In a course titled, ‘Learning how to learn’ – by professor Barbara Oakley, we learn some of the best approaches one can take during the process of learning something new.
Gone are the days of those “12 hour study benders”, none of which I actually did. They were more like, 6 hours of cramming and the other 6 just fucking around – either mindlessly scrolling through material or just straight day dreaming about unrelated things, like the stresses in my life or what alcoholic or non alcoholic drink I wanted for that night (coffee was a big one in the non alcoholic department).
The whole concept of cramming is ineffective and impractical, in many ways.
You expend unnecessary energy in the process of cramming and this is because of the two modes, both requiring your attention.
You want to be able to go into focused modes of thinking, in the case of first seeing something like a fact, concept or procedure.
In order to understand the new thing that you are learning, your mind will focus you onto that thing, but it requires concentration because it’s a new skill.
Think back to your first drive in a car. Your mind was not working the same way as it does today. You had to think every step through with focus, concentration and perhaps a bit of anxiety. The mind was rigid in that state.
It’s not until you step away from that focused mode of thinking into a more relaxed and open mode of thinking – the diffuse mode, where your mind can dig a little deeper and make connections with things you have learned in the past.
Another important thing that is emphasised in this course is the technique of spaced repetition. When you first learn something, put it away and come back to it in a few days and review it, then put it away and come back a few days after that, and repeat.
You are continuously coming back to the same thing, but you increase the time intervals between each review. That way, everything is always being refreshed, even if it’s just lightly. By the time you finish, you won’t have to cram a damn thing. You would have provided enough time for your brain to go into both focused modes and the diffused modes, where it can relax and dig deeper into your psyche in order to make new and improved connections.
🧱 Learning new things is like laying bricks. You can lay some, but it’s best to walk away and let the mortar dry properly before you return to lay more.
One thing I have found the most interesting so far is the pomodoro technique – 25 minutes of focused mode thinking, and take a break for a few minutes, and repeat.
If we use the brain as a muscle analogy, this reminds me of weights training, or even HIIT (high intensity interval training). You do your reps, then rest – repeat. During the time of your reps, you are expending energy, contracting and stretching your muscles. This is the way you build those muscles – tear and repair.
With this technique, you are far less likely to suffer from the fatigue that would come after trying to go for an hour or two of straight study. You sustain your energy over a longer period, and you put in your reps.
This is the same principle that can be applied to learning – this pomodoro technique of 25 minute intervals of focused learning. Consider them as short sprint training sessions for the mind.