Dmitry Petrov Back

Learning how to learn: my walkthrough

I decided to write down my own thoughts and conclusions from the course “Learning how to learn” as a final project. My own part will represent some ideas that I have and that provide more context to the course on my opinion.

First of all, the motivation part. Why do we learn? What do we learn? This term has a very broad definition and it’s very easy to end up learning lot’s of things of very little importance or use for us. The world around us is fascinating and there are tons of things that are worth knowing. In reality the number of these areas is even bigger and every learning subject hides lots of books, videos and courses behind it. You can take photography, drawing, biology, artificial intelligence - any field you can imagine, and it will be really huge and can be split into smaller independent pieces that are huge on itself. When we learn we’re trying to make ourselves better in this sense or another and it’s very easy to start learning everything at once and it’s obvious that the possibility of learning everything at once is much lower than in situation when you have only one subject that you can master. So, failure is very much possible and this might bring the illusion that the ability to learn has vanished and basically nothing new finds its way into the head, which is just not true.

As was stated in the course we all have two types of memory - shortterm and longterm one, and what happens is that we place some initial knowledge into the shortterm memory and then switch to another subject which will mostly replace the previous one with new information. The solution is to have a focus and it’s very important on my opinion. The focus in this situation is an ability to prioritize items that you want to learn and prevent yourself to learn anything that is not a top priority.

How to get the focus? The most important thing on my opinion is to have an idea what exactly do you want to reach at the end or at least to know the direction where you want to go. To have the goal or to feel the meaning is important in all areas of life, but it’s really important in learning, because it will help to structure studies and to define a roadmap for future.

These are the most important things that I want to add on my own. If we talk about individual courses or books that are to be mastered I would like to introduce my own favorite set of ideas from the course, that I treat as very important.

The two most important concepts that I got from the book are chunking and the notion of long and shortterm memory. These terms are not actionable by themselves but different methods described in the course help use one concept or another.

So the process of learning from my understanding is a continuous process of forming chunks and putting them in the longterm memory where we can use it.

Which of the methods shown in the course are most helpful on my opinion and from my experience? I would say that they are practice, (self)explanation and the ability to switch off.

First of all, practice. The fact we understand something doesn’t necesary mean that we know it or can do it. Most of the times our understanding is superficial or doesn’t take into account all aspects of reality, but that matters a lot and not only for learning new subject but also for using it in real life. I would take the example that is closest to me at the moment. When we talk about algorythms in robotics there are lots of layers in them. You can learn high level planning solutions, but if you try to implement them, you will find that they do not just work by themselves, there are several layers below them, each closer to the hardware than the previous one. On the top level you can produce command clean(floor), but level below there is a whole new set of problems that include navigation on the middle level and actual interaction with the hardware on the level below that, and the complexity of the subjects is not evident when looking on the topmost algorythms. Given that the practice does not only allow to get the ideas from the shortterm memory to a longterm one, it also provides lots of valuable insights of how this idea interacts with others and can probably suggest the next steps in the studies and maybe even can influence on future projects that you may have.

With all these properies practice is helpful in conquering both chunking and putting subject in a longterm memory for later wild use. Practice really helps to get the feeling of the constraints, limitations and dependencies of the ideas. The important point is that not every type of practice is helpful. It’s very easy to solve simple problems but only finding solutions to difficult ones makes us smarter.

The second important part for me is (self)explanation. I would say that it’s a somewhat natural part of practicing, but if with doing exercises you can find the limitations of the methods and ideas, with explaining ideas you can immediately see the parts that are still weak and are needed to be studied better.

The last thing is an ability to switch from the subject and be able to keep rhythm and relax. If we find the goal that we strongly want to achieve it’s very tempting to try to bruteforce it and learn it through several very long sprints by devoting all energy to learning. The sad truth for me is that whenever I tried to do that I failed because I got exousted very soon after beginning. The correct way that really works for me is to develop the rhythm of doing something and try to do my best during scheduled hours and then switch to some very different task such as movies or (especially) physical exercises. A believe that doing sports involves very different parts of the brain that studies and sometimes I can really turn myself into kind of thoughtless mode when I just do what I do and all thoughts are shifted to the background. I think it exactly correlates with the diffuse thinking mentioned in the course. But for me it’s not only the way to process information in the background. Switching activity is also a way to relax and besides allowing as to grow in several directions it also allows to fill the progress in different things you’re doing and that helps to keep the motivation on the higher level.

At the end I want to dwell a bit on the procrastination. I think all people face it at some level or another. Sometimes the task is not that pleasant to do or it’s just too big to grasp or we’re just tired or didn’t get enough sleep. As was said in the course, for everyone there are cues that trigger something within us sending us to spend another twenty minutes in the facebook. But what’s good is that we can build them to help us to work. Pomodorro technique is especially helpful in this sense that it puts the focus on the work. It may seem that 25 minutes is not that big time, but if you try to setup timer during the work, you can suddenly find out that in some days it can happen that you accomplish just two or three sets of pomodorro. Even with this technique there is still a room for emprovement and it’s about planning. Simple todo list will help a lot, because you there will be no excuse that there is nothing to do and even it you are not in the best shape in this particular day you can just take one task after another and complete them even mechanically - anyway you still make a progress and you wouldn’t otherwise.

I think I’ll finish here. All the things described here are a prototype of my ongoing learning experiment. I really struggle to implement it in full scale in my life and will be very glad if anyone can find this document helpful in any sense. Thanks for your attention.