Being a lawyer, constant learning is a basic feature of my job, and I also consider learning a hobby, so I never really stopped learning ever since I have hit school many-many years ago.
I have written here about MOOCs already, and I am also planning to write about the courses I have taken yet, but right now I would like to recommend one particular course, that I am taking on Coursera, which is the best MOOC platform out there currently in my opinion.
Up until recently I only took legal courses, that one way or another relate to my profession. A few weeks ago I spotted this course which was just about to start, titled Learning How To Learn. Since I am constantly seeking methods and techniques to polish my skills to be able to be more creative and learn more effectively, I thought this was just for me. The instructors of the course refer to it as a user’s manual to your brain, offering insights into how your brain works and reacts, and how you can get the best out of it while learning. And I am telling you, although I became pretty familiar with the literature about learning over the years, this one was as useful as it could be. I am more convinced than ever that these things should be taught at school prior to anything else.
This post is actually an assignment I am doing for the course, so special greetings to my “MOOC-mates” who came by to peer grade my work. Hope you’ll like it. :)
For the assignment, I will have to share three of the key course topics with all of you. It is hard to choose but three, I would share the whole course with everybody if I could, but I hope this short teaser will get you interested in Learning How To Learn anyway.
- The first idea I would like to call your attention to is having a planner/journal/notebook. This is something I have been practicing for a long time now, I have a notebook with me all the time to write things in it. At work actually my notebook is much of an institution, knowing most about my job it is almost more important part of the team than I am. :) First of all, writing things down makes what you learn more permanent. Not just because you can find it later, but many scientists proved that the motion of handwriting itself activates parts of your brain important in learning, that are not actived while typing. Also, if you have a planner or whatever you call it, writing task lists is another great thing to do. Now I am sort of a time management nerd. The thing is I have an intellectually demanding job that I love so much that sometimes I spend time with it even past working hours, but then I have a passion for learning, and a lot of other things I love to do, and fortunately I also have friends for whom I need time, so 24 hours of one day just never seem enough for me. These written task lists are a great help to organize your day and make your work more efficient. It was emphasized in the course that the best we can do, is to write these daily task lists the night before, and again, handwriting is important. This way your brain will start working even without you knowing it while you are asleep.
- One of the key techniques for more efficient learning is the Pomodoro technique. Again, time management is crucial for me, and this technique is really helpful in preventing procrastination thus keeping you from wasting your own time. It is called the Pomodoro technique after the old fashioned kitchen timer shaped like a “pomodoro” which is Italian for tomato. So the technique is basically setting the timer for 25 minutes and devote those 25 minutes to focusing solely on whatever you have to learn or do. For 25 minutes then you have to shut down every disturbing factor (social media, e-mail notifications, telephone, etc.), and focus on nothing but your work. Focusing on the process instead of the product is important if you want to avoid procrastinating (which you tend to do when you think you have no time to finish anyway). It is also important to reward yourself after every “Pomodoro” - like I am now going to spend 25 minutes writing this assignment, then allow myself to check my Messenger quickly. The 25 minutes can also vary, it can be 22 minutes or 28 for you, more, or less, however you feel like. You can use this technique whether you have to learn something, do an assignment, write something, or sometimes I even use it when doing different chores.
- The third thing I think sounds pretty obvious to a lot of us, but I have never used it consciously before in learning. And what a shame really, I could have done much better if I did! Both the focused and diffuse modes of thinking are important part of the learning process. It means that every now and then after a certain period of focused moded learning we should consciously switch into diffuse mode - like meditate, go for a walk, listen to music, or just go to sleep (which is the ultimate diffuse mode). Our brain continues working and we can get great ideas and solve problems while in diffuse mode. The most important lesson out of all this for me is remembering how I wasted my own time a lot of times concentrating even when I was too tired to learn anything. Should I have known it would have been more useful to just let my mind relax, I would have been much better off at exams too. Our attention was especially called to the importance of sleep, because while sleeping our brain works: cleans out the poisonous non-information and builds in the important material learnt before. I have always known that sleeping well enough before an exam is important, just never imagined how much.
These were some of my favorite topics, to learn more about learning, check out this great TEDx talk of our professor, Barbara Oakley, where she briefly touches some of the main topics of the course.
She also has a great book about learning called A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). Now believe me, my mind is for everything in the world, except for numbers, and I still love the book very much. The author herself emphasizes, that the book is for everybody, not just learners of math and science.
Last, I would like to share my favorites from the recommended readings of the course. These are some very good articles, I hope you’ll check them out.
- Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” June 2, 2014, The New York Times.
- Robin Scott, “The 30 Second Habit That Can Have a Big Impact On Your Life,” Feb 18, 2014, The Huffington Post.
- John Hamilton. (October 17, 2013). "Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep." NPR All Things Considered.
- Brigid Schulte, (May 16, 2014). "For a more productive life, daydream." CNN Opinion.
- Robert Wright, (April 21, 2012). "How to Break the Procrastination Habit" The Atlantic.
So, this is it about Learning How To Learn in brief. I hope I got you all interested. If it is so, the good news is that they already announced the new session in October! Starting October 3, this four-week course is really worth every effort! It surely can change your perspective about learning and make you more effective in it!