My Takeaways From Barbara Oakley’s ‘Learning How to Learn’

I came across the Coursera’s Learning How To Lean MOOC while checking the list of the 50 most popular Moocs of alltime. On that list, Oakley’s MOOC was at the number one position. I was a bit surprised at first to see this kind of MOOC being the most popular, but after a second thought my surprise vanished. After all, isn’t the audience attending MOOCs supposed to be genuinely interested in learning? In some way that was a confirmation.

Beside the fact that it caught my attention, the title intrigued me. For the past years, I’ve never stopped learning new things every day, and my interest in learning has only grown more with time. I believe life to be a journey full of an infinite amount of learning, and the challenge reside in learning the right thing, in the right way. The MOOC seemed to unlock the secret on becoming an effective learner, and that was more than enough for me to enroll.

I found the course simple and concise, rather practical with the right amount of theory to back up the concepts. It explains in a simple way the process of learning and provides the attendee with techniques and tips in order to apply the learning. Moreover the way the course is designed make use of the techniques explained and demonstrate them. Beside making the learning more effective, this provide the attendees with applied examples of the techniques.

In this post I won’t be covering all the course, neither summarizing it. I’ll be just listing my main takeaways hoping it’ll be also useful to you to. Regarding the course itself, I do recommend it to all learners in any domain and any age.I believe that the techniques and explanation can help anyone in learning more effectively and easily any topic he’s interested in.

In the course you’ll learn about the difference between focused and diffused modes. When learning a new topic, one usually spends time focusing on the topic,this is what is known as the focused mode. All learners will recognize this mode as it’s the common way for learning. On the contrary the diffused mode is when you let your mind wander not focusing on a specific topic, but rather giving your brain the space and time to revisit and reinforce what you learned when in the focused mode. Combination of both focused and diffused modes is essential for an effective learning.The course introduces the Pomodoro technique as a tool to alternate efficiently between focused mode and short breaks. More importantly,it invites the learner to look at the learning as a process and not as a product. The product being the goal to learn something, and the process being how you learn it. When one focuses on the product the goal can quickly become difficult to achieve. The advised technique is to put in place a process of cadenced learning sessions, that will help the learner achieve the goal, and avoid procrastination. By splitting the learning in small chunks, interleaved with short and long breaks, the learning become effective and achievable. This approach will also enable the learner to alternate between focused and diffused modes. Deliberate practice,where the learner practices everyday for 15 to 20 minutes a certain topic, is an example of applying this technique.

The course discusses the benefits of exercising a physical activity in improving the learning. When exercising your body, your brain will be in diffused mode and will work on reinforcing your learning or generating new ideas.Sleeping is also an essential activity for learning, it helps the brain reinforce the learning.

When learning, one must pay attention not to fall into the illusion of competency. Learning something by reading a book or watching a video is not enough, to avoid the illusion of competency, one must evaluate his learning by doing tests,asking himself question, that will require him to recall what he learnt. By doing that, one can improve his learning effectiveness.

Another caveat is overlearning. Repetitive learning of the same thing will not make a better expert, instead one should aim to deepen his knowledge and increase the level of difficulty of the exercises, that would improve the learning. Learning is not just about memorizing things, what makes it effective is taking the time to understand the why and the how of things. Understanding is a key ingredient for effective learning. One good way of test your understanding is to explain what you learned to friends and colleagues. Explaining will not just help you check your understanding it also a way to recall your learning and thus makes it more durable.

Metaphors are also a good technique to learn and memorize things, if you enroll to the course you’ll see a good example on how to use metaphors for effective learning.

I really enjoyed going through the course, it was the opportunity for me to learn how to formalize a learning approach and to understand the importance of the process of learning. If you’re interested in learning more, you know what to do next.

photo credits:
Pomodoro technique (license), Learn (license), Anyone who stops learning is old (license)