answer it initially is part of the game.

The brain needs to know that it doesn’t know.

Teaching Others

Continuously quizzing yourself, something called ‘retrieval practice’ jogs the memory and builds stronger traces. The harder the retrieval is, the stronger the memory formation.

Teaching others is an excellent way to gain in-depth knowledge of a subject.

Mix It Up

Spending too much time on one topic can be counterproductive. It is better to switch and rotate between topics, something called ‘interleaving’. 

The technique has an in-built momentary confusion once you switch back and forth, resulting in a better long-term recall of the material.

Get Moving

Cardiovascular exercise makes us better learners, triggering dopamine and epinephrine in our brains, providing us with a natural memory boost.

Change Your Environment

Our memory is contextually sensitive, making our surroundings affect its functioning.

Studies show that changing the place of learning can help retain and recall the topics better.

Do Nothing

Recovery is a must for learning. Taking time off does not mean more brain stimulation like TV or video games. It means just closing your eyes and doing nothing. 

Surprisingly, that is when the brain gets to work, cementing what you have learned.

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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...

Chunking
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

Traditionally, we’re taught to learn using the “blocking” strategy. This instructs us to go over a single idea again and again (and again) until we’ve mastered it, before proceeding to the next con...

Interleaving

... space out learning over a longer period of time, and it randomizes the information we encounter when learning a new skill. 

Interleaving causes your brain to intensely focus and solve problems every step of the way, resulting in information getting stored in your long-term memory instead.

For example, instead of learning one banjo chord at a time until you perfect it, you train in several at once and in shorter bursts.

Using interleaving to pick up a new skill
  • Practice multiple parallel skills at once
  • Try planning when and what you want to cover in a lesson in advance.

  • Go back over the basics to practice older material.

  • Keep track of your progress to stay motivated.

  • Trying skills from new angles and failing a lot helps you break out of your comfort zone.

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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