Learning How to Learn—Coursera

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Analogy and metaphor are helpful when trying to learn something new.
focused vs. diffused thinking modes
Focused –

– a direct approach to solving problems using rational, sequential, analytical approaches e.g. maths, science

Diffuse –

– the brain makes random connections along new pathways in a relaxed fashion
– the mode of thinking we are in when taking a shower, going for a walk, exercising etc

alternating between modes
You can’t be in both focused and diffused modes of thinking at the same time.
Learning forms new synapses (connections) on the dendrites of neurons in the brain.
Procrastination seems to involve an attempt to switch your mental attention away from something that you find slightly painful.
pomodoro technique
25 minutes of focused learning with zero distractions or interruptions. Helps you focus more on the process of learning—not the product.
practice makes permanent
Neural thought patterns are built and strengthened through repeated practice.
long-term vs working memory
Long term memory – like a storage warehouse; distributed throughout a large area of the brain
Working memory – immediate and conscious; centered out of the prefrontal cortex; holds up to only four ‘chunks’ of information; inefficient mental blackboard.
spaced repetition technique
Spaced repetition involves repeating what you want to retain over a number of days. This will build stronger neural pathways in the brain and helps move information into your long-term memory.
allows the brain to flush away metabolic toxins.
dream learning
If you go over what you are learning right before you take a nap or going to sleep for the evening, it will increase the chance of you dreaming about it.
helps the brain develop new neurons
a process by which individual pieces of information are bound together or compressed into a meaningful whole
chunks, like groups of puzzle pieces, form important building blocks that help you to see the big picture.
octopus of attention
Focusing your “octopus of attention” to connect parts of the brain to tie together ideas is an important part of the focused mode of learning. It is also often what helps get you started in creating a chunk.
When you are stressed, your “attentional octopus” begins to lose the ability to make connections. This is why your brain doesn’t seem to work right when you’re angry, stressed, or afraid.
creating chunks requires
1. focused and undivided attention
2. understanding of the basic idea
3. practice and repetition to help deepen your patterns and gain big picture context
top-down learning
– ‘big picture’ processes allow you to see where what you are learning fits in
bottom-up learning
– practice and repetition can help you both build and strengthen each chunk so you can easily gain access to it when needed.
two best study methods
recall and testing
illusions of competence
cheating yourself into thinking you already learned some material when you really haven’t
ineffective study methods
– concept mapping
– understanding solutions but not working through them yourself
– highlighting text
– practicing only the easy content
– re-reading
study environment
changing up your environment deepens learning and improves retrieval. Very helpful for tests.
– like a superglue that helps hold the underlying memory traces together
– understanding is an important aspect of chunking. It isn’t enough to create a chunk all by itself, though–practice and repetition in a variety of contexts are also needed.
– Just understanding how a problem was solved does NOT necessarily create a chunk that you can easily call to mind later.
– You often realise the first time you truly understand something is when you can actually do it yourself.
affects focused learning and attention
signals in relation to unexpected rewards
affects social life and risk taking behaviour
the idea that a chunk you’ve mastered in one area can often help you much more easily learn chunks of information in different areas that can share surprising commonalities.
library of chunks
When you are trying to figure something out, if you have a good library of chunks, you can more easily skip to the right solution by—metaphorically speaking—”listening” to whispers from your diffuse mode. Your diffuse mode can help you connect two or more chunks together in new ways to solve novel problems.
law of serendipity
lady luck favours the one who tries
deliberate practice
is when you apply extra attention in practicing the material that you find to be the most difficult. This is the type of practice that experts use to speed up their knowledge gain.
your simple initial thought, an idea you already have in mind, may prevent a better idea or solution from being found. Sometimes you have to unlearn your erroneous older ideas or approaches even while you’re learning new ones.
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. Mixing up your techniques/methods will help build flexibility and creativity with your learning.
four parts to habits
1. the cue – location, time, feelings, reactions
2. the process – plan ahead
3. the reward
4. the belief
overcoming procrastination
– keep a planner journal
– commit yourself to certain routines and tasks each day
– delay rewards until you finish the task
– watch for procrastination cues
– remove yourself from distracting environments
– writing the next day’s task list before you go to sleep
– have back up plans for when you still procrastinate
– eat your frogs first every day
– focus on the ‘process’ (flow of time) and not the ‘product’
brain cells that
– provide nutrients to neurons
– maintain extracellular ion balance
– are involved in repair after injury
– play a role in learning
memory palace technique
placing mental images in a scene that is familiar to you
good study habits
– space out study sessions
– remove distractions
– give yourself extra time on harder concepts
– focus on the harder aspects of the material
– interleave your learning techniques, practices and subjects
improving memory
– create flashcards
– spaced-repetition
– remember lists by creating meaningful groups
– remember number by associating them with memorable events
– create detailed visual and spatial images of content
– memory palace technique
– use your handwriting in place of typing
– evoke the senses
working memory
– centered out of the pre-frontal cortex
– has to do with what you are immediately and consciously processing in your mind.
long term memory
– living and changing all the time
– are subject to modification by a process called ‘reconsolidation’
– take time to consolidate
– requires hippocampus to store memories in the cortex
imposter sydnrome
referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”
“the virtue of the less brilliant”
hard start – jump to easy technique
This method involves starting with the easiest problems in order to build up your confidence for the harder test questions later.

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