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LEARNING HOW TO LEARN

Anonymous
Cochabamba - Bolivia
January 2019

Some notes about learning, mainly based on Coursera “Learning How to Learn:
Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” online course by
McMaster University & University of California San Diego. This document is
available at: ns137.wordpress.com.

Keywords: recall – deliberate – self efficacy – over confidence – test checklist – efficient chef

Table of Contents
1. What is Learning?.....................................................................................................................................................2
1.1. Why math and science can be more challenging?..........................................................................................2
1.2. About sleeping..................................................................................................................................................2
2. Chunking...................................................................................................................................................................3
2.1. Suggested techniques......................................................................................................................................3
2.1.1. Recall.......................................................................................................................................................3
2.1.2. Deliberate.................................................................................................................................................4
2.1.3. Interleaving...............................................................................................................................................4
3. Procrastination..........................................................................................................................................................4
3.1. Suggested techniques......................................................................................................................................4
3.1.1. Focus on the process...............................................................................................................................4
3.1.2. Daily list before sleep...............................................................................................................................5
3.1.3. Fixing a quitting time................................................................................................................................5
4. Memory.....................................................................................................................................................................5
4.1. Suggested techniques......................................................................................................................................5
4.1.1. Flash cards...............................................................................................................................................5
4.1.2. Memory palace technique........................................................................................................................5
5. Unlocking your potential...........................................................................................................................................6
5.1. Illusions of competence....................................................................................................................................6
5.2. The value of teamwork.....................................................................................................................................6
5.3. About tests........................................................................................................................................................7
5.3.1. Hard start - jump to easy..........................................................................................................................7
6. Additional material....................................................................................................................................................8
6.1. Scientific papers...............................................................................................................................................8
6.2. Web tools..........................................................................................................................................................8
6.3. Videos...............................................................................................................................................................8

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1. What is Learning?

About Focused versus Diffuse Thinking and Procrastination, Memory, and Sleep.

Kasparov vs. Carlsen

1.1. Why math and science can be more challenging?

Because evolution of human been, this answer is related with the facility for memorizing visual forms instead of
abstract concepts. We have only a few centuries dealing with modern mathematics, but much more time dealing
with letters, music, philosophy and so on.

From an evolutionary standpoint, written language is just a system of arbitrary symbols that people made up, and
when we look at things on a grand scale, it really has not been around for all that long. Further information about
this is related with the “picture superiority effect”, as a phenomenon studied by cognitive psychology. [Thomas
Frank, How to Study Effectively with Flash Cards - College Info Geek]

Our ancestors never needed a vast memory for names or numbers. But they did need a memory for how to get
back home from the three-day deer hunt, or for the location of the plump blueberries on the rocky slopes to the
south of camp. These evolutionary needs helped lock in superior “where things are and how they look” memory
systems.

1.2. About sleeping

While the brain sleeps, it clears out harmful toxins.

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Not getting enough sleep the night before a test can negate any other preparation you've done.

2. Chunking

About Chunking—The Essentials and Seeing the Bigger Picture.

Dopamine signals in relation to unexpected reward. Serotonin affects social life and risk-taking behavior.
Acetylcholine affects focused learning and attention.

Once you’ve got the basic idea down during a session, continuing to hammer away at it during the same session
doesn’t strengthen the kinds of long-term memory connections you want to have strengthened. Worse yet,
focusing on one technique is a little like learning carpentry by only practicing with a hammer. After a while, you
think you can fix anything by just bashing it.

Although practice and repetition are important in helping build solid neural patterns to draw on, it’s interleaving that
starts building flexibility and creativity. It’s where you leave the world of practice and repetition and begin thinking
more independently.

2.1. Suggested techniques

2.1.1. Recall

Recall—simply looking away from the material and attempting to recall the main ideas—is a more effective study
technique than concept mapping.

Using recall—mental retrieval of the key ideas—rather than passive rereading will make your study time more
focused and effective

See: Karpicke & Blunt, Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept
Mapping.

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2.1.2. Deliberate

Avoid to do several easy problems and move on to solve difficult problems at the end of the chapter.

[Other definition of this word] Naive vs. Purposeful vs. Deliberate Practice. Deliberate practice is a method of
practicing primarily aimed at rapid, continuous improvement. Its goal is to avoid getting trapped on learning
plateaus and to keep progressing as effectively as you reasonably can. It can best be understood at first in
contrast to the “naive” practice that most people engage in. https://www.nateliason.com/blog/deliberate-practice.
Perhaps this is related with the quote: “In physics is not enough to be smart, you have to be aggressively smart”.

2.1.3. Interleaving

Interleave your learning by alternating your practice with different types of problems so you clearly see the
differences between problem-solving techniques.

To jump among chapters in the book or to study other sections and even other disciplines?

3. Procrastination

Procrastination can be triggered by feelings of discomfort involving something you'd rather not be doing--
discomfort that can actually show up in the brain as feelings of physical pain.

Habits that worked in earlier years can turn around and bite you.

The four components of a habit are: the cue (trigger), the routine, the reward, and the belief (habits have power
because of your belief in them). To change a habit, you'll need to change your underlying belief.

Setting yourself up so that distractions are minimal is also a very good idea. Many students find that either a quiet
space or noise canceling headphones can be helpful when they're really trying to concentrate.

Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings.

Watch for procrastination cues. Pay attention for procrastination cues and remove yourself from environments that
contain many distractions and procrastination cues.

3.1. Suggested techniques

3.1.1. Focus on the process

To prevent procrastination you want to avoid concentrating on product. Instead, your attention should be on
building processes. Thinking about completing a product is frequently what triggers the pain that causes you to
procrastinate.

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3.1.2. Daily list before sleep

Write a list every night of the tasks that you can reasonably work on or accomplish in the next day. Research has
shown that this helps your subconscious to grapple with the tasks on the list, so you can figure out how to
accomplish them.

3.1.3. Fixing a quitting time

Planning your quitting time is as important as planning your working time. For example finishing everything at 5
pm.

4. Memory

At the beginning is good to practice something everyday, but after memory of the subject improves, is good to
review the material it with a wider gap of days.

One way to memorize more easily is to create meaningful groups that simplify the material.

The funnier and more evocative the images you make related to what you are trying to remember, the better.

Long term memories are living parts of your brain that are changing all the time, and are subject to modification by
a process called "reconsolidation".

Your working memory is centered within the prefrontal cortex, although there are also connections to other parts of
your brain so you can access long-term memories.

4.1. Suggested techniques

4.1.1. Flash cards

They help for interleaving learning, is also good to check them before sleeping. They can be physical written cards
or simply the Anki software (https://apps.ankiweb.net/).

4.1.2. Memory palace technique

The memory palace technique is a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember. It involves
calling to mind a familiar place like the layout of your house and using it as a visual notepad where you can
deposit the concept images that you want to remember.

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All you have to do is call to mind the place you're familiar with; your home, your route to school, or your favorite
restaurant, and voila in the blink of an imaginative eye, this becomes the memory palace that you'll use as your
notepad.

One study showed that a person using the memory palace technique could remember more than 95 percent of a
40 to 50 item list after only one or two practice mental walks where the items were placed on the grounds or the
local university.

5. Unlocking your potential

If you use a procedure a lot, by doing many different types of problems, you'll find that you understand both the
why and the how behind the procedure far better than you do after getting a conventional explanation from a
teacher or a book.

Approaching material with a goal of learning it on your own, can give you a unique path to mastery. Taking
responsibility for your own learning is one
of the most important things you can do.

Often no matter how good your teacher and textbook are, it's only when you sneak off and look at other books or
videos that you begin to see what you learn through a single teacher, or book, is a partial version of the full three
dimensional reality of the subject, which has links to still other fascinating topics that are of your choosing.

5.1. Illusions of competence

You can spend a lot of time studying the material, but if you aren't using effective study techniques, you can end
up not learning very much.

Sometimes you can blindly believe you've got everything gripped intellectually, but you haven’t.

When you're absolutely certain that what you've done on a homework or test is fine, be aware that this feeling may
be based on overly confident perspectives arising in part from the left hemisphere.

The right hemisphere helps us step back and put our work into big picture perspective.

5.2. The value of teamwork

One of the best ways to catch your blind spots and errors is to brainstorm and work with others who are also
smartly focused on the topic.

Study groups can be powerfully effective for learning, but if study sessions turn into socializing occasions, all bets
are off. Keep small talk to a minimum, get your group on track. And finish your work. If you find that your group
• meetings start five to 15 minutes late,
• members haven't read the material,
• and the conversation consistently veers off topic,

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you're best off to find another group.

5.3. About tests

Testing, it seems has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind.

You will learn and retain more in one hour of testing than you would if you spent one hour studying.

The answer to the question, “how should I prepare for the test?”, is do whatever it takes to be able to answer “yes”
in the following Dr. Felder checklist:

• Did you make a serious effort to understand the text? Just hunting for relevant worked-out examples
doesn't count.
• Did you work with classmates on homework problems or at least check your solutions with others?
• Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
• Did you participate actively in homework group discussions, contributing ideas and asking questions?
• Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
• Did you understand all your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
• Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren't clear to you?
• If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself you could do
everything on it?
• Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly without spending time on the algebra and
calculations?
• Did you go for the study guide and problems with classmates and quiz one another?
• If there was a review session before the test, did you attended and asked questions about anything you
weren't sure about?
• Did you get a reasonable night's sleep before the test?

If one answer is no, your answers to all the preceding questions may not matter.

Taking a test is serious business. Just as fighter pilots and doctors go through checklists before takeoff and
surgery, going through your own test preparation checklist can vastly improve your chances of success.

5.3.1. Hard start - jump to easy

This is a better technique than doing all of the easy problems first and then tackle the hard problems.

Starting hard, loads the first most difficult problem in mind and then switches attention away from it. Both these
activities are what allow the diffuse mode to begin its work. This is how it works:

1. First take a quick look to get a sense of what it involves.


2. Then start first with what appears to be the hardest problem.
3. After the first minute or two, if you get stuck or you get a sense so you mind not be on the right track, turn
next to an easy problem.
4. Complete or do as much easy problems as you can in a few minutes.

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5. Then move next to another difficult looking problem and try to make a bit of progress.
6. Again, change to something easier as soon as you feel yourself getting bogged down or stuck.
7. When you return to the more difficult problems, you'll often be pleased that the next step or steps in the
problem was seemed to be more obvious to you.

Hard start - jump to easy technique is like being an efficient chef.

Using the hard start-jump to easy technique on tests guarantees that you will have at least a little work done on
every problem, it's also a valuable technique for helping you avoid einstellung, getting stuck on the wrong
approach because you have a chance to look at the problem from differing perspectives.

If you haven't prepared well for a test, then all bets are off. Just take what simple points you can.

6. Additional material

Not necessary suggested in the course.

6.1. Scientific papers

• Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying
with concept mapping. Science, 331(6018), 772-775. doi: 10.1126/science.1199327
• Shana K. Carpenter, "Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice by Shana K. Carpetner", Society for
the Teaching of Psychology, 2014.

6.2. Web tools

• What's Your Learning Style? 20 Questions. http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-


assessments/learning-styles-quiz.shtml (my results: Auditory: 40% Visual: 20% Tactile: 40%)

6.3. Videos

• 2veritasium (Youtube channel) Self Efficacy. https://www.youtube.com/user/2veritasium