I started reading a book by Laurie Pickard call Don’t Pay for Your MBA. It is going to be my “headquarters” for learning as much about business and finance as I can. The book recommends taking online courses known as “moocs”(massive open online courses).
The first mooc it recommends is one on Coursera called Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski. Some argue that this should be called Learning How to Memorize. While I agree that a lot of the practices taught are how to easily remember things, I also believe that memory plays a key part in learning. Being able to recall information when you want is important when you start trying to apply the information.
According to the researchers, there are two different modes of learning: focused and diffuse.
Focused mode is the active part of learning. It’s reading, researching, practicing, or any other form where you must focus on the task at hand. In this mode, information is being gathered and stored in your brain. Memory is being created in the form of neurons. At first, the neurons are not very strong and the brain has not developed the habit of finding its way through the mass of neurons in your brain to easily access the information. However, short frequent practice sessions of the information will strengthen the neural connections in your brain and make it easier for the brain to access that information in the future.
Short, daily practice or review sessions are much more productive than a long cram session for retaining the information. The researchers recommend the pomodoro technique when studying.
The pomodoro technique consists of multiple 25 minute sessions with a five minute break in between. Additionally, after about four sessions, a longer break of 30 to 40 minutes is ideal.
These short breaks allow the information to settle. It also allows your mind to enter the diffuse mode.
Diffuse mode is the mode your brain enters when it is not directly focusing on a particular problem or bit of information.
Have you ever been stuck on a problem at school or work and the solution suddenly comes to you when you’re in the shower? Or right before bed?
This is the diffuse mode in action!
The diffuse mode allows your mind to connect bits of information that it wouldn’t think to connect during the focused mode. Rather than training your mind to access a specific bit of information, as the focused mode does, it allows the mind to wander and make connections between information that is either new or hasn’t been used in a while. It is more abstract than the focused mode and allows your mind to tie clumps of information together to help look at problems in a different way.
The researchers cite many great historical thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla, and many others who developed a routine of sitting somewhere quiet or going for a walk and letting their mind wander.
To sum it all up…
Being able to used both focused and diffuse modes of learning is key to retaining information and using it to develop a greater understanding of the topics at hand.
Short, focused, daily study sessions are best. Using the pomodoro technique is a great way to study and a great habit to develop. During the breaks, try to find a nice place to relax or something to occupy your mind in a routine way (walking, painting, thinking, etc.).
If you would like to know more, you can check out the Coursera course called Learning How to Learn or you can stay tuned for more blogs about the learning process and techniques to help you remember names, numbers, and other various sorts of information.
Thank you for reading and have a great day!