Learning how to learn

Learning How to Learn

– interview with Professor Barbara Oakley
– she failed high school maths subjects & is now a Professor in Engineering
– she contends humans have two fundamentally different modes of thinking:
1) careful, concentrated, focused fashion – FOCUSSED MODE
2) unfocused thinking about nothing in particular (such as sitting on a bus or standing in the shower) – DIFFUSE MODE
– when learning something new, a person often has to alternate between these two different modes, particularly when learning something which is different/difficult
– when stuck on a problem, she believes it is essential to “back away” & access the other neural network – you are thinking yourself into a corner – you need a rest, to gain a new perspective by accessing new neural networks
– this approach accesses intuition which is also important for mathematics and science problems
– analogy & metaphor is also super-important in understand maths & science concepts
– they are very important communication strategies/tools
– fun imagery is important for learning & learning well
[Einstein: imagination is more important than knowledge]

– told follow passions & you get better at those
– somethings take longer to get good at
– therefore follow all of your passions (including ordinary number sense)
– because there is a greater demand for STEM (helps employment prospects)

– great teachers are important for students

– realism: solid understanding of fundamental facts (basic number skills)
– practice each day – even for maths – that this is not necessarily “fun”/entertaining

– procrastination – putting things off
– simple trick: set a timer for 25 minutes & practice focusing on whatever it is you need to do for that 25 minutes | when time is done – relax – because relaxing is also important – this accesses the diffuse neural learning systems where learning continues even though you are not conscious of it
– note the flexibility

– intelligence: fmri shows the ability of great learners to reconfigure their brains more quickly

She describes what happens when a student who dislikes maths sees their maths book:
– experience of pain in the anterior insula (same part of brain that registers physical pain)
– to manage this you can:
A) work through it (the pain will begin to dissipate after 20 minutes)
B) quicker way to manage (& seemingly more effective, but only in the short-term) you turn/switch your attention away from the maths book (when it keeps happening, the response becomes habituated & more difficult not to do)

Instead – use the cue of pain & keep an eye on when you avoid things (such as procrastinating)
– this is Metacognitive
– label it as your “procrastination cue”
– this awareness also allows awareness that procrastination could create a larger problem for me in the longer-term
– then stop yourself as soon as you reasonably can
– then get a timer
– turn all other distractions off (phone, emails, games, music etc.,)
– set the timer for 25 minutes
– then work as efficiently & as diligently as you can, maintaining focus (on your work – not on your thinking/monitoring of yourself)
– when 25 minutes has elapsed, then relax

This is called the Pomodoro Technique (developed in the 1980s) Which includes 4 components of effective mental habits for learning:
1) work with time, not against it
2) eliminates burnout/pushing too hard
3) manage distractions
4) timetables / achieves balance between life & work

– remember to do this one small step at a time (one small thing you have been putting off at a time – not renovating your entire life)

– memory boost: visual aspects of memory – more neural hooks – create an image – create funny/stupid analogies – time consuming & slow – initially –

Source: The Psychology Podcast | Podcast date: 24/10/2015

Free online course: Learning How to Learn [MOOC]


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