An Expert’s Advice on How to Learn

No matter how intelligent one may be, learning how to learn can be more difficult than it seems. However, a popular course offered on Coursera teaches just that.

Coursera, a technology company founded by two Stanford professors, provides online courses from several universities in a variety of topics. “Learning How to Learn” is Coursera’s most popular class to-date, according to The New York Times, with more than 1.8 million students already enrolled from around the world. This innovative learning course, taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley, a Professor at Oakland University, and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, teaches people of all ages how the brain uses two distinct learning modes and how it divides information into categories for storage in the brain. Read on for a brief overview of these concepts.

Learning Techniques

  • Focus/Don’t—According to Dr. Oakley, the brain has two modes of thinking: “focused,” which describes the state in which people focus on learning, and “diffused,” a neutral resting state in which the new information takes time to settle in the brain. When the brain is in diffuse mode, unexpected revelations and insights can occur. For this reason, experts suggest taking breaks after focusing intently on material for an extended period of time.
  • Taking Breaks—Speaking of which, in order to be better equipped to achieve those periods of focus, Dr. Oakley suggests using the Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. To use this technique, the student simply sets a timer for 25 minutes of studying, which is followed by a brief reward. The reward can be anything from taking a walk to listening to a favorite song or anything else that allows your brain to slip into a more relaxed state. At this point, your brain can begin consolidating the new knowledge. And as the student becomes more accustomed to using the timer for studying, it can also become an effective measure to overcome procrastination when attempting to study.
  • Practice—As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. By practicing, one can begin “chunking,” or the process of creating a neutral pattern that can be retrieved later. In other words, when the brain acquires new information, it also creates innovative ways of storing and remembering this information. Once the information settles into the brain, the knowledge becomes easily accessible and eventually is incorporated into a string of complex concepts stored in the mind.
  • Know Thyself—Lastly, people learn in diverse ways. According to Dr. Oakley, some have “race car brains” and learn things quickly, whereas those with “hiker brains” take longer to understand information. Moreover, each of these types has its own sets of advantages and disadvantages. For instance, those with “race car brains” can learn things more quickly than most but may miss minor details. On the flip side, although it takes those with “hiker brains” longer to grasp concepts, they are more likely to retain the minor details.

Overall, learning how to learn can be an arduous process. Nevertheless, the most crucial element of embracing this process is unlearning any unproductive learning methods. In other words, when a student realizes his study habits may be working against him, he can begin to rebuild his learning process in a manner that is both healthy and effective.

Furthermore, by beginning to incorporate and apply these techniques to study habits, students will begin to see the positive effects in no time. Indeed, no matter the student’s skill or grade level, learning how to learn is a tool that may change school work for the better.

If your student finds it difficult to incorporate these concepts in his or her current school environment, consider online learning, which allows students the convenience of learning at home! Visit for details!

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