AHA Moments


Very Incomplete Summary of 'Learning How To Learn'

Before we started apprenticeship in Codurance, there was a list of recommended readings all of which were quite valuable and worth an attentive reading. Yet among other topics like apprenticeship program itself, TDD, etc, I found this non-technical online course most intriguing to me.

‘Learning How to Learn’ is co-authored by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski. It picked some key aspects regarding human's learning process to explain the principles behind them and introduce practical methods to improve your learning experience. In this blog, I’m only to summarize those I believe most valuable to myself in an order of preference. I strongly recommend finishing the course themselves and build up their own knowledge structure. The link to the course is provided in the end of this blog.

The Jewel in the Crown: To overcome procrastination

I’m not saying I’m a serious victim from procrastination so much so that I would miss a deadline. But whenever I realized that I had been procrastinating, which was obviously after wandering around with irrelevant things for quite some time, the feeling of regret came to me and I wished so much that I could dodge that feeling next time. And you know, I failed again.

In the course, it mentioned, the root cause of procrastination is that your brain wants to avoid the pains relating to the tasks you’re not good at, or not enjoy doing. That’s why you are attempted to safari online, click on any wikipedia links you could find, etc. YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO ESCAPE.

So how to fix it? I found the following two steps work perfect for me.

  1. Focus on the process to finish the task instead of finishing the task itself. In other words, you don’t have to finish the task at once, you just start by investing a dedicative span of time at the task. Within that time span, you should only do things about the task and nothing else.
  2. Take a short break after the working span. And start another cycle. The short break is important as a reward for yourself. It will reinforce your motives to overcome procrastination so take it as a routine whether you feel tired or not.

The techniques described are also called pomodoro. Google the term to find out more.

How to change the habit

Four factors of a habit: Cue, Routine, Reward, Belief. Cue is the trigger leading you to follow the routine of that habit. The routines comes so naturally that you even couldn’t realize the cue was there. Though those four factors are about general habits, they also play a role in procrastination.

So if you want to change a bad habit, pay attention to the ‘cue’ for your habitual behaviour. Only after you realize it could you fight it. Use your mind power to break the chain between cue and routine, thus you can overcome it. It’s said in the course that mind power is a precious resource and only harness it at perfect timeing.

Two thinking mode: focused and diffused

As they literally mean, focused mode is when you concentrated on something. When you’re not, you’re in diffused mode. Staying in focused mode too long would limit your eyesight. The trick is to alternate between two modes deliberately and let the subconscious to explore all fields in your mind to come out with a solution you might not expect before.

Ways to learn better

  1. Recall: To recall what you’ve learnt is even more effective than drawing the concept map. Also tests are helpful. Though most of us hate tests.
  2. Illusions of competence: You think you know. But actually you do not. Highlighting with mark pen, simply look at solutions and understand them both result in this issue. Simply recall the content or work out the solution by yourself can break the illusions.
  3. Deliberate practice: Try something you are not good at. Change the way you normally do.
  4. Write a to-do list for tomorrow before go to sleep. Your subconscious will help to prepare for the tasks.
  5. Have a daily to-do list. It makes you focus on the current task without thinking about others things to do. You don’t need to worry about missing other things.
  6. Memory palace: It’s a technique to memorize large amount of things. It’s simple in principle, but a lot of deliberate practices are required to master the technique.
  7. Physical exercises are by far best way to help you learn faster than any drugs.
  8. Generally people have just 4 spaces/chunks in working memory. So basically you can’t focus on multiple tasks at all.

There are also lots of other stuffs mentioned in the course. Yet I don’t have confidence to explain them clearly or they seem less prominent to me than others. Since learning are part of our daily life, it pay to review the contents in the course from time to time.

Link to course: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn/home/info