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

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.

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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.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

“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.

Note-taking: a powerful tool for learning
  • Notes extend your memories: writing can be seen as an external enhancement of your brain, allowing you to think more complicated thoughts and solve harder problems.
  • Not...
How to Take Notes While Reading
  1. Figure out your purpose.
  2. Choose a technique that maximizes your focus on what is most relevant for your purpose. 
  3. Decide whether to optimize for review or retrieval practice.  
  4. If you do need to go back into the text again and again, create clues in your notes that can help you find what you’re looking for faster.
Figure out your purpose

Ask yourself why are you reading:

  • What am I trying to remember? 
  • How am I going to use this information? (e.g. on a test, cited in an essay, etc.)
  • What do I plan to do with the notes later? Will you be studying off of them extensively? Or maybe you’re just taking notes to stay focused, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll look through them after?

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"Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful... Learning that's easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow."

 -  Make It Stick: The Science Of Suc...

Bring it back from memory

Retrieval is so effective is that it strengthens the neural pathways associated with a given concept.

When you're attempting to recall an idea, method, or technique from memory, you're retrieving. Flash cards are a great example: They force you to recall an idea from memory, unlike a technique like highlighting where you're not burning anything into your brain. 

Connect new ideas

... to what you already know.

When you try to put a new idea into your own words, you're elaborating.

For example, if you're in physics class and trying to understand heat transfer, try to tie the concept into your real-life experiences, say, by imagining how a warm cup of coffee disperses heat into your hands.

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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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When to Study
When to Study

Studying time is more efficient if it is spread out over many sessions throughout the semester, with a little extra right before the exam.

Cover each piece of info five times from when you fi...

What and How to Study

Testing yourself, so you have to retrieve the information from memory, works much better than repeatedly reviewing the information, or creating a concept map (mind map).

After the first time learning the material, spend the subsequent studying to recalling the information, solving a problem or explaining the idea without glancing at the source.

What Kinds of Practice to Do
For a particular exam, use the following:
  • Mock tests and exams that are identical in style and form.
  • Redo problems from assignments, textbook questions or quizzes.
  • Generate your own questions or writing prompts based on the material.

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What Creativity Does

Creative acts can grow new neural connections, reduce depression and isolation, enhance cognitive skills, and increase emotional fulfillment.

There are many well-known creative activit...

Triggering the Creative Process
  • Change one element in an activity you do repeatedly. This will require you to learn something new and that will trigger the creative process.
  • Add something new to a routine. For example, when watching your favorite TV drama, pause it every ten or so minutes, and predict what will happen when you resume watching.
  • Engage in an activity that constantly changes. 
  • Begin a new activity. The best example is learning a new language. Everything is fresh: the meaning of words, the syntax, and pronunciation.
The End Products

The purpose of creative activities for brain health is not to produce a sellable or even a laudable product. These activities creates new neural connections that can preserve your cognitive ability or at least slow down its deterioration.

Also, just as muscle strength takes time to develop after years of idleness, so does improved memory and better reasoning abilities.

Minimize distractions

Don't leave your phone and computer within arm’s reach during practice sessions. 

Put them where you can’t see or hear any notifications so you won’t be tempted to stop ...

Focus on quality

Start slow if you’re new to what you’re practicing so you can make sure you’re doing quality work, like landing one dance move well before moving onto the rest of the routine. 

Once you feel comfortable, increase your speed, but don’t lose sight of the quality of your practice.

Divide your practice into sessions

Give yourself breaks in between practice sessions. 

Even professional athletes and performers take time between sessions to recharge so they can maintain the right quality level during practice.

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Muscle Memory
Muscle Memory

Our most repeated physical actions can, with continual practice, be performed automatically without any real-time awareness.

We think of those particular skills being stored in our ‘muscle ...

Types Of Memory
  • Declarative (or Semantic) memory is our factual memory which stores the details like the information and figures, but not the visual, emotional or sensory details.
  • Episodic Memory stores our life events, for us to be able to relive our past, complete with all the atmospheric details.
  • Procedural Memory is the memory of skills, in which the brain records the sensory input from the various body parts and muscles during a particular activity, and is able to replicate the muscle application and movement.
The Primary Motor Cortex

It is the area of the brain responsible for learning new skills.

Using brain mapping tools, scientists have discovered that the more we use a certain body part, the more information about it is stored in the Primary Motor Cortex region of the brain, which alters its size and the number of connections with the other regions of the brain.

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Scientific Backed Ways To Learn Better
Scientific Backed Ways To Learn Better
  1. Learn faster and retain more by imagining that you have to teach someone else what you are learning
  2. Sleeping between two learning sessions greatly improves retenti...