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Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects

Coursera · Deep Teaching Solutions · 54 HN points · 135 HN comments

HN Academy has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Coursera's "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects" from Deep Teaching Solutions.
Course Description

This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.

This course can be taken independent of, concurrent with, or prior to, its companion course, Mindshift. (Learning How to Learn is more learning-focused, and Mindshift is more career-focused.) A related course by the same instructors is Uncommon Sense Teaching.

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As many students know, you can cram a whole semester worth of material in just a few learning sessions before an exam: you can pass exam but you forget everything as fast as you've learned it. Use such methods for subjects that you don't care but must pass.

If you do care about something long term, spread the lessons over time.

For fundamentals, Learning to learn course is recommended

Aug 08, 2022 · laserlight on To Become Wise, Do Less
> I often have the experience of banging away at some problem for a few hours, then going away and not thinking about it for a while then a simple resolution pops into my mind without much effort.

This phenomenon is explained by focused vs. diffused modes of thinking, which I first heard about in Learning How to Learn MOOC [0]. There are many popular articles on the Web explaining the concept.


This looks like a real solid course, thanks for sharing!
I did the "Learning How to Learn" course on Coursera [1] some years back. Granted, I might not have applied the teachings I got. I will be sure to review the video/course and/or Barbara Oakley's book "A Mind for Numbers." [2]

I cannot say why I can't solve the easy problems on LeetCode. But I should point out I only recently started attempting them, and it sure is getting easier.

Despite the downsides of schools/boot-camps, I believe they give you an okay outline of a specific field.

[1] [2]

Learn the basics of how human memory works, and techniques for making knowledge stick in long-term memory. Here's a few resources that teach this at an approachable level:

[1] A Mind for Numbers (book):

[2] Learning How To Learn (Coursera course):

[3] Make It Stick (book):

[4] Augmenting Long-Term Memory (blog post):

[5] SuperMemo Guru (website):

[6] Nelson Dellis (YouTube):

I second the use of Anki--it's a great tool. Other (non-free) options include SuperMemo and IDoRecall.

Third-ing the use of Anki, and I found it weirdly inspirational to watch YouTube videos of how Med Students use the system. It's some combination of being energized by their go-getter attitude, and being deeply relieved that I'm not in their shoes
Forthing the use of Anki. I actually do most of my studying on mobile, using Ankidroid. And though it works great on a regular LCD phone, I absolutely love it on an E-Ink ebook reader. I personally use the Barnes and Noble Nook, because you can install Ankidroid and a launcher in ten minutes without root on that device.
Thank you especially for linking the Augmenting Long-Term Memory post. I'm just on the part going through the author's usage of Anki and it has already inspired me to download the client and try it myself as well. I don't think I'll put nearly as many things in it as the author says he does, but it sounds like it can be an incredible tool for whatever we find worth remembering.

Update: After reading the API section of this post, I found this very last part interesting in the context of OP's question[0]. I thought it may be worth highlighting to the OP that even a heavy user of a memory system recognizes that knowledge we don't regularly use may not be worth remembering.

[0]"A more challenging partial failure mode is Ankifying what turn into orphan APIs. That is, I'll use a new API for a project, and Ankify some material from the API. Then the project finishes, and I don't immediately have another project using the same API. I then find my mind won't engage so well with the cards – there's a half-conscious thought of “why am I learning this useless stuff?” I just no longer find the cards as interesting as when I was actively using the API.

This is a difficult situation. I use the rule of thumb that if it seems likely I'm not going to use the API again, I delete the cards when they come up. But if it seems likely I'll use the API in the next year or so, I keep them in the deck. It's not a perfect solution, since I really do slightly disconnect from the cards. But it's the best compromise I've found."

Great points. I agree that one of the challenges is identifying what knowledge is worth investing the time to bake into long-term memory.

Paying attention to what knowledge I (or top performers) use most often in practical projects / everyday work has helped. I also try to identify fundamentals; i.e. chunks of knowledge that experts in a field have identified as critical to understanding that field.

Also curious about GP's experience. Meanwhile I can share my own: until age 25 I was unable to study at all. I couldn't even concentrate for ten minutes.

So for me the hardest part was developing the habit of just sitting down and studying every day, which I didn't develop until years after failing university.

My key insight came from hearing the idea that discipline is like a muscle, and as with strength training you must start at the appropriate "weight" for you. In my case, that was a painfully low 5 minutes of work a day.

I wrote a script to generate a schedule for me, starting with 5 minutes of studying (for the whole day!) and increasing the time by 2% every day.

By starting with 5 minutes and working 2% longer every day, I worked my way up to 5 hours a day this way. The fact that I was able to work for 5 hours absolutely blew my mind, because when I started I could barely focus for 15 minutes.

I might add that a year of manual labor did wonders for my motivation to study. (Perhaps that is what is meant by "it builds character?" ;)

As for practical study skills, I have heard very good things about this:

Mar 22, 2022 · raju on In Praise of Memorization
This reminds me a brilliant article [1] by Barbara Oakley, who has a _superb_ course on Coursera on "Learning How to Learn" [2].

In this article, Barbara talks about how memorization helped her with Mathematics, a subject that she had previously struggled with. In particular, this line stands out to me

> Continually focusing on understanding itself actually gets in the way.

[1] [2]

P.S: Her book is really good too

[Update: Apparently she wrote a book based on the course—]

I recommend this course [1], it's 4 weeks long, but I did it in 3 days and got 97 [2].

It was also discussed on HN in the past [3].


[1] Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects



IMO this talk is about n intersection of two things:

  1. Waterfall (The Good Parts)
  2. Focused vs Diffuse thinking as described in Barbara Oakley's Learning How To Learn course [1]
What I missed from the Waterfall[2] days, is taking the time to think on a problem and proper software architecture/design. Depending on the complexity it was one to several weeks of thinking, while writing the SDD[3] document. And then having a proper design review meeting.

Under Agile/Scrum everything was rushed, and you had to plan a sprint of work in a day or two, and each feature under a hour in a synchronous meeting. Obviously it's impossible to arrive to a good design decisions that way, and you just grab the first available seemingly working solution.



2. What I though was Waterfall, was actually RUP (Rational Unified Process)

3. Software Design Document

In previous iterations of this thread I think various people recommended the "Learning How to Learn" course on Coursera. I think the consensus for learning tech related concepts in the aforementioned thread was that many people learn well by building things. I like to read books for most forms of learning, although for things like complicated algorithms I prefer to watch videos. I also like to use spaced repetition for more specific uses like vocabulary - anki/supermemo seem to highly recommended here for automating spaced repetition.

coursera course:

a previous thread:

There’s a class on Coursera by Dr Barbara Oakley It gives you a basic model for skill retention. You should modify the style to what works for you. I’ve successfully retained what I’ve revised and practiced
Paradoxically, you're telling to learn a course that tells you right way to learn something. So until then you don't know the right way to learn to learn the course you suggested.

xD nah I'm kidding. It's a good one.

Obligatory nod to a course that changed my life:

Can you please share more details on how it changed your life? Are you a fast learner now? Can you also draw the contrast between your earlier and current learning approach?
And an obligatory counterpoint that the course is incredibly shallow.

1. Pomodoro

2. Test often

3. Just start learning, you'll start liking it

There. You've just taken the course.

Of course this comment is reductionist. But the course, to me, could be a medium-length article with the same effectiveness (but much less feel-good, "you can do it" content).

Jun 09, 2021 · etherio on Human Memory
Interesting! I learned a lot of new things about memory when I did the "learning how to learn course" [0]. I definitely recommend it for people trying to learn vast amounts and use their memory effectively.

The link's more specific honing on memory itself seems more in depth however.


Hi HN,

I'm Robin, co-founder of Save All. Save All is a spaced repetition app that uses machine learning to help people remember everything. After telling us what you want to remember, we generate multiple choice quizzes that test you in the right way at the right time to get the information into your long-term memory and keep it there. Unlike other flashcard apps, you don’t need to structure the input, you just write in a sentence.

Me and my co-founders have been avid users of spaced repetition apps for several years, after doing the Coursera course, Learning How to Learn [1]. We were particularly struck by the fact that without recall practice, you forget 90% of what you learn within a week[2]. We applied what we learned on this course, and went on to use it to be really successful at various university courses we did as mature students. One of us came top of his year in the machine learning masters at Imperial College London.

Save All is unique amongst spaced repetition apps because it uses machine learning to generate multiple choice quizzes of your information. This lets us verify whether you know the information without relying on you telling us, meaning we can better optimise your learning and make it feel like a game.

Try it out at or watch this video to learn more:

Any questions or feedback, please email me at [email protected]. Please note, we do not currently charge for Save All, it's free for early users.

Thanks [1] [2]

Nov 29, 2020 · yawz on Ask HN: Top Coursera Courses?
Dr Barbara Oakley’s “Learning How to Learn” [0] is great.

Edit: It gives an important understanding on how our minds function and how we learn, which, I think, forms the basis of effective work. Knowing how to work, and being an effective learner are incredibly important qualities in life.


I would recommend skipping this one. It contains fairly obvious advice, the information density is low and it isn't delivered very well. I really don't know why it's recommended so often.
It is recommended often because Learning How To Learn is a very fundamental part of your skill set which, sadly, many people either lack or do sub-optimal. Precisely because of that it can contain "obvious" device; because you are already (partly) familiar with it. I find it rather arrogant to say its useless for everyone. Its a fairly quick course, where you can spend more time on aspects if you desire.

This topic about the top Coursera courses or which ones you recommend comes up regularly here on HN.

On top of the mentioned Learning How To Learn I can recommend the following:

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice by Edwin Bakker [1]

Securing Digital Democracy by J. Alex Halderman [2]

Cryptography I by Dan Boneh [3]. I didn't finish this one, but its very good...




That first one is not something I’d expect to find in on an IT site. Thanks for posting I’d like to check it out.
If you define "work" rather broadly, to include hobbies and the pursuit of personal goals, in addition to laboring for remuneration, then I would argue that knowing how to learn is probably the most important meta-skill one can have.
Agreed. This is a great point.
I really enjoyed that course my-self as well.

One thing that stood out for me was that I realised that the basic concept of the course was already familiar to me. Breaking down something new to learn into chunks, then forming a high-level picture of the unknown landscape and then starting to connect those chunks as you go deeper into the details.

I wonder how many people have already in some way used that process to learn something new without realising that it is indeed the most efficient way for the brain to learn a new concept.

What’s good about it?
Thanks. I added some more comments.
Also, it is free as in beer, and since its very fundamental, that is important. It is also useful for high school students as well. I actually had various of these subjects at high school (in my native language and without these experts though).
You can get a sample out of her Google talk on YouTube. Basically the course tells you ideas about how to read/manage time to learn things more efficiently.
And most importantly, why you should study and manage your time in certain ways.

A lot of things in that course feels like it fairly obvious when you hear it, but often you might not have thought in those directions, and often it helps to get those things spelled out.

If I had had that course in my early teens that would have helped me a lot.

I really enjoyed the part about recollecting vs rereading. This changed my perspective on how to read things. I have noticed I read less nonsense and retain more of the important topics. Also tried it with software docs. Although recollecting API names didnt help me make better software decisions but it came in handy while writing code. A bit of fluency helped reduce friction since I could code with less context switches.
Ah yes, that is an important part. I certainly often fell into the trap of looking at the material, feeling it was comfortingly familiar and thus believed that I knew it. And then of course struggled to recall it when I needed it.
I don't know... I would summarize it as:

- You will get good at anything given enough practice, so don't worry about thinking you're bad at X

- As you get good at X, you will start to like it

- Pomodoro

I'm over-simplifying of course, but I felt like the course provided a lot of concepts with very little actionable advice.

It's a very popular course because it "feels good". It is motivating, and has a very positive message. I wouldn't consider it very useful for already highly motivated and self-driven people.

There was lots of actionable advice. Just as an example: frequent self testing. Incorporating this into my studies more intentionally has helped me learn quicker.

I'm highly motivated and self-driven. This course isn't about motivation. It's about how we learn and how best to take advantage of that.

But I will say that knowing how the brain works and how we learn has motivated me to change my study habits. Knowing that I learn in my sleep motivates me to prime my brain for learning every day to take advantage of that. So I rarely skip a day now. Even ten minutes gets my subconscious primed and working while I sleep. The mental models you get out this course will last a lifetime.

You missed the most important part: Which is to jump between advanced/beginner content to build a better image. i.e.: If you are learning a programming language, you start with easy and keep going, but along the way you jump to very hard/advanced stuff. This technique really boosted my learning and solidified it.
You overlooked the two states of learning: focused and diffuse. Each is important. That was a big eye-opener for me as I used to blame my mind needing to take frequent breaks and thinking about other things on my inability to focus. Then I realized that it's just a natural way to learn.
so you're describing diffused learning? is that the default mode? havent taken the course so idk what the take on it is
Oct 22, 2020 · dqpb on Spaced Repetition (2019)
If you're interesting in improving your ability to learn, I recommend Learning How To Learn on coursera:

It discusses the actual science of learning (it does not feature spaced repetition).

This is probably one of the best investments most people can make.

Think about it. If you become a more effective learner it can have a huge compounding effect.

This course is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing it!

I don’t remember if the course says spaced repetition exactly, but active recall testing is featured a lot, and active recall testing is very much an ajacent concept to that.
I think they're orthogonal. You could have spaced repetition without active recall and you could have active recall without ongoing spaced repetition.

I think active recall is the more important fundamental mechanism for learning and the focus on spaced repetition tools detracts from that.

Isn't spaced repetition, like, the principle way of learning ... how can a course on learning not include it?

I didn't think we knew how information is laid down in/by neurons: could you precis this "actual science" that it teaches?

This is exactly why you should take the course. To clear up the misconception that spaced repetition is the principle way of learning.
What's weird about the above comment is that this course specifically talks about spaced repetition and active recall as the only ways to learn effectively. I took this course and it revolutionised my life - but mostly because I started using Anki afterwards.
This course also revolutionized my life, but I find spaced repetition to introduce too much pointless overhead. Instead I focus on aggressive active recall until I understand the content and then I move on.
I just checked the course. Spaced Repetition is listed in the glossary of terms, so you're right that it's in there somewhere. I don't remember it as being a primary topic, whereas active recall is primary.
Oct 14, 2020 · itsrajju on Ask HN: How Do You Learn?
If you're interested in how our brains work during learning, check out "A Mind for Numbers" by Dr. Barbara Oakley [0]. It may be geared towards STEM college students, but I found it a great resource for fine tuning my own process.

And if you prefer a visual medium, please check out the Coursera course "Learning how to learn" [1] by the same person.



Can you elaborate on this? Reviews are mixed. A lot of people calling this course and the accompanying book fluff.
Oct 07, 2020 · pnt12 on How I remember what I learn
This post touches many topics I learned in a MOOC about meta-learning: focus time (there's also the important diffuse time, eg shower thoughts), recall, practice, forming long term memories, resting. I highly suggest the MOOC, it's free without certification, and you can start any time:

Hi HN friends,

iDoRecall cofounder and 67 y/o entrepreneur here. Today’s version of iDR is a total rewrite of our MVP. iDR began as a digital solution enabling the cognitive science strategies that I used to graduate #1 in my med school class back in the analog 70s [1]. iDR takes spaced-repetition flashcards beyond the bounds of well-known solutions. Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., creator of Coursera’s Learning How to Learn [2], uses iDR for her own lifelong learning. Recently she became our Chief Learning Science advisor.

Upload your learning content into iDR: PDFs, Word files, PowerPoints, images and many other file types. Add videos hosted on YouTube, Vimeo and other sites to your iDR library. Read, watch and listen to your content on iDR.

Create flashcards (we call them “recalls”) that are linked directly to the concepts, facts, formulae or whatever you want to remember in your learning materials.

When you practice memory retrieval with your recalls, if you struggle with the answer, you’re one click away from seeing the exact spot in your content where you created the recall so that you can quickly refresh your memory in the original context where you learned it. Stop wasting time rereading. Read once. Watch once. Listen once. Abstract and curate what you want to remember into recalls and use spaced-repetition memory retrieval to remember everything you learn. Rereading, highlighting and rereading highlight have been proven suboptimal tactics for remembering what you’ve learned [3].

Metacognition training wheels, Pomodoro timer and project management tools for learners included. Create study groups with classmates and collaborate sharing recalls and content. Teachers can create classes in the app.

We have reference docs on our self-hosted Notion [4] and helpful videos on our YouTube channel [5]. I write about learning on Medium and Better Humans [6]. Please let me know if there is any way that I can be helpful to you.

[1] Medium/Better Humans [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


Looks nifty. Is there a way to enter source code(programming) in the editor? I cant find it. The thing I can find is how to enter formula, but that is not what I'm looking for.

Hey David, looks really impressive. And so nice to see some older enterpreneurs out there!

Strange that there’s just another spaced repetition show HN just next to this one. What are the odds?

I’m a co-founder of Kenhub[0] and we use some spaced repetition techniques in our quizzes. But it’s quite different still. The bigger difference for us is that we create and curate the content. I’m wondering if there’s some opportunity for collaboration. See contact details in my profile if you’d like to chat some time.


Thanks for the kind words. I just sent an email.
Maybe there are a few secrets to learning stuff. Has anybody taken the "Learning how to Learn" coursera course?
There are practices that make a difference. I haven't taken that course but I built There's a bibliography there that has a lot of good references if you're interested.
I've taken the course, and highly recommend it to everyone! I wish I had taken it years sooner, as most of the techniques can be applied to any learning endeavor.

The instructors do touch on having a "growth mindset", as well as teaching practical skills that are easy and effective both for retaining what you learn and for fighting procrastination.

I have completed both of the following:



I highly recommend both of them, if they cover a subject you're interested in, though if you only have time for one, they are listed in descending priority order.

Given how low it's time+energy requirements are, and how large the pay-off has been, I recommend Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley to everyone regardless.

I did Learning How To Learn twice and I still not sure how helpful it is. The only thing I found useful/applicable is spaced repetition.

What part of the course do you feel it's valuable? I don't mind going back to do it again.

The focused vs diffuse thinking part was very useful for me.
How do you apply this? Let's say we want to learn a new programming language. I should spend time focus on a topic, then how do I apply diffused thinking here?
I learned to value physical activity for diffuse thinking, and related to it when I unconsciously feel the urge get up and walked around the room when thinking about some subjects I've learned.
A meaningful part of what I found useful was that I knew ~<10% of the content. It was 8 hours effort (Tuesday+Thursday 1 hour lunchtimes for four weeks, including all videos, quiz's, note taking (on the phone I was watching it on), and tests), and I'm now sure I know how to study effectively.

I think one working day is worth it to make sure you're up to date.

I also found the working memory, and memory information in general very informative and helpful.

You might find this useful:

Personally, I usually try to get a job where they use the thing I want to learn.

Two years ago I landed a job in a company that was using Vue.js and Vuetify.

Recently just started in a company that's doing Elixir and Phoenix. I've been trying to get into this tech stack for a long time.

May 10, 2020 · atfzl on Our Bookless Future
This is exactly what is taught in
Not sure if you seek advice on self-development (programming skills) or general college/university studying advice. Very similar set of challenges either way IMO:

Take Dr. Barbara Oakley's (free) learning how to learn course - I graduated 20 years ago (MSc) and found this very refreshing and insightful. Good interviews, too.

Cal Newport's book is full of studying/organization advice. Bottom line: Attack the hard stuff early on. Go hard, go deep. If you get organized and build a foundation in each course early on, then you won't have to catch up and cram in all-nighters later.

I didn't use this specific course, I came across it later, but pretty much everything in it I taught my children early on; My parents taught me some of these things when I was young but these are the skills to teach and practice:

Learning How to Learn:

And we use the Trivium as the curriculum to guide them and we used this resource primarily to develop their curriculum:

I will say this - I am excellent at math; even higher math such as Calculus. My wife is excellent with Grammar. So we are able to help them when they do run into some difficulty - but for the most part they can consume a subject on their own at this point.

In terms of reading early on we checked out the hooked on phonics at the library. With Math I made them memorize their math tables and how to do math in their head with one of those "Mental math" books - also from the library. I also taught them some common ways to memorize things and had them from early age to memorize songs, scriptures, and poems.

Learn these things early and there is no stopping a kid...

I would start with 'Learning how to Learn' -
I took it a few years back. Highly recommended.
I recommend the meta-cognition course: Learning how to Learn.

The primary instructor, Dr. Barbara Oakley, wrote the book, _A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)_ that isn't just about learning math.

I can second this too. The presentation was a bit crude sometimes but the course was good nevertheless.
I second this, and if you're not sure where to start then this is a great one because it will give you some study tools to use on your next course(s)!
Feb 24, 2020 · 12 points, 0 comments · submitted by evo_9
? This a new course or the same one released years ago?
Similar to what others have said, do a quick pass once to get a sense of what the context/main concepts are. pass 2) read the headlines of each section. pass 3) read the bold words of each section and make note of them. pass 4) read the first and last sentence of each paragraph in the chapter. pass 5) read the whole chapter as you normally would. The increased/repeated exposure helps you to contextualize/relieves anxiety associated with unknown terminology/concepts.

Make notes and use "chunking" to group similar ideas into groups and build up from those. It's easier to learn a bunch of small pieces and combine them, than it is to attack an entire subject all at once.

Use multiple sources and YouTube extensively (lectures/enthusiasts explaining difficult concepts). Sometimes a slight tweak to how a topic is presented, along with the context from past passes in other sources is enough to improve understanding.

Work through problem sets and free-recall to avoid cognitive biases of thinking you know some material better than you actually do.

Spaced repetition systems like Anki.

Experiment with all of these (and other approaches) and be objective about which work best for you.

Some helpful resources I've found over the years are:

Something similar to this is the SQ3R method:

Several other comments on this thread mention similar methodologies, as well.

Never heard of this before, thanks!
Thanks for the link. I watched a YouTube video[0] about this but the guy never gave it a name.

I haven't taken any paid online courses that fit within your budget, but there are plenty of high quality free courses. Depending on your experience, I'd recommend the following:

- Coursera Learning How To Learn:

- Harvard's Online CS50:

- MIT's Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python:

- MIT's algorithms course:

- MIT's distributed systems course (going on now):

All of the above have high quality video lectures and assignments to work on to get some practice with the concepts.

Are you saying you’ve bought more expensive courses? If so, which ones?
I took one class (computer architecture & assembly language) through Oregon State University's online CS program as a soft-requirement for some in-person classes I'm currently taking. They have the full post-bacc program (, and they also do allow you to take one-off classes. Officially it says you can only take the intro classes, but I just signed up for this class anyways.

It was quite a bit more than OP's budget (total cost came to $1,200 or so), but that ended up being much cheaper than having to take the class at my current program. My employer also helped with 2/3 of the cost.

Are there videos for MIT's distributed systems course ? Can't seem to locate it in the site.
It's on the 'schedule' page:
As vikram360 pointed out, they're on the schedule page ( Since this is the class going on right now (Spring 2020), only a couple that have already happened have been posted so far, but I'd bet they're uploaded pretty soon after their date.

You can also find the Youtube playlist here:

Highly unpopular opinion, I know, but I didn't find learning how to learn very useful. It might as well have been a 30-minute video, and it wouldn't lose much of its content. A lot of the content seems to be rather inspirational than educational.
I actually felt the same. I forced myself to take it after seeing the hype, and it really fell flat for me.
Is there a CliffsNotes version of the content?
Kind of like any book or course like that, I found that the magic wasn't in watching the lectures or reading the book but in deliberately applying some of the strategies to my own learning process.

It was easy to watch and think "OK that makes sense". It was much harder but much more worthwhile to deliberately set aside time for diffuse mode, practice spaced repetition, and quiz myself as I worked through a reading.

No matter what you choose to learn, it's good to learn how to learn.

You have the free "Learning how to learn" course on coursera :

And I'm currently reading a book called "Ultralearning" by a guy called Scott H Young who I imagine is the type of person to be on hacker news and be like "Hey, thanks for recommending my book!"

The book so far is great, there are certainly some principles which may seem obvious but in reality they need to be acknowledged and used effectively. Overall it's a clear read and gives a pretty clear way to get started on learning a ton of things in a short amount of time.

No shortcuts though, still a ton of effort involved.

What % of Learning How To Learn is covered by Ultra Learning?
Highly recommend the "Learning How to Learn" Coursera course. I took it late last year and believe it is a must for anyone interested in continual learning. It can be cheesy at times and seem like common sense, but the material is highly applicable to your daily life.
I highly, highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How To Learn ( It's a tremendous resource for improving your ability to learn.
The most transformative experience was learning how to retain information better following the Coursera course: Learning How to Learn (

I'd not always been the best learner and this taught me how to learn more effectively. Whilst at the sametime accepting the limitations of the brain.

It led me to find the Anki app and combined with more effective learning, it positively affected my ability to be a better programmer.

Jan 12, 2020 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by elondiscoveries
I'm reading a lot and have done so for many years. It is one of the great sources of joy and richness in my life. Choosing a book is more difficult than it might seem. It sounds like you haven't encountered many great books yet. Humanity has produced about 130.000.000 books and roughly 4k are added each day.

If you are an avid reader consuming one book per week from age 20 to 80, you'll get through a little more than 3000 books. Few people make it this far. 60 years of reading don't cover the output of a single day of publishing.

There are many more great books than any single person can hope to get through in a lifetime.

Regarding the reading speed: As you read more, you will get better. With enough practice, reading becomes a fully-immersive and effortless experience (though the ideas in the book might stun you!). Your eyes and your mind get more accustomed to the practice, for example through a better knowledge of vocabulary.

Forgetting is a real issue that I struggle with as well. Spaced repetition is helping a lot of people [0].

Paul Graham (pg) makes some great points about how reading shapes the mind (so even if you don't remember all the facts, the act of reading still changes who you are) [1]

I suggest you look learning strategies to process text more efficiently and to aid retention. There is a well-rated course called "Learning how to learn" on Coursera. [2]

Since selecting books is such hard work, you can benefit from the reading lists of others, here's mine on Goodreads: [3]





To look at the metagame of learning, I highly, highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How To Learn by Barbara Oakley: If you're more into books, she also has A Mind For Numbers, which covers essentially the same material.

For me, the biggest thing is practice, particularly deliberate practice and spaced repetition. For software, any timer will do for pomodoros, and Anki has been a godsend for spaced repetition. The iOS app is expensive at $25, but the ROI has been huge for me.

Learning How To Learn ( and Barbara Oakley's book A Mind For Numbers. Completely changed my approach to studying and learning, and my academic efforts after taking it were tremendously better than before.

Also related: highly recommend Anki. It feels like magic when the spaced repetition works!

What would you say are your biggest take-aways from that course?
I’d recommend asking Tim Ferris.
Mr. Ferris certainly has a lot to say about the process of learning, but I haven't run across him saying anything about this particular course.
This was a joke.

Tim Ferris still promotes a “life hack” of paying other people to read books for you and provide a summary. Of course, this entirely detracts from the entire reason to read a book or any complex piece of information that might affect people differently depending on biases and past experience (so anyone who’s interested enough to read said information / content).

Here are a few:

* Diffuse mode vs. focus mode. After focusing hard on a problem, letting your brain wander can do wonders for coming up with insights and ideas. The classic example is coming up with something in the shower after working on it throughout the day. I've focused much more on giving myself some of the non-focused time after focused periods (ex. going for a walk/run/swim, taking a nap or shower, etc). I've started doing this more for work, as well.

* How memory works (short-term vs. long-term) and along those lines, spaced repetition. All through undergrad I would cram, but spacing it out (with the help of Anki for flashcard-focused topics) really does wonders.

* Importance of actively quizzing yourself, practice, and working through problems as you're learning something.

Which tools do you use for anki? Make your own decks?
This is what I do. I make all my own decks, which obviously helps reinforce the material. Anki on desktop to create decks and cards, and Anki on mobile to review when I'm bored. Combined with appropriate material and labs, I have taken and passed 5 or 6 certification exams and countless college courses. I also use Anki for work things that I feel are important to remember 'off the cuff'.
The act of creating a deck is part of the practice. A really great illustration of this is (the book, haven't tried the app) Fluent Forever as referenced at
Is it necessary to go through the entire Learning How to Learn course or is there a TL;DR somewhere?
I didn't find it useful at all. Not that it was bad - it's just that there was barely anything new for me and the content lacked depth. It all felt like obvious stuff. It seems to get a lot of praise though so clearly some people find value in it.
This comment is probably the most common reaction, and also the reason the course exists.
The course is really short. Like 4 hours. You could spend an hour per week and be done with it. Or just consume it over the course of a few days.
It's worthwhile. Try it.
I don't remember who posted it or if it's the same course, but
Whoa cool these are the notes I put together. I'm glad someone remembered :)
If there's one thing in life you want to know before anything else, it's how to get better at things! :)

We have a whole field of science that deals with human behavior, wouldn't it be useful if we had that as a basic part of school?

Exactly, This is the skillset that you will need for life.
> Barbara Oakley's book A Mind For Numbers

Thank you for the recommendation! I am looking forward to reading the book. It is good know that someone who started off their education assuming they cannot do well in STEM subjects, can actually pick up the skills much later in their carrier, is refreshing. I belong to the camp that I did well in STEM subjects through formal education but then lost touch with math later on. Am looking forward to regaining this skill.

I use Anki for improving my memory on different topics; philosophy, geography, etc. I'm currently using it to prepare for the french motorcycle exam and that's the first time I had to write my own cards.

I'm a software engineer and I feel like I'm forgetting a lot of things that I learned during university and during my carreer (algorithms, architecture models, design patterns, etc.). This feeling is very frustrating. I never thought about using Anki professionally and I'm gonna start to add some algo-related cards to Anki right now.

Note: I also recommend "learning how to learn", - give some simple techniques and tips to be better at learning (spaced repetitions is one of them, learn by chunks, force yourself to recall, etc.).

While I can see why you would use flash cards for learning geography (more factual), I'm not sure how you could design a card to explain a data structure. Any idea ?
One example I had in mind when I said I was forgetting algorithms and data structures was about Skip List -

I did an implementation of a skip list a long time ago (and I found the algorithms to insert, search, etc. quite simple and elegant). Recently I had a chat with someone and I was struggling to explain them.

I could design a few cards for skip lists:

- Question "ELI5 skip list" Answer "the actual ELI5"

- Question "What sort of problems are solved by skip lists?"

- Question "How to make a skip list indexable"

- Question "How to insert the element 123 in a 3 levels skip lists [1, 4 - 4 - 4, 43, 120, 210 - 210, 302]" <- make a better ASCII scheme. etc...

Answers can be quite long. For the french motorcycle license, some answers can be very long (2 or 3 pages) and it works pretty well for me (see

When you train: after reading the question try to recall the answer in your head and then read the answer. Then you evaluate how good you were recalling and you pick the Anki "score" (bad, hard, good, too easy).

I am not sure how helpful this would be to you. I just started this course:

This seems to be very popular and highly recommended in Reddit. She briefly talks about how she was scared off of maths at one point in her life and later went on to get a phd. She also has a book on the same topic. Note that the course is not math specific.

Feb 26, 2019 · otras on Ask HN: Best Online Courses?
I've taken a few, and these two are my favorites:

Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley: Hands down the biggest return on investment for an online class. It helped my future learning so much. Highly, highly recommend it.

Harvard's CS50: Took this course when learning to program. It was difficult, but I learned a great deal. Fantastic professor, good problem sets, and great production value.

Was learning how to learn actually that useful? I kinda let off halfway through it ...
I would say that it wasn't watching the videos that was helpful, but more applying the concepts and techniques. I took general notes and reviewed them periodically (spaced repetition!), and I applied the general ideas to my classwork.

It's kind of like learning math. During a lecture, it's easy to think to yourself "OK, I understand this," but you learn so much when working through practice problems. I found myself saying "OK, that makes sense" when watching the LHTL videos, but I really saw the benefit when actively working on applying spaced repetition, diffuse vs focus mode, getting sleep, and other strategies to my studying. I was taking a few post-graduate CS classes at the time, and compared with my study skills and results from undergraduate, it felt like magic to study efficiently and get good results.

I mostly agree. However, the rankings surface the "most recommended" courses not the "best". "Most recommended" being more objective (easier turn into a number) than "best".

Udacity is the 3rd most recommended course provider after Coursera and edX. Those courses will make it into v2.

It seems to me that the comments on the learning to learn course generally read like positive recommendations, so I think HN disagrees with you there [0]. But I do want to experiment with different sentiment analyzers.


1) If you haven't, take this MOOC:

2) Machine learning and computational neuroscience are two different fields. You really don't need to understand neuroscience to contribute meaningfully to machine learning.

You'd be much better served by studying mathematics like real/complex/functional analysis, abstract algebra, probability, etc.

3) If you've struggled with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression, don't bother waiting to see a therapist. Finding a therapist should be the first thing on your list.

This is called choking. It is explained in the course "learning how to learn" [1] which I'm shilling for (unpaid, sadly) because the knowledge is so valuable.

The key here is that you've never performed under pressure, so you have to train yourself to perform under pressure. This way you'll get used to it and you'll be able to function normally or even excel under pressure.


On a meta-level, you could maybe look into articles and such about education itself, and see if that improves both your own writing, and maybe even weave in some insights from it:

edit: wait, the first one is about machine learning, haha. Sorry, I was looking through my bookmarks using keywords. Might still be interesting though..

I thought about that..but doesn’t education ruin learning?
Depends on the style, which is why it's worthwhile to look into it. These links might also be interesting:

Every time someone asks this question -- and it gets asked here a lot, several people mention Learning To Learn. I always rolled my eyes.

Then I decided to check it out.

While the production quality is out of the 1990s and it starts off pretty dry, there is a lot of great content and applicable techniques here, if you stick with it a little bit.

From a previous comment of mine:

Barbara Oakley's Learning How To Learn class [0] was immensely helpful for understanding how brains work and how I could learn efficiently.

I made it through college with a combination of cramming and bad sleep habits, but focusing on spaced repetition, the diffuse/active modes, and sleep has made classes I've taken since feel like easy mode.


I felt that the course was too long to cover just a few topics like spaced repetition and diffuse mode. Besides those key takeaways are pretty intuitive.
There is a lot more to it than those two, and the whole thing's like 5 1 hour sessions.
Dr. Oalkley's book

Added a lot of clarity to my process of thinking. Highly recommend as well (I did not take the course, though, just found the book by accident).

What is the youngest age you think could handle this book?
I am not an expert by any means. But asking child at, say, age 13 to read portions of it and explain back to parents, what she/he picked up from there -- will work well.

Probably a type of 'self-awareness' of own's thinking process does not start before 11.

This is a very meta response, but the best skill I've ever learned is how to learn. Barbara Oakley's Learning How To Learn class [0] was immensely helpful for understanding how brains work and how I could learn efficiently.

I made it through college with a combination of cramming and bad sleep habits, but focusing on spaced repetition, the diffuse/active modes, and sleep has made classes I've taken since feel like easy mode.


This book literally changed my view point. I first listened to the audio TTS while commuting to school. Then i read in entirely before an math exam. I read it again this summer because I realized I didn't quite understood all chapters. The book was great and helped me become a better chess player , better learner shaping how I read (after hard reading and focus using the Darwanian I had a beautiful park to walk near the library where I studied and read), but as last chapter there is told a quote by Feynman "Don't fool yourself because and you are the easiest person to fool" or something like that , I did quite failed the exam and did average (7.6/100). Great read.
I did not care for that course. The production value was horrendous 2 years ago when I tried to take it. But this answer is 100% accurate
Wonder if there is an updated version to this with better value?
Ha, I know what you mean! I found the information extremely valuable, but I do agree that the production value leaves a lot to be desired. I'm not sure if you've read her book A Mind For Numbers, but it has largely the same information (without nearly as many clipart zombies).
In a similar vein, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it’s hard for people to get to the message if they can’t get past the presentation.

And that a killer presentation can even get you trust from people that you shouldn’t even be getting, bypassing what may otherwise have been great difficulty to earn their trust.

Although it's not directly related to webdev, I highly, highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How to Learn as a starting point:

For the computer side of things, I highly recommend Harvard's CS50, which is completely free, for an introduction to computer science [0]. It has a great subreddit [1] and is a fantastic resource. MIT also offers a great pair of free introductory classes on edx. [2]

FreeCodeCamp is an interactive online program that does that exact progression (HTML/CSS => Javascript => React). Here's a link to the curriculum: It also has a wide support system (chats, subreddit, etc), and it's also completely free. I never finished the last few projects, but the rest of it taught me a tremendous amount.

There are so many variables and so much luck involved that there is no guaranteed path, but these are two great resources to get started. These were some of the resources I used to transition from no-CS (disclaimer: with a physics degree but zero programming experience) to a programming job at a startup. I've since continued learning through online and in-person classes and joined a large tech company.

Happy to answer any questions about these resources. Given how many variables there are, I hesitate to use my own experience as an example, but I'm happy to give back and pass on any knowledge I can.




I second this as well

I would do CS50 and doing FreeCodeCamp in parallel. This way he builds a light web foundation, and have a solid CS foundational base to work through other courses.

Other good courses are found through udemy, like Colt Steel. Another good one I recommend is, for basic foundational programming principles

> I also don’t know how to study or actually learn things by the way.

I just posted this in a different thread, but it's very relevant here:

For the idea of building and improving the analytical part of your brain, I highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley. [0] An excerpt from her Wikipedia page[1]:

After her Army duties ended, Oakley decided to challenge herself and see if her brain, more used to the study of languages, could be 'retooled' to study mathematical subjects. She chose to study engineering, in order to better understand the communications equipment she had been working with in the Army.

[0]: [1]:

Interesting, I'll check this out indeed.
For the idea of building and improving the analytical part of your brain, I highly recommend the Coursera course Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley. [0] An excerpt from her Wikipedia page[1]:

After her Army duties ended, Oakley decided to challenge herself and see if her brain, more used to the study of languages, could be 'retooled' to study mathematical subjects. She chose to study engineering, in order to better understand the communications equipment she had been working with in the Army.

[0]: [1]:

Coursera has a course with exactly that title. The course can be found here . It is one of THE most popular courses on Coursera.
Its a good course written by sharp people. Unfortunately the production quality rivals an 11 year old using their parents iPhone 4s and crayons. Just needed to put that out there, because it stopped me mid-course... I just couldn't anymore
I first heard about it in the excellent learning how to learn online course:
I'm not the grandparent, but after doing "Learning How To Learn" course on coursera[1] (very good), I finally realised I suffer from Aphantasia, where I don't see images in my imagination.

Even though I'd tried loads of memory techniques over the years as I have a very poor memory, I'd never really understood people actually see images. I thought they meant that they were, like me, simply listing the properties the image would have in your head.

So all these techniques like "remembering the number as a picture" never worked well from me, and finally explained why all the common techniques people recommend are pretty useless. It turns out people have a huge variation on how good they are at visualising things in their minds eye, and I'm right near the bottom in terms of skill.

On the plus side it turns out that I can make images appear, having done some exercises to help it, although I didn't keep at it and it still doesn't come naturally. Most people can improve and there are very few cases of people not actually being able to do it. I also read of one man who'd had a stroke and lost his ability to picture things in his brain.

Oddly, I am very quick at generally orienteering myself in new places and picking up map layouts in games, even though I don't visualize anything in my head.


I worked with a graphic designer with aphantasia! If you will excuse the wordplay, I could never imagine what it was like inside her head, as her process would surely be very different to mine. But she was very skilled and had been doing it for years. She also didn't realise until she was in her 30s that it was something she had.

She was capable of fluently talking about changes and the effects they would have on the design and so the fact that this could all happen without ever picturing the changes was super interesting.

I’ve never heard of Aphantasia before.

Funnily enough it never occurred to me to think of things as pictures for my whole childhood. Even though I am almost a completely visual thinker.

It’s worth thinking about how you think. Eg if I imagine time passing as images of numbers, I can keep track of time and talk at the same time. If I count them out in my head, I always loose track within seconds.

Oh wow, I just tried counting to ten with pictures while thinking a conversation. Neat trick!

I do something similar for separating my hands on the piano, the left hand becomes a pattern rather than literal chords and I can picture the hand placement and still think of the melody. Forever a work in progress that is though.

I wonder if that would work with the drums, I can never keep the foot pedal independent of the hi-hat/ride.
One of Coursera's top courses is a course on learning how to learn, which is really about learning the balance of self-discipline (both how to do it and why it works). It works not just for learning, but also for time management and other things:

Don't know about online courses for things like emotional health, but I see no reason there couldn't be.

You know, thats a good course to reference.

Giving it a second think, a lot of CBT is skills-based, so I think I’d like to agree. Though, I suspect that such a mooc for anxiety does not yet exist

He links to this in the previous, larger post, but here is the full Coursera course which is pretty great. I took it and I got a lot out of it:

Barbara Oakley's course is so amazing! I think it's still to this day the most popular MOOC. Her books and articles are great too, like "A Mind for Numbers"
If you are interested in the topic, you should check out the Learning How to Learn course:
If this article is your cup of tea you might also be interested in "Learning How to Learn" a Coursera course by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowsk. It boils down to a similar system but gives more background, science, and detail.

I've heard some good things about

To get a quick overview try table 4 p. 45 here

I try to follow

* Distributed learning/practice

* Practice testning

* Interleaved practice

This is delusional. And to be honest I thought I need the same deep and in the zone kind of work/situation. Until I took this Course which is based on real science:

You can get stuff done, learn very sophisticated topics on a highly distractive environment (though you'll probably need short periods of concentrations here and there).

The trick is not to force yourself to work on something, close doors and stop calling anyone. The tricks is simple boring repetition, zooming in and out of complexity of the subject, occasionally jumping through chapters.

You can do it in multiple ways. Say you are learning Crypto. You can be reading a book at home, doing an Online course at school, reading HN related crypto topics while on transportation, coding on some lang/crypto library while on Starbucks, etc... and achieve great levels of mastery.

And boring repetition/testing is the most important here. If you are interested on why this works, check the course.

Yes... but I won't do any of those things because whenever I could be doing them I'll read reddit instead, or watch youtube 40k videos.

Perhaps you're the type of person who can just "do" what you've described, but lord knows I can't.

For me, the whole point of college was learning how to learn. Everyone is forced to learn through traditional academic models and everyone tries their best to efficiently digest everything for exams. That said, I sucked at learning in an academic environment, but I learned what did not work for me.
You didn’t suck at learning in an academic environment. You just realized that what your friends are doing is not learning.
Once I get that "I'm getting kinda stuck in a rut here" feeling I usually take a lap around the building. (~5 min). That's usually enough.

I also go to the gym throughout the week but I usually am focusing on the workout too much to think about coding.

Sometimes I just have to more or less sleep on it though. I work on some other part of the project and come in the next day with fresh perspective. It's probably always kinda rolling around in the back of my head to some degree.

The Learning How to Learn course(free on Coursera) talks about focused mode vs diffused mode of thinking. I think you might find topic interesting.

Thanks! I’ll definitely checkout that link.
CS50x (Introduction to Programming) [1]: Very well structured. Excellent and very Enthusiastic Teacher & staffs. It was the most fun MOOC I took

Learning How to learn [2]: Life changing. I wish I did it sooner.

ops-class (Operating Systems) [3]: This is by far the toughest MOOC I've taken. The Assignments are really tough. Although not impossible. Just the right amount of tough, I guess. I'm currently in the last few weeks and I've really enjoyed it every bit so far.

Interesting (Not Yet Completed): Introduction to Quantum Physics (2013) [4]: My god, I just love the teacher's enthusiasm. After few lectures, I realised I need to first brush up on classical physics before moving further (which obviously was the requirement that I ignored).





You accidentally duplicated the cs50 link. Where were you taking the operating systems class? I'm very interested :)
Sorry. here's the link. You'd love it.


Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects

Learning How To Learn [1] by Dr. Barbara Oakley, Dr. Terrence Sejnowski available on Coursera & elsewhere.


Since upcoming changes in skill requirements for good jobs could be more rapid than in the past, we need to teach many more people how to learn faster and better.

I wonder if there are startups or programs from institution with a focus on this. I am aware of a popular course "Learning How to Learn" on Coursera. But it seems like an app that interactively helps people to apply this sort of lessons on a concrete set of materials (e.g. Finance, Cardiology, Microprocessor Design, Software Design, etc.) would be even more useful.

Since upcoming changes in skill requirements for good jobs could be more rapid than in the past, we need to teach many more people how to learn faster and better.

Why not teach the same number of people to be 10x? ;)

This is also mentioned in the Coursera course "Learning How to Learn" ( Though I don't recall/know what their source is. "Dali Sleep Technique" turns up many hits in your favorite web browser, however.
If I'm viewing learning as pointless, I'm forgetting about how learning anything is a practice in learning how to learn.

The need to learn how to learn is so important and poorly taught in society. There's a great online course on the subject here:

Learning about how you learn can be a great first step! I highly recommend the aptly titled Coursera course “Learning How To Learn” [0] with Barbara Oakley. She also has an accompanying book “A Mind For Numbers”, which has much of the same information in it.

I’ve worked through both and found them very enjoyable and useful, and I occasionally review my notes on them (with a short quiz, of course!) to refresh my memory. I’m also pursuing further education (coincidentally also a part time masters in a field I have little academic experience in), and I’ve found that the lessons are very applicable.


Thanks. I’ve actually taken that course already. The only thing notable, that I got from that course is the importance of spaced repetition. But my angst is that I simply can’t pick things up at first glance, and envious of those that can.
If you're interested in improving your learning, I can't recommend the free course "Learning how to learn" enough:

It includes a section about this. I've also found many of the lessons applicable to other parts of my life.

Another free course made by the same team:

This course is more focused on how/what to learn to boost your career.

I liked both courses; they take 2-3 hours per week for 4 week.

Mar 01, 2018 · indescions_2018 on How Do We Learn?
The "Learning How To Learn" course is also one of the most popular MOOCs

Learning at scale via MOOCs seems to be enormously effective. EdX alone issued 250K certificates for 2.5M registered users. Mostly in CS.

I'd be interested to see YC Startup Schools own results as well. Do at least 10% of Startup School 2017 grads go on to full time work on their companies?

Mar 01, 2018 · et15 on How Do We Learn?
I took a Coursera course titled Learning How to Learn[0] and found it really helpful as an intro class to this "field". It was also very practical.


That class is free. Everybody should take it. Lots if insights on how to deal with procrastination, effect of physical activities on our brain efficiency, etc...
Giving you a vote for this. This Coursera course helped me reframe my study habits after graduating university and has proven to be invaluable for my self directed learning.
The title of the course really shows that learning is recursive. Pretty fitting given the name of the company who hosts us.
I Recommend this coarse, currently enrolled in
I've also taken this course, but would recommend those new to it just read the post here, which is a good summary:
HN Needs a tip button for things like this. This is amazing. Thank you
Thx. It's a nice summary for this course.
That is a fantastic summary, thank you!
Agree. Having done the course, I think a text summary does a good job of getting to the big ideas (I don't really like learning via video fwiw)
Thanks for sharing something so intimate.

With regards to the Learning How to Learn, is it this course on Coursera?

Yes! That course really gave me a stronger understanding of how to learn, and gave me a lot more confidence that our minds are more malleable than we might believe.
For similar content in video lecture form, "Learning How To Learn" covers the same topics, and is free from Coursera:

It's taught by Barbara Oakley, and the content of her book "A Mind For Numbers" is complementary to "Make It Stick."

+1 for the Learning How To Learn MOOC. Short and easy to follow, but high quality content.
This and some other tricks are covered in the "Learning How to Learn" course on coursera (
Perhaps I am biased because although my English is quite decent it isn't my native tongue.

I'm not sure if we're discussing the same thing here. I am talking about learning.

Yes, there's also a lot of people who believe speed reading allows them to read quicker. Sure, it might seem that way, but does the information stick? Do you think anecdotal evidence to test if information was learned counts as evidence?

Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski didn't mention your proposed learning method in their Learning How to Learn course [1]. They also debunked speed reading in that course. If your proposed learning method works well, they should incorporate it in their course. However, it seems to go against the principles of chunking and overlearning.


I can't find a definitive source, but the average adult reading speed seems to be around 300 wpm. Popular podcast Hardcore History hovers around ~175 wpm (*_PUpCqAQyCQ-Whf02...), so you'd need to almost double the speed to reach a normal reading pace. So I don't think arguments against speed reading really apply to this.

Of course it all depends on the host. If you find a podcast where the host is already reading at 250 wpm, you'll probably have a hard time catching everything at 2x speed.

Reading is not listening though, i'd imagine there's differences in how our brain parses them. This is a very interesting, but exceedingly complex issue.
There's a lot of articles and studies about that, here's a decent one:

I think reading and listening are not as different as they seem.

Maybe they're catered to the lowest common denominator (the elder).

I've been thinking a bit more about it and I don't remember audio-speedreading being mentioned in the Learning How To Learn course (which I followed, and I hold both teachers in high regard). I think I am biased from the text-speedreading shenanigans.

> Of course it all depends on the host.

Point taken.

My theory is it also depends on the reader. As I grow older, I find it is more difficult to follow things. Sure, my vocabulary still slightly increases but I also think things through more, am more experienced, and eventually I'll end up with Alzheimer's. Hence my suggestion it is catered to the elder. Certainly not for HFAs. (I used to talk very quick as well as child. It was annoying as fuck to everyone, not in the least my parents.)

Any books or other resources you recommend to learn these things? On learning to learn I have enjoyed A Mind for Numbers[1] by Barbra Oakley with Coursera course[2], Make it Stick[3] by Peter C. Brown, and How We Learn[4] by Benedict Carey.





I used to enrol this course on Coursera. It called Learning How to Learn. It would be helpful for you.
Do you by chance have the summary of the course? Like your top 10 takeaways.
I forget who the author is but these notes were posted on HN a couple months ago:

I wrote a blog post for the final assignment (years ago, so I don't remember what the exact assignment criteria was).
I'll contribute one takeaway. When you read information and in the moment understand what its saying, you feel like you've learned it, but you really haven't.

To learn it you have to try writing it yourself, then checking it against the source to make sure you didn't miss anything or make errors. Once you can discuss an idea fully and correctly, then you've learned it.

Thats great. Thank you.
Why I still use paper and pen when taking notes.
I think there are a lot of different reasons someone might feel that way, but for me learning about proper studying techniques helped a lot. I'm fine with people having high expectations of me, I think it's when I feel that I can't live up to them that there's pressure that others will "shrug" off as if it's easy. With real tangible study techniques and not just vague general cleverness I feel like I can meet those challenges head on, like I have an actual plan to stand on. The Learning How To Learn course is a good start on this, but I've found a lot of different things on youtube.

Another thing was I felt like people were shrugging off my hard work because I made it look easy and there's 3 things for that -- A.) realize people are focused on their own life, they aren't going to understand everything going on in yours and B.) Stop being silent about your hard work. Even if it's just to some of your close friends, having some people realize you work hard too is nice. C.) Talk to people (like here on HN) with the same problem as you. I'm in some entrepreneur groups on Facebook and it is SO nice to have like minded people with similar problems to talk to or read about.

There's actually scientific support for that theory. You gave an example of 'diffused mode' [1] of thinking as opposed to the 'focused mode' of thinking.

Neither is necessarily 'better'; both have their place in our daily lives. The 'diffused mode' regularly doesn't get the credit it deserves as people (e.g. educational systems) are hammering too much on the 'focused mode'.

If you are interested in learning how to use the 'diffused mode', more things related to learning, and optimizing the way you learn I can recommend the free course on Coursera called Learning How To Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.



You might like:

I took the course. I thought it was excellent and it took less than a week for me to complete it working very part time on it. I was already using some of the suggested techniques, which was reassuring, and I learned some new ones. My progress with learning a new language and memorizing things in general has noticeably improved.
Can you summarize some of the techniques suggested in the course?
But what's the best way to learn how to learn?
I think that, first you have to learn how to take courses on how to learn on how to learn, then you may progress to taking course on how to learn how to learn.
> learning how to learn

Look at the writings of Dr. Barbara Oakley or at

Thanks so much, this is now on my todo list :)

I found someone uploaded all of the videos to YouTube!

Unfortunately I don't have the disk space to download them at this exact moment (been saving for several months for a couple new disks, not quite there yet) so I've base64-encoded the following YouTube playlist URL to heighten the chances the videos stay up til I can grab them (both to archive them and also because I download videos to watch them - old computer).


I also found, which has some related videos (that I think were placed on YouTube explicitly).

I think most people are in the same boat as you in terms of learning. I think "bluffing your way" through classes or interviews only sets one up for failure later. Learning the basics might be boring but one will find trouble getting to the fun stuff without a strong foundation in the concept.

You would really like the course, "Learning How to Learn" on Coursera [0]. The instructor wrote the book, "Mind for Numbers" [1] which is also great.

The course and book teach a great framework for actually learning and comprehension.



Refer to this online course for advice on how to learn better:
Just an FYI: there is a great Coursera MOOC on learning how to learn:

Simply awesome.

Just finished it yesterday myself. It gets relinked to in every thread like this but can't be linked to enough.
Many of these subjects are discussed in the popular Learning How To Learn online course []. I finally signed up for it and I'm grateful. Sure, we all know how to learn, otherwise we wouldn't be here. This course provides practical techniques for learning more information, better, and with greater durability. Plus science!
If this interests you and you want to dive deeper into how you learn, I am enjoying this coursera course and highly recommend it:

I learned about this from the Learning how to learn class on Coursera. Can't recommend it enough.
I went through the course on your recommendation. Thanks, it was great!

Apparently much of it based on Oakley's book A Mind For Numbers, which I'll try to read soon. Much of the content also reminded me of Josh Waitzkin's The Art of Learning. A related thread elsewhere on HN [1] also suggests Make It Stick by Peter Brown.


Just today I got notification from iTunes that her new book "Mindshift" (which I had preoredered) is out. Her new course with the same name is on Coursera too After first week not sure how much does it overlap with "Learning how to learn".
The only resource I'd recommend is Learning How To Learn by Barbara Oakley

It also has a companion book.(Book came first anyway). It's well researched and has many tricks on boosting productivity e.g Pomodoro technique.

Great course. I would also add the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. They go hand in hand and overlap a bit but yet I feel they are complementary to each other.
Start with Strang's MIT OCW Linear Algebra course:

You really only need to know arithmetic to get started.

Use Anki to create flash-cards so that you learn faster and don't forget.

Also, manual calculation is fundamentally how you learn mathematics. Following along is a first step, but is not good enough to learn the material. You need to do the calculations and run into problems, so you can re-create the knowledge in your brain.

EDIT> Take Coursera's Learning How to Learn Course. It sounds flaky, but will accelerate all of your other learning, and help with procrastination as well.

I think procrastination time is also important and necessary.

I just completed a course on Coursera (Learning How to Learn - One of things mentioned is that our brain has a focused and diffused mode and both are needed for us to learn.

So, I guess, something similar happens when we are working. You need both focus time but also a down time to achieve things. Of course, too much procrastination is also not a good thing.

Making breaks actually helps learning. I may start to sound like a broken record, but take a look at this: It's easy to follow, and helps to understand how learning works, what helps it and what hinders it.
Recommended free MOOC: "Learning how to learn"

They put some interesting brain research into that course. I started last week and love it so far.

See already recommended course Without small building blocks comfortably sitting in your brain there will be no larger ideas to focus on.
This article seems to be an advertisement so I don't have a positive disposition towards it.

There's this free online course: which I think might be preferable to the book in the article, since it has transcribed video that you can speed up, exercises, and quizzes.

I took that course. I didn't gain much from it. There is some interesting theory about how we learn.

The best (er.. only) trick I remember: rather than re-reading material, reflect on it for a few minutes after you've read it, trying to recall and organize it in your mind.

You are probably already a great learner then. I took the course and can definitely say it was an eye opener.

Few additional tricks I picked up: * Recall(as you mentioned) is critical to understanding. Effective recall also connects a topic just learned with other known topics. * A problem looks solvable but its important to actually apply yourself and arrive at the solution. The process of learning does not offer rewards until the mind has been exercised. * Deliberate practice of poorly understood concepts. Don't fall into the trap of fooling yourself to believe that you have understood a concept or practicing problems that you are already good at. * Read through material quickly to to create a "framework" or stick-figures in the mind. Gradually add new concepts to the basic framework. * Learning is best done with frequent breaks to absorb information. Learning is also a passive process where the neurons need time to grow. * Repetition spaced across several days forces us to recall. This helps strengthen memories and filing concepts into long-term memory bank. * Better sleep helps.

I could go on. Really wonderful course.

All these are basic Common Sense, aren't they though? In fact, structuring them like this appears to take all the fun out of the process of learning, reducing it to a mere mechanical algorithm.

My take is this - you learn best when you are curious or can get curious about something. That kind of learning sticks. Or maybe I'm just different.

Sometimes in school (and life in general) there are things you aren't super interested in but must learn anyway to satisfy.
When im reading purely driven by curiosity, I find myself skimming for new info, giving myself shot after shot of dopamine by going "Aha! familiar", "Aha! know that", but never really doing full justice to the text. I feel like all these years of curious reading has given me a mile of breadth but only and inch of depth in many topics.

The course teaches not just "how to learn" but really "how to learn and become a master of the subject". While being curious and interested definitely gets the learning cart rolling, I doubt one can become a master without deliberately focusing on weak areas of understanding, practice and reflection -- all painful tedious stuff. For me learning sticks when I associate it with things I already know, zoomed in and out a couple of times to both understand a concept itself and how it fits in the big picture. So I do believe having "a method" to learn and deploy new learnings.

Some like me grew up in a culture of rote learning where we repeatedly read and smear the same text over and over again hoping something would stick. A lot of the teaching of the courses were completely counter-intuitive to me. I have spent close to 25k hours studying CS in an academic setting and could have saved myself so much time studying effectively. I've been working in SV for several years now and into some serious studying again so this course was very timely for me.

The concept of chunking is covered in Learning How To Learn. I think the provide references as well.

Can highly recommend the book the Coursera course is based on [1]: A mind for numbers [2]. Have read it multiple times back to from and front to back.



This is mentioned in her bio at the end, but worth noting here, I think: Barbara runs a coursera course on learning how to learn (

It is interesting in that I find that Coursera courses highlight the flawed learning processes she mentions quite well. I often find myself watching the videos, thinking I get it, buzzing through the usually basic follow-up questions, and moving on. Likely that material won't last in my brain for very long in a quickly usable fashion.

Coursera simply mirrors collegiate pedagogy: a professor lectures you for an hour, you take a quiz here and there, and then there are some larger assessments that prove mastery. Study habits and methods are entirely left up to the student. You could employ Dr. Oakley's methods, whatever works for you, or just breeze by without truly internalizing anything.

Coursera's missing one powerful dynamic of a traditional university, however: incentives to remember beyond a class.

Say you coast your freshman year without internalizing: you'll pay the price the following year or when you take some cumulative assessment like the MCAT.

With Coursera everything still feels very disjointed. Even in the specializations, knowledge doesn't need to compound for success. You can easily succeed in edutainment mode. Why take notes when you can use your hands for popcorn?

When you learn things, you do so in a focused mode using working memory. Working memory can be thought of as a re-wipeable white/black board. The information,skill,idea is called a CHUNK and is encoded into a weak neural loop . You strengthen loose understanding through practice and repetition.

A chunk has no context. Context is how a chunk fits into the big picture of what you already know. At a neural level, context means neurons are making new connections. Think of a chunk as the WHAT. The context as HOW you use the chunk you are learning.

For a learned chunk to be useful, you need to know HOW a chunk is useful. You need to know the CONTEXT. Context is knowing the HOW and WHEN to use what you have learned. If you change from focused learning to relaxation, you can let your un-focused mind create these connections. [0]

By letting the brain drift into diffuse mode (unfocused attention), you are making connections between chunks, creating context. The brain is doing this at a lower level of conscience by sleeping or relaxing or changing focus. You use a bath, Darwin had his ^thinking path^ for the same reasons. [1],[2]




[2] "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects" ~

Is there any science behind Chunks, or is it just a seemingly useful way to model learning?
The science underpinning the idea of learning, memory, recall and is based/described in neuroscience at at cellular level. So you can read papers. The coursework is really at a more abstracted level describing the processes as a model based on cited research. This is a high level course to improve learning, not STEM as such. Still very useful.

Chunking is described in more detail at Week2 and books:

Fuck this is relatable. I'm quite a solitary person, I'm constantly in my head contextualizing and overhauling past opinions and bias.

I thought this was mainly computers that taught me to think this way, didn't realise there was documented philosophy behind it.

Although not directly about Maths, her online course (MOOC) "Learning How To Learn" is also a great resource.


Reading through what you said, it reminded me about how the Learning how to Learn Course [1] tackles procrastination. Basically the way I understood it (hopefully I did it right), if you focus on the product (ie. the final goal), our brain activates the pain sensors which make us look for other activities that will be more fun to do. The suggestion is to focus on the process (or system) that will eventually get you to the goal, using small periods of focused attention that can be individually rewarded (like spending some time doing relaxing and/or fun activities after focusing on the task).


Learning How to Learn, one of Coursera's most popular courses (and free!).
Learning How To Learn by Barbara Oakly on Coursera It teaches you fundamentals of how the brain works, and how to improve your learning. It is free. Those three factors make it a great first course.

Cryptography I by Dan Boneh on Coursera I actually can't recommend it to everyone because I didn't complete it and I just wasn't intelligent enough on the material to complete it. This requires one to be good with advanced maths, and I got migraine issues from this (same as with advanced maths in my youth). However it is very well explained. The problem was me, not Dan Boneh's course.

Positive Psychology by Barbara Fredrickson My significant other completed this course (I have not tried it yet), and highly recommends it. Its on my list.

Securing Democracy by J. Alex Halderman I thought I was interested in this subject, and I was to some extend, but I was not enough interested to follow the course to the end. However the course as far as I took it was excellent.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice by Edwin Bakker I didn't complete this course either but it was interesting and good nonetheless.

There are just a few of the courses I can recommend, and it doesn't contain the one I'm currently one because I haven't completed it yet (will likely include it once completed). There's also courses I cannot recommend (it also depends on the audience). I will resort to the positive angle though wink.

One thing I got from the courses is that it is OK to not complete a course. You can regard it as time waste which is fair enough. My goal is not to get a certificate though. That's merely a byproduct. My goal is to learn (which is a process), to satisfy my taste for knowledge. However Coursera changed its terms of usage last years and ever since I used the platform less.

Maybe just throwing it out there as an additional resource: Coursera has a "learning how to learn" course, which includes lots of references about the theory of learning but many hands-on tips too. It's not too time consuming and doesn't cost anything, so probably can't hurt to look at it. I liked it and try to apply some of the ideas when learning.

"Flow" seems to help a lot.

I recently did some image editing with GIMP. (I usually use Photoshop, and don't really like GIMP, but decided to use it because it is FLOSS and I'm switching to FLOSS where available.)

It was one of my first times using it, and it was difficult to use. I had to check a couple tutorials on YouTube before I could get into the flow.

Once I got into the flow, it was an amazing feeling. And after I was done editing, I was able to learn other, new things unrelated to GIMP.

This is the most difficult thing for me: getting into the flow. I suspect that GIMP won't be able to get me into the flow once I become better at it.

It's such a mystery: flow. There are reams and reams written about it on the internet. On how to hack it. Do this, do that.

What I want is a simple activity, that once I start doing it, I automatically get into flow (so that I can harness the momentum to learn other things). Anyone have personal experience with such "hack flow" activities?

> "Flow" seems to help a lot.

They are related but opposed concepts. I see flow as performing whereas learning is growing.

For me, learning feels like the opposite of flow - you are stuck and the mental difficulty is so bad its like physical pain, but with perseverance you break through and get past the obstacle and previously blocked you. Flow is like using a gear on a terrain for which it is suited but when you meet a new terrain and you have no suitable gear, its time to learn you a new one.

If somebody prefer a book instead, one of the recommended books for this course is book [1] Make it stick: The science of successful learning. The book is written by several cognitive scientist and it contains many useful tricks about learning. Here you can find a short summary containing main ideas of the book [2].



I read this (similar) book recently and using the techniques in it I passed the AWS exams in a short space of time:
Can somebody who has finished academic education still learn from this course?
Yes! I did it around the beginning of 2016. Anyone can use the techniques, and habits they talk about.

One thing they imparted was that frequent testing is better for learning than repeated reviewing. This caused me to put more emphasis on testing tools and spend less time on reviewing.

For example with vocabulary in language learning rather than review my textbook, I use an SRS like Memrise to test me, incrementally every day.

It also helped me realize how much structure, or behind the scenes help we loose when we leave an environment like university. I would say at the very least it will help you shore up some gaps in your personal learning style.

Yes, I think so. I took this course while studying the last of a five-year engineering program. The mental tools are still really useful, and not something I have encountered through the 'regular' courses given at our local university.
Yes, absolutely, I took it this year and it helps me a lot. There is also the book "A mind for number"[1] by Barbara Oakley the course author with a little more content if you prefer.


Going through the class myself. Really good approach - probably more valuable than any other class I've done.

Can't praise enough.

I too was going to mention this course.

It is absolutely fantastic, IMO. Going through every week/lecture of it, I keep saying myself it must be an obligatory course for every freshman. We are surrounded with so many distractions in our ordinary daily life and most of us are terrible at habit formation. Procrastination and irregular sleep pattern are our most-common "habit". Long story short, IMHO, this course is a must for whom wants to form a habit, learn how to avoid procrastination / about the importance of sleep / how to avoid distractions and other relevant things.

I believe you meant it should be required for every freshman in college (to which I would agree), but I'd go farther and suggest that it should be required for high school freshman as well, and probably even students starting middle school (I found that the transition from one school level to the next was more abrupt than the transition from one year to the next).

We'd drastically raise the level of numeracy and critical thinking and even graduation rates for various types of students.

It jives with what I've observed the grad students I've known going through.

I think it's important to frame oneself as a mental athlete. Olympic athletes don't exert themselves for 20 hours and then get 4 hours sleep and expect any kind of peak performance. You need sleep, you need a mix of focused effort, and unfocused consolidation / inspiration time, etc.

Programmers and students have a tendency to ignore lessons about training and peak performance that are well understood by those in physical sports.

This course changed my life:

Irrelevant grammatical nitpick: I think the word you're looking for is "jibe", not "jive". From M-W:

    verb: to be in accord
Weird, I've always heard "jive" informally used as "to be in accord", and it seems like it's commonly held slang:
I can highly recommend this course, Learning How To Learn [1]. Among things it explains how memory works, how to avoid procrastination [2], and how to use several tools at your disposal in order to improve your memory. It is free, btw.



> Yes there is, watch someone else do it.

This is not as good. There's a lot of evidence from neuroscience that this leads to an illusion of competence. I.e. it's much easier to follow along through a sample solution than to craft a solution yourself. Until you craft the solution yourself, the knowledge won't actually be chunked as firmly in your brain.

I've seen this time and again, as a teacher, and it was mentioned explicitly in Coursera's Learning How To Learn course:

NOTE: watching someone is a good way to get started, but until you do it on your own, you haven't learned it deeply, and it may be difficult to recall in a real situation.

They touch on this in the "Learning how to learn" online course. One of the point is to learn to recognise patterns:

IMO the best way to get started (like with anything) is by getting started. I think the way you make progress is going to come down to you personally as an individual and what your motivations are. Before learning ANYTHING new i would invest some time in learning how to learn. There is a good coursera course on this and the book by the course authors is incredibly useful for putting a framework with some techniques that can help the approach to learning any new skill. This is not meant to be condescending advice but for me personally it's changed the way i go about learning any new skill now.

I think as well it really depends where you are coming from / what your background is. The reason i say this is i have recently gone through a similar transition into machine learning 'from scratch' except once i got there i realised i knew more than i thought. My academic background is in psychology / biomedical science which involved a LOT of statistics. From my perspective once i started getting into the field i realised there are a lot of things i already knew from stats with different terms in ML. It was also quite inspiring to see many of the eminent ML guys have backgrounds in Psychology (for instance Hinton) meaning i felt perhaps a bit more of an advantage on the theoretical side that many of my programming peers don't have.

I realise most people entering the field right now have a programming background so will be coming at things from an opposite angle. For me i find understanding the vast majority of the tests and data manipulation pretty standard undergraduate stuff (using python / SK Learn is incredible because the library does so much of the heavy lifting for you!). Where i have been struggling is in things that an average programmer probably finds very basic - it took me 3 days to get my development environment set up before i could even start coding (solved by Anaconda - great tool and lessons learned). Iterating over dictionaries = an nightmare for me (at first anyway, again getting better).

I think (though i may be biased) it's easier to go from programming to ML rather than the other way around because so much of ML is contingent on having decent programming skills. If you have a decent programming skill set you can almost 'avoid' the math component in a sense due to the libraries available and support online. There are some real pluses to ML compared to traditional statistics - i.e. tests that are normally ran in stats to check you are able to apply the test (i.e. shape of the data: skewness / kurtosis, multicollinearity etc) become less of an issue as the algorythms role is to deliver an output given the input.

I would still recommend some reading into the stats side of things to get a sense of how data can be manipulated to give different results because i think this will give you a more intuitive feel for parameter tuning.

This book does not look very relevant but it's actually a really useful introduction to thinking about data and where the numbers we hear about actually come from

In conclusion if you can programme and have a good attitude towards learning and are diligent with efforts I think this should be a simple transition for you.

Can't believe after scrolling through that there's no link to the course in the article:

For the impatient, the author of the course has a nice handout with 10 tips for good and bad studying:
> 9. Eat your frogs first. Do the hardest thing earliest in the day, when you are fresh.

I agree with that in general, but I do also find that it's much less intimidating to start out on something easy (so you're more likely to start) and also helps you to ease into a state of focus. In college I would usually start with a reading (while taking reading notes) since it was something I knew I could always do without too much fuss. Afterward, it was much easier to start in on thornier stuff.

I think that once one has accepted that he/she must start at that moment no matter what, and it will a long time till finishing, then starting with the hard stuff makes all the sense. You might be feeling drained by the end, when you were to take on those hard problems/subjects. Or the easier stuff you can attack at other times, during breaks, while it might be difficult to advance on the harder stuff without a bigger more comfortable time frame.
Thanks for sharing! Is there anything like Anki out there, but it's a SaaS product and available both on my phone and on the web?
Quizlet, but I personally still use Anki because it's free and it works on my phone.
Anki includes a free sync feature to keep you desktop and mobile device synced. The only cost of Anki is the one time $25 cost of the iOS version. You can get around this by using the we version on your iPhone.
I don't quite understand your question.



iOS: ($24.99)

>Not checking with your instructors or classmates to clear up points of confusion.

Having spend much of yesterday grading, this one rings true. As a professor it is incredibly disappointing to get an assignment from a student who clearly didn't understand the assignment and decided to fake it only to do the assignment totally wrong.

Students, if you are confused: 1. read the directions 2. look on the syllabus (I get way too many emails with questions that are answered in the directions or the syllabus) and then 3. ask the instructor

Which type of learning are these meant for? They seem geared towards a very narrow range of subjects and a very particular testing style.

Example: "Don't repeatedly solve problems you already know how to solve." That's great if the test is only looking to see whether you know how to solve the problem. If instead you are going to be tested on how quickly you can solve multiple iterations of the problem, extensive repetition is a necessity.

There are also times when passive reading wholly absent understanding is not a bad things. This is particularly true in law and history. Any law student who properly understands an assigned reading prior to a lecture need not bother attending class. Often you must just read and retain material on the expectation that it will make sense later. Either it will be explained in person, or at some point you will attain a critical mass of knowledge. At law school that is normally at the start of the second year, when you start making links between the various disciplines and suddenly it all starts making sense.

Hmm I disagree with point number 7 under 10 Rules of Bad Studying

> 7. Neglecting to read the textbook before you start working problems.

I think it's a perfectly valid approach. I found that trying to solve the problems first helped me form questions which I would then seek to answer by reading the text. Of course then I would go back to the problems and try to solve them again. Rinse and repeat until I could solve them with confidence.

Totally agree. Besides, many textbooks are incredibly bad. Add in a low attention span like mine, and reading chapters start to end becomes an incredibly frustrating experience where I'm happy just to get through, let alone learn anything. That's similar to my issues with lectures, actually.
I agree. I always looked at the math questions first. Then I worked backward to figure them out.
It's okay to disagree with any of those bullets. I disagree with the entire hand out, but that's not relevant to the people it works for in whole or in part.

I'm a total autodidact. I've been doing it long enough that I know what works for me, but I know that many people don't have the base knowledge to do it, so if they need a resource on how to become a better self-learner (or be successful at coursera), at least it is a start.

Curious to know, what works for you?
Not the parent but the most powerful technique for me is definitely doing recalling, and for this you definitely need to have patience.
Testing/recall and spaced repetition well validated. Focus seems like a gimme. What are your specific problems?
Her on line course: "Learning how to learn" is the most successful MOOC of all time:

I really enjoyed following it.

This article was written by Barbara Oakley who also teaches the most popular MOOC in the world and also my favourite MOOC called Learning How To Learn:

She also a upcoming book titled 'Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential':

There is a learning to learn course on Coursera

I strongly recommend it for engineers over 40.

I strongly recommend it for everyone. Especially for those workaholics and one-(brain)-hemishpere individuals who think that knowing only one narrow area is OK.
Jun 19, 2016 · milesf on Think Less, Think Better
The best material I've found on this subject so far is Barbera Oakley's "Learning How to Learn" course ( along with the companion book "A Mind For Numbers".

The two modes they refer to are focussed and diffuse, and the admission that our brains can't do both at the same time. She provides examples and techniques that, while some might find silly, are effective.

Great course! Relatively easy and quick to take, but gives lots of good tips on how to learn effectively. Knowledge that benefits almost anyone.
I feel like this is a lot of what should be taught (and indirectly is being taught) in middle / high schools! There's so much specialization later in life that no curriculum can cover everything and learning to learn seems essential.
This post is about how to learn, and touches on concepts that I felt were very well explained in the coursera course "Learning how to learn" (
Completely agree. When I was in the university one of our professors told us that purpose of education is not to teach us everything but to teach us how to learn.
That was a great course by the way.
Ha! I know how you feel! Check out "Learning how to learn?" ( - it's an excellent course that may help you out. (Though not with jiu-jitsu, kung-fu, and b-212 helicopter piloting I'm afraid :-)).
Thanks for this! I just signed up ...
I did Creative Problem Solving through Coursera and had a great time participating in the class projects.

There are some great tools which you can use in your everyday life to think innovative solutions to problems. The exercises were incredible fun as well.

Another course which I highly recommend is Learning How To Learn

Mar 05, 2016 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by ocjo
Feb 19, 2016 · 2 points, 0 comments · submitted by jhund
Analogy, metaphor or just simple evocative imagery are good tools for making subject matter stick, though:
I would suggest you do something much more comprehensive and do this:

I've never taken any course that was more useful and a lot of other people feel the same way.

I took "Learning How to Learn" [1] early this year, and can recommend it. Very well presented on how to learn effectively. Most of the strategies were not new to me, put it was still good with a refresher. And it was a quick and easy course to take. I watched all the lectures on my phone while commuting to and from work.


Dec 07, 2015 · 27 points, 4 comments · submitted by mrdrozdov
Video was cut off after 2 minutes for me, with a message saying "You are previewing this course."
This is a new level of the click bait.
The questions and answers in this interview are very superficial and generic. It seems like the interview was a homework assignment...How is this on the front page?
I think the beauty of this video is that there are some simple solutions to these problems that a lot of people (myself included) don't know. Terry Sejnowski is the President of NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems), which is a machine learning conference that is running this week.
She also has a coursera course (that I'm going through right now) -
How do you like that course? I was thinking about taking it.
This course is great, everyone how wants to improve his learnings techniques should do this course.
Indeed, this course was great. It's pretty much a summary of the state of the art of learning science.
To be honest it puts the video above into practice requiring some level of accountability. I would recommend it for anyone who is procrastination prone. There are some really solid techniques (that are based on most recent science) that has already had some impact on my life.

Do it!

I haven't taken many online courses but my wife & I just took the course "Learning How to Learn" ( together and I wish this was available before I went to university. They do a great job of presenting the content and provide a lot of references for additional reading for those that have a deeper interest. It should probably be considered the pre-requisite to all other online courses! - This is the best online course I've taken. Another one I am signed up for and have already done one week of lectures (preview mode) and find very applicable is
I also found the r programming class to be super useful.
I didn't think the R course was that great. I only did the first course in the speciality but I thought the assignments didn't match the lectures very well.

I don't really know R but I still got through OK (100%) but it didn't compare well with the EdX AMPLab Spark course I did around the same time.

Learning how to learn is really cool! Best time investment I have ever made.
Thanks for posting this.
Interestingly we get a lot of mixed reviews for R Prog course:

Learning how to learn is the best course online that any one can take.

I blogged my experience with learning R here -

and with the class here -

I though Jenny Bryan's R class had more modern take on R that was significantly easier to follow.

Even with some R experience I didn't feel like I got enough information from the R Prog lectures to complete the assignments.

I've been spending the past hour on "Leaning how to learn" because of the recommendations here. I was... well, the course was definitely not quite what I expected.

What I'm seeing here is a bunch of "tricks", and a lot of "brain facts" which I would usually dismiss as pseudoscience. The course almost feels like a scam. What gives?

All of the course content is based on the hard science, but is simplified so that every one can understand. You can look at the background of one of the course instructor:
I can recommend a coursera course that could help you. Its short and always open so doesn't require waiting for it to start:

What I like about it is that its created by a neurobiologist and an engineer so it combines understanding of brain function combined with practical methods to work around its limitations like procrastination and concentration.

I expect everyone will have a different take away but for me, it was the role of how chunking not just involved in learning but procrastination. When we approach something unstructured, the complexity can generate the type of discomfort that leads to procrastination. Seeing that chunking not only helps the brain remember something but helps it stay on mission has been helpful.

I did a great course earlier this year on Coursera called "Learning How To Learn"

It's pretty short but covers some good strategies for learning that are backed up by current Neurobiology research.

Could you share some of those strategies?
Sure. There are loads of things to cover but I'll outline the ones I found most useful. Some of them are common sense but sometimes that ain't so common ;)

Avoid procrastination 1 - Set aside time to study a little and often rather than trying to do huge sessions. Cramming doesn't work, your brain doesn't like it. 2 - Turn off your phone, shut down those facebook/email/reddit/imgur tabs so they're not tempting you. 3 - Don't get disheartened by thinking about the whole topic at once. How do you eat an elephant? One little bite at a time. 4 - Just get started, even for a few mins. You'll get into the flow after just a few mins.

Take your breaks 1 - Recall is greatly improved by taking a short breaks to let your brain digest the material you're learning. 2 - Try the pomodoro technique. Focussed work with zero distractions for 25 mins, then a 5 min break, repeat. For coding I prefer a longer work period to load the problem into my noggin but YMMV.

As part of the course we had to do up a few small blog entries explaining the material. Another good point: re-explaining the subject cements your understanding of it. Feel free to take a look at mine, I go into a bit more detail on the above items

In response to the response to my first comment, a lot of what is missing from these discussions is an understanding of how the brain acquires knowledge and builds skills. I recommend as a good starting point.
I highly recommend this course.

I have some ambitious goals, including learning management skills and data science, and I thought it wise to bootstrap this by learning about learning.

I'm going through Coursera for this:

is the course any good? I've considered it but yet to pull the trigger
Mar 16, 2015 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by emrehan
It seems like you are having trouble internalizing math. I think what you mean by "that does not strike" is that you have not yet developed actual insight into what you are learning. This seems to be what you are missing.

So, you need to learn how to develop this insight. It's not easy, but maybe just knowing what you are looking for (that is, to develop intuitive insight into what you are learning) puts you into the right track, and hopefully it gets easier with practice later.

Here are a few resources. Please note that these are not resources for math, but resources on how to develop insight into math.

- Cal Newport's essay about insight in technical college courses: (the general idea still aplies even if you're not studying in/for college)

- BetterExplained Math Cheatsheet - (a collection of intuitive, insight-generating explanations on a variety of math topics, from basic to advanced)

- Coursera's Learning How To Learn course -

- A Mind for Numbers book - (the book used in the course above)

I hope this helps. A few basic, general tips for developing insight is to think about applications. For example, your slope of line problem. If instead you called the y-axis "distance travelled" and the x-axis time, can you "feel" that the slope of the line is the speed? What if you substitute "distance travelled" for "revenue generated"? What would be the equivalent of "speed" in this case? Try with a few more examples, and hopefully you will develop an insight that the slope of the line is the rate of change of something, and will be able to apply it to many situations.

Exactly! Thanks for the resources! And I do try to think about applications. And wow, what an amazing example of speed = distance/time! It really clears out what a slope is!
"If you agree with Cleese's premise, I think it follows that what you need is motivation for the open mode (the blue sky, blank sheet of paper period), and discipline for the closed mode where you put your head down and get the work done."

I have been doing Learning how to learn at Coursera[1]. There is actually term for this 'blue sky' thinking mode, it is called the diffuse mode.

In the course they call it the diffuse mode, you can also be in the focused mode.

In the focused mode you tend to see all the details, though its difficult to get insights in this mode. Your thinking and problem solving is constrained by your natural thinking patterns and heuristics. This mode is really good when solving problems you have seen before.

In the diffuse mode, you gain new insights/discoveries by linking up different bits and pieces.

Having said that:

"If you agree with Cleese's premise, I think it follows that what you need is motivation for the open mode"

I do not understand this logic, can you clarify?

My reading of the article after having done the course is:

You can be disciplined and still do this blue sky/diffuse mode thinking, i do not think they are mutually exclusive.


* Edit: Added more details on thinking mode, and link to course

Dec 30, 2014 · uulbiy on How to Learn Efficiently
There is a coursera course called "Learning How to Learn"[1] by Barbara Oakley that is starting soon. I took the previous session and it was very interesting. I liked the science[2] behind each part of the course (procrastination, memory, modes of thinking etc). The weekly interviews were certainly a big plus (however they were usually long at ~40 minutes).

It's a fun four week course with very little work and I recommend it.


[2] After each lecture there was a list of references to check out for more info.

I did this course in August and found it extremely valuable. We recently published an extended review [1] of of the course.

I didn't do the coursera course but her book [A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science]( change my way of thinking when it comes to learning, which I had read it sooner.
What a great reference! Awhile back I wrote down "learning to learn" as one of my outside-work goals and didn't really know how to approach it. It seems like a force-multiplier for everything you can do - I look forward to the course!
Thank you. I am embarking on a course of independent study which I expect to last for a year to four, and I have a feeling that this course will pay for itself in both time, effort, and increased understanding.
If I were to pick one part of that course to share it would be the explanation of how long term memories are formed through practice (1-6 Introduction to Memory).

Knowing how something actually works, and knowing precisely how my actions achieve the desired result is important to me. I'm very skeptical of study techniques, and more interested in the underlying physiology that I am trying to manipulate.

Long-term potentiation (LTP) "is widely considered one of the major cellular mechanisms that underlies learning and memory."[1]

Spaced Repetition[2] and Spaced Learning[3] at techniques directly designed around LTP.

The course content is locked, but there is a fantastic paper that gives a thorough overview of what we know about the behavior of memory[4], as well as a video series by the principle author[5] linked below.

This is kind of my thing. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more, or if you know of additional sources you'd recommend I check out.






> The course content is locked

Actually, you can view both previous sessions. I am not sure if you can do it without previously registering for the course since I registered for both previous sessions. I am sure though that you have to login to view the content. Here are the urls:

Session 2:

Session 1:

I have found Part II of Luc Beaudoin's book "Cognitive Productivity"[1] to be very interesting. It presents a theory of learning using a "mindware" model in which learning is the purposeful instilling of mindware[2]. His core strategies for "instilling mindware" include deliberate practice and repetition. I'm no expert in this field, but I've found Beaudoin's model to be helpful in understanding why deliberate practice works--it helps develop the "monitors" we need to recognize when knowledge is applicable, the "motivators" to push us to do something about it, and the knowledge itself. I don't know how widely accepted his theories are, or if there are other accessible sources, but I've found the book to be very useful in thinking about how I learn.


[2] a term coined by David Perkins, who provides some of the foundation upon which Beaudoin builds his theories: (see also

Other sources commonly cited by Beaudoin include Carl Bereiter, K. Anders Ericsson, Keith Stanovich, Phillip Ackerman, and Aaron Sloman. I hope this provides as much fodder for you as it has for me :).

Oct 13, 2014 · 8 points, 0 comments · submitted by oinkgrr
Just saw that the author, Barbara Oakley, has a (free) Coursera course titled "Learning How to Learn" starting Oct 3. Sign-up here -
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