Let me start off by a little introduction: I will be using my blog to complete an assignment for a MOOC I am completing. The MOOC is "Learning how to learn" offered by UC San Diego and led by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski. More about that here.
For this assignment I will be covering three aspects that are explained in the course, that'll make you a better learner and I’m planning to use to tackle the issues I know - by experience - I am struggling with when it comes to learning.
But first, something about me: I am currently aiming to get more proficient in my learning abilities. For me that means first learning faster and with less frustration, making the most of the invested time enabling me better to achieve the goals I set for myself. Those goals are: Certain IT certifications, Coursera IT MOOC’s, learning IT standards. Almost anything I set out to learn has something to do with my professional live. For 2015, my personal goals include earning a new IT certification, starting up a professional blog and learning a new IT standard.
With the above personal goals (and to fulfil the mission of the course assignment) I’ll be explaining three core concepts - and how they relate to each other - first in words (which will be coming in a minute) and then synthesizing them in a mind map, not only to explain the concepts but also by looking at the broader picture (something important generally when trying to master and successfully apply concepts) and to visually document how the concepts intertwine and - - reinforce each other to get you to learn better and be more efficient. I’ll also be enriching the provided material by providing links to tools which I am using to apply the concepts in practice. When I do so, I’ll provide the link to the source material/tool/website so that you yourself can use them to when you find it applicable.
The thee main concepts I’ll be explaining are: Procrastination, Recall and Chunks. All three are of great influence on how you set out to learn (and master) something.
Procrastination : the art of postponing
Procrastination is something that happens almost automatic. When you need to do something that seems hard (note the “seems”), your brain activates a process to get you out that uncomfortable thought (the fact you need to that “hard” task) to improve “the here and now.” It is a reflex of your brain. The point is: you can control that reflex once you know it is there without applying much “willpower”. “How ?” you’ll ask. There are three main methods you’ll need to apply :
1. Maintain a task list: At the end of each day create a list of things to do the next day. I use the webapp Todoist for this.
2. Create habit of doing the tasks: Foresee and plan for some time each day to do the tasks you set out to do the previous day. Use the pomodoro technique to keep you focused on the task and let your mind “breathe” between.
3. Focus on making progress (it's is a process) not on finishing (delivering a product): Don’t try to finish until you have the result you wanted, but rather focus (and be content with) a progress to the result.
Small pieces of progress will eventually lead to a finished result. And by completing those “small progresses” you’ll be surprised how fast you get the result you wanted (that seemed very “hard” at first).
Chunks - Information connected through Meaning
Chunks are bits of information that are connected through meaning. They can be small at the beginning when learning a new concept but tend to get bigger as you learn to master the new concept. Forming chunks is an important process during learning. You can improve the forming of chunks by improving your focus, understand what you are learning (“don’t just read the material”) and recall what you can remember just after reading/learning a new part of what you are trying to learn. It also helps to form the bigger picture and learn to apply to newly formed chunks. Applying not only means “How” but also knowing “when” to apply the newly formed chunks. The "when" is best learned by practicing: interleaving relatively easy exercises with more difficult ones. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, because they let you learn something more deeply (each time you make the mistake the probability of making it again gets smaller). Also, it is a great idea to revisit material you already learned, revisiting it so to speak, to deepen your understanding of the material. This wil let your brain chunk the material more effectively.
Recall - Hard but worth it
I briefly touched upon the subject above when writing about chunks. Trying (and really that: just try !) to recall what you can remember after having studied new material (with all books closed) already helps to engrain the new material in your brain by activating the neural pathways that just formed. When you do not recall (or try to), the probability that they’ll dissipate before they have engrained is higher. It is important to realize that it is not a big deal when you cannot remember the nitty gritty details of what you just studied. Just recalling the main ideas is already a worthy exercise and will pay off. Details of the concepts can follow later (upon your next session). In doing so, you’ll gradually engrain the chunks in your memory so that - when ready - they can be used in greater chunks themselves and your knowledge of the subject deepens.
So, with that out of our way, how to these concepts relate to each other? How can you optimally make use of these techniques to make you a better learner? These are some key questions that I’ll answer below, making a logical whole, explaining how I use them and maybe convincing you to do the same.
Lets start with Tasks. Creating Tasks will let you tackle procrastination if used correctly. Create tasks when you think about them (this means: Have your task system always at your disposal: I you’re like me, you’ll think about doing stuff - or at least trying to not forget to do them - all the time), so that you can enter them in your task list, causing you to not have to remember them (This has also the added value that they won’t occupy a “slot” in your working memory.) Creating tasks efficiently and correctly is a science on it’s own. The Getting Things Done book by David Allen is a good starting point if you’re interested. As said, I am using Todoist for my tasks list needs. It works on every platform (Android, iOS, Mac, PC, browser ...)
Next: you’ve learned that recall is ideal for creating chunks. So why not create tasks for that (with a certain time and frequency to them) so that you can “check” that task when you’ve done a “recall” session. That will feed your zombies to give you a feeling of accomplishment. Remember: The Process is more important then Product. So one (one) recall session already sets you on the way to the product (and lets you make progress). Enter these tasks at regular intervals in your task system so you won’t forget and keep them in your task list (which you - at the end of each day - read and refresh). Checking these tasks will also give you a sense of fulfillment when you start checking more and more (“Hey, these week I completed 40 tasks!”) without actually having finished the actual Product. Use the pomodoro technique so that you don’t start overlearning (25 min. of focused attention is enough per session).
After a while, this will become a habit. And that’s where you want to be: create good, effective habits that will help you learn more effectively.
I’ve summed it all up and have tried to give a visual overview about how these methods and concept all work together below (you can download the overview by clicking on this link)
|Mind map of Learning Concepts and how they relate to each other|
Anyway, I hope that by reading this assignment I’ve showed some added value the course and also demonstrated my understanding of the course material. Ive also provided some useful links to material you yourself can use to get you up to speed in improving your learning.
I wish you a lot of succes in becoming a better learner !
Thanks for reading and assessing my contribution. You can also leave a comment below if you wish to do so or you have something to share on the topics discussed.