Learning How to Learn

What I want to teach you about “Learning How to Learn”

Three simple techniques can help you improve your ability to learn. As you will see, a six year old can do it, so can you!

  • Use both highly attentive states of learning (known as focused mode) and more relaxed ones (known as diffuse mode) to optimize your learning
  • Learn how to use the Pomodoro Technique to overcome procrastination
  • Understand why sleep is so important in the learning process

How Will My Approach Help You Learn How to Learn?

  • I will use video of my six year old son to create a visual connection to the learning technique making it easy to remember (definitely because he is so cute!)
  • You put the learning video example into what’s called your “memory palace” (see reference 1) so that you can remember the technique easily
  • My approach focuses on the learning process, which can be used to modify your study habits as opposed to focusing on the product (the output of the learning process)

The Structure of the Topics

I will use the following headings to describe each learning topic then use a video or photograph to illustrate the topic in use:

  • What can you do? Describes the specific approach to improve your ability to learn
  • Example. Provides a description of the accompanying video or photographic illustration that you can use to remember the learning technique who is in
  • Why does it Work? Provides a reference and brief description of the research behind the technique Kindergarten

Focused Mode – Using Recall

What can you do?

When studying or reading, close the book and look away. Think about what are the main ideas of the chapter. As you practice this technique, you’ll begin noticing changes in how you read and how much you recall (see reference 2)

Example

Jake uses flash cards, puzzles, and books to recall facts about the U.S. Presidents. His grandparents are helping him with recall.

Why does it work?

  • Reference: 10 Rules of Good Studying, Excerpted from A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, pages 257-260.
  • In her book, Dr. Oakley identifies ten rules of good and bad studying. She highlights techniques such as using recall to “to generate the ideas from inside yourself”

Focused Mode – Using Spaced Repetition

What can you do?

Learning well means allowing time to pass between focused learning sessions. Space out your learning and don’t try to cram learning into marathon sessions.

Example

Jake practices his guitar just a few minutes a day to reinforce what he learns in his weekly lesson

Why does it work?

  • Reference:10 Rules of Good Studying, Excerpted from A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, pages 257-260.
  • Dr. Oakley identifies ten rules of good and bad studying. She highlights techniques such as spacing repetition to “Spread out your learning in any subject a little every day”. Spaced repetition allows time for the neural structures to become consolidated in your long term memory

The Diffuse Mode – Take a Break

What can you do?

The next time you are tackling a tough problem, work on it for a few minutes. When you get stuck, move on to an another problem. Your diffuse mode can continue working on the tougher problem in the background. When you return to the tougher problem, you will be pleasantly surprised by the progress you’ve made.

Example

In this video, Jake takes a break to participate in batting practice. Little does he know that this is helping him process learning using the diffuse mode.

Why Does it Work?

  • Reference: A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, pages 18 – 19, 35.
  • General Diffuse Mode Activators: Go to the gym, play a sport; jog, walk or swim; dance; go for a drive; draw or paint; take a bath; listen to music; play songs on a musical instrument; meditate or pray; sleep

Pomodoro Technique – Focus

What can you do?

Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on the learning at hand with no interruptions or distractions (cell phone, TV, etc.) Give yourself a reward when you finish.

Example

In this video, Jake uses a Pomodoro timer to enable focus on completing an art project.

Why Does it Work:

Pomodoro Technique – Reward

What can you do?

Give yourself a reward. It can be small such as indulging in latte or read a favorite website. Or give yourself an evening of mindless television or a watch a hockey game (my personal favorite).

Example

Jake’s favorite reward is a new toy. Give yourself a reward after completing 25 minutes of interrupted focus.

Jake chooses a toy
Jake chooses a toy

Why Does it Work?

  • Reference: A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, page 95.
  • Habits continue because they reward us – give us a dollop of pleasure. Procrastination is an easy habit to develop because the reward – moving your mind’s focus to something more pleasant – happens so quickly. But good habits can be rewarded. Finding ways to reward good study habits in math and science is vital to escaping procrastination

Last Thought – Sleep on It

What can you do?

Sleep is a critical part of the learning process. Think about it as nightly housecleaning that keeps your brain healthy. Getting a good night’s sleep enables you to think more clearly (and learn better)!

Example

In this example, we simply see a photograph of Jake sleeping on our flight home from Los Angeles as his memory adapts to include his latest learnings.

Learning while you sleep
Learning while you sleep

Why does it work?

  • Reference: Sleep on It: Sleep Consolidates Memory of New Motor Task, Pam Harrison, September 08, 2014. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/831299.
  • Sleep enables the brain to release toxins and create new synapses to create new memory patterns. Sleep is the ultimate diffuse mode of learning (see reference 3).

What did you just learn?

You just learned three simple techniques that will improve your ability to learn

  1. Use both focus and diffused modes of learning. I have found recall and spaced repetition to be the top ways to improve my learning. You can too. Take a break and let the diffuse mode help you learn while you take on an activity.
  2. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple way to overcome procrastination.
  3. Sleep is the ultimate diffuse model way of learning and is critical to optimized learning.

Learning how to learn is easy and can be fun! Good luck to you.

References

™1 A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, pages 160-161.

™2 A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, page 26.

™3 A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014, page 35.

Learning How to Learn

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