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Barb Oakley: Learning How to Learn

o Wasnt successful with math or science and ended up joining the army
betting a BA in language
o Realized she needed the challenge of mathematics
o How was she able to change her brain?
o Joined army cause wanted to learn a language and get paid
o Translator, adventurer
o Was seeing new things but still looking at them from a one sided point of
view, a new pov was from math
o Started talking to top professors (knowledgeable and good teachers)
o Talked to neuroscientists and psych.
o Top professors all were unconventional
o Brain modes
o 1. Focused mode
o a. brain has premade tracks
o b. if you learn something new your brain ahs to make a new track
o 1. You have to use diffuse mode, the tracks are much bigger
o 2. Diffuse Mode
o a. Resting state
o b. Example- day dreaming
o c. not good for problem solving, but a good start
o 3. Cant really be in both modes
o a. if you cant figure something out, its good to relax and get into diffuse
o Salvador Dali used these to his advantage in art, so did Edison
o Focusing intently in one session to figure something out can be the worst
approach possible (exact quote)
o It takes time to learn, do a little bit, rest, more, rest
o Procrastination most common problem among students, it happens b/c
when u look at something u dont want to do and the pain centers of your
brain light up.
o To help PROCRASTINATION (procrastination is like an addiction, makes you
temp. happy), simply work for 20 or so minutes and that pain will disappear.
So work through it
o To trick your brain, POMODORO Technique turn a timer on for 25
minutes, turn of anything that can distract you, you are then training your
focus mode to focus, when done after 25 minutes relax for 5-10 minutes. By
doing this you are helping to be more focused and be more on task
a. do not focus on the task itself (like Im going to finish this all in 25 min)
b. focus on focusing
c. focus on doing the best that you can
d. make subtle changes
e. set a finish time
o Beware following your passion- you tend to be passionate about what you
are good at. So anything could be your passion, some things take longer to be
o Sometimes you are not going to like what you are doing in your career, so
dont get hopes up to much
o Important because the cells in your brain are hovered by metabolites (like
toxins) they dont go away. The toxins block passage of thoughts, when you
sleep the cells shrink and then the toxins can be washed away and you can
think well after the toxins are washed away. If you dont its like taking a test
with a poisoned brain
o Learning + sleep = new connections in the brain
o One of the most beneficial things for learning
o Hippocampus where neurons are newly formed each day, you can help
these neurons grow if . Be exposed to new things, exercise
o When you think you are making neural connections and patterns, so the
more you practice the stronger those patterns become
o What you can hold in mind at one time
o Only have 4 slots in working memory
o Pre-frontal cortex
o Doing work and watching tv a little bit you are preventing the different slots
of your working memory from connecting to brain
o Multitasking is very ineffective
o Be present in where you are at and what you are doing
o You can pull up whenever, pretty easily
o How do we get working memory into long term? Practice and work
o If you dont practice then it will disappear
o DONT CRAM, do spaced repetition
o Spaced repetition helps because when u sleep you get stronger tracks
o Crammed makes it easier to forget
o when u are trying to figure out something new your 4 slots are really
overloaded, as you figure it out, it only fills one chunk (one slot of working
o this is why practice is so important, you need to make these chunks
o if you done understand what you are trying to memorize you cant really fit it
into those chunks
o Once you understand something, practice it more
o Having a terrible memory can be a good thing more likely to be creative
o Slow thinkers are also good you go through the thinking process more
detailed and its more profound (the learning process) not as likely to jump
to conclusions
o You look around and assume everyone is better than you
o think people will find out you arent as smart as you are
o Tests can make you panicked, you might be determined that you havent
studied well enough
o Its normal if you havent studied properly
o Tests are the best way to help you learn the material
o Learn more from taking a test than from studying, even if you dont find out if
the answeres are right or wrong
o So flashcards are really good
o RECALL best way to learn is to look away and see what you can recall
o RECALL is most effective, avoid highlighting and re-reading, focus on
o INTERLEAVING dont just learn a new technique, learn how to apply
concept to more than one problem
o Try not to just mimick
o Use new techniques
o Not everything can be solved with one technique, interleave different
o When you are learning in focus mode you can easily get into that default
mode where you always think you are right, studying with people can help
o Try to explain things so that a 10 year old can understand
o use metaphors and analogies
o put yourself inside the material
o READ a mind for numbers
o Writing in margins helps to chunk the information
o Highlighting tricks your brain into thinking that its stuck in your brain
o Instructor enthusiasm is so important to successful learning
o Sometimes online is easier cause you can be that enthusiastic everyday
o People think that you are talking directly to them on the video
o Note taking strategies
a. get down whatever you can, and later go back and try to chunk it
b. handwriting helps to encode things, better than typing
o do problems until the ideas are starting to flow, where you arent struggling
then alternate
o then hit same technique over multiple days
o massive study sessions are not necessarily effective, shorter study session
over multiple days is more effective.
o Test anxiety is really just not studying very effectively, its just an excuse