The Book

This post is a short summary of learning methods described in “Wlam sie do mozgu” by Radoslaw Kotarski. A book summarizing the most efficient learning methods studied by scientists over centuries.

Methods

Curious Kid

  • Ask questions about the meaning of everything you learn about: “Why?” “How is it possible?”
  • Connect new information with knowledge you already have
  • Don’t go too far off-topic when asking questions

Terminator

  • Immediately connect theoretical knowledge with physical movement. Put it to practice.
  • No need to do anything real, any simple simulation will do (e.g. pretend you’re driving a car when learning rules of the road)
  • Practice in this method is meant only to strengthen learning of the theory. Do not focus on learning the motions.

This method’s name doesn’t make much sense in English (“termin” in polish means apprenticeship), I like it nevertheless.

Crash Test

  • Test your knowledge using tests.
  • Mental effort necessary to recall information is the best way to learn.
  • Simple test is the best test - don’t use complicated systems (e.g. just ask and answer questions or write down everything you know about something).

Flashcards

  • Test yourself using flashcards.
  • Flashcard is a piece of paper with a question on one side and an answer on the other side.
  • Try using the Leitner system.
  • Take breaks, do not try to go through too many flashcards at once (see Dancer’s method below).

I created a simple program for learning with this method. See Github Repository

Dancer

  • You will remember for longer if you space your learning sessions over a longer period of time (e.g. learn something today, repeat a week later and again after a month).
  • Plan your study sessions to forget a little bit before the next one - your brain will have to work a little bit harder to remember the information, making a stronger connection in your brain.
  • It is unclear how much time between sessions is needed. See what works best for you.

The idea was successfully used by a dancer Martha Graham in her dance classes, hence the method’s name.

Change of Place

  • Change places where you study. The old method of learning in quiet, boring room seems to make sense but research never confirmed this.
  • Variety of places makes it easier for your brain to subconsciously associate information with the place. Making it easier to recall what you’ve learned.
  • Even small change can help, e.g. using different rooms at home or studying in the garden
  • Scientists can’t confirm whether music helps or not. See what works for you.

Parrot

  • Repeating the same thing over and over is the least effective learning method.
  • Brain needs to work hard. Keep changing your learning sessions to surprise your brain.
  • Working hard doesn’t mean it has to be exhausting. Learning shouldn’t be boring.

Masterpiece

  • Create a personal masterpiece which will be your own description of the learning material. Don’t learn from other people’s notes - make them your own.
  • You will remember information much better if you process informations yourself, forcing yourself to deeply understand what you’re reading.
  • Try using graphical aids: maps, drawings, arrows, colors. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

The King of Boxing

  • People love to learn in blocks (learn a method, practice it to perfection, move to another method). It’s better to interleave your study sessions (learn a few different methods and practice all at once).
  • Learning in blocks makes it easy for your brain, making you think you learned something when in fact it’s not in your long-term memory yet. It also means you’re not prepared to use the same method in a different context.
  • Instead of learning in order, try mixing things up - surprise your brain, always having to think.

Muhammad Ali is well known for training in a very chaotic way. He would constantly mix things up.

Cetacean

  • Take notes during lectures but don’t try to capture every word. Paraphrase and pick out only essential thoughts and examples.
  • Your notes don’t have to be pretty or well organised, as long as they make sense to you.
  • Try coming back to your notes shortly after a lecture. Try adding additional thoughts and summarise what you have learned.

Cetaceans are animals which eat by pounding the ground under water, swallowing everything that comes up and sieving out the dirt, eating only the food they are interested in.

Memory Palace

  • Mnemotechnics are memory tricks which can help us remember information.
  • Try to think about a place you know very well and place something you want to remember in each room. This way you will create your own memory palace.
  • Put exagerrated and funny objects/people/situations in your palace - it will be easier to remember informations this way.

This is also known as the Method of Loci

Immersion

  • Immerssion is a better way to learn a language than getting fully submerged in it.
  • No need to go to another country to learn a language. Reading a complex book in an unknown language is unlikely to help much. Try reading a children’s book or watching a movie you’d watch anyway but with subtitles.
  • Adults can’t learn a language the same way children do.

Teacher

  • Try to learn as if you’d have to explain what you’ve learned to others.
  • Try actually telling others what you know or use a rubber duck. Saying out loud what you think can help you learn better or solve problems.
  • Analyse (out loud) how an exercise was solved and why given method works. Similarly analyse your own mistakes.

Final Thoughts

Just use your brain, don’t repeat stuff thinking it equals learning. Don’t read things multiple times thinking it equals learning. Don’t learn a day before an exam thinking you will remember anything a week later. Challenge yourself.

Some of those methods seem critical to me (dancer, crash test - flashcards in particular, teacher), others might work only in specific context or for particular people.

btw. All those names are “unofficial” - giving them fun names just makes it easier to remember them, I guess :)