Learning How To Learn

I believe I am now on my 7th MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and this has been one of the best ones:  Learning How to Learn, offered through Coursera by UC – San Diego. To be honest, I doubted that there would be much for me to learn –after all, I have been “learning” for many, many years. Despite having a high school, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, as well as continuing my education with even more classes, I apparently did not learn as well as I could have, and I found a lot of really useful tips from this class.

For my 2nd (and last) assignment, I am supposed to teach others what I’ve learned. Since I am eager to share what I’ve learned anyway, this is not a difficult assignment.

I will start first with what of all the things I learned I think will benefit me the most and that is, what I’ve been doing wrong. You can’t learn by just reading the new material/ideas. It’s not enough to watch someone else do it. (And, by the way, I never found it useful and so I don’t do it, but in case you do: highlighting or underlining text while you read stuff you’re trying to learn is pretty much useless.)

This is one of those things that seems pretty obvious once you hear it, but it takes hearing it from someone else to finally make you realize it. All these years of “learning” multimedia software by watching videos online and I knew I was not going to retain it unless I started using it. And yet, how many courses did I decide to just watch and not download the exercise files and try it out myself? Well, the good part is that I usually had a project of my own going and so I did encounter a lot of the new stuff as I worked, but still. I was lazy. And that will not help me learn.

So lesson #1: Be an active learner. And lesson #1.1: If you want to retain what you’ve learned, better use it (or lose it).

Some class time was devoted to memory, and that was good –I had heard it before: memory palace and all. (I have to admit, I’ve been too lazy to implement it so far, but I will try to when I get to material that I just need to memorize.) What I found more helpful was the importance of using metaphor or analogy to help you to understand a concept or problem. You take an idea and liken it to something you already know. We do this in tai chi all the time: Imagine you’re pouring a cup of tea, pull as if you’re trying to pull out the whole root of a dandelion without it breaking, things like that. You can do this with theoretical concepts too. A well-known one is thinking of electrical current as flowing water. What’s cool about this one is that you are making connections between what you’re trying to learn and what you already have in your brain. That gives you a good hook for being able to retrieve it again. It also helps you to refine your understanding –by noticing how the metaphor works, but also how it doesn’t quite work.

Lesson 2: Connect the new ideas to old ideas.

I only need to teach three of the things we learned, so it’s really hard to decide which of the other topics to tell you about. They are all worth telling about! Okay, procrastination. That’s a huge one, right? For EVERYONE!

How do you stop procrastinating? The main thing is to stop thinking about the product and concentrate on the process. A good way to do this is to use the “pomodoro technique,” which is to set a timer for 25 minutes, make sure there are no distractions, and give the problem, task, whatever it is you’re procrastinating on your full attention for those 25 minutes. When the time is up, reward yourself. That’s it. Easy, right?

BUT, it’s still hard to not procrastinate. But it’s in your best interests to get out of the procrastination habit. And it is a habit. You need to pay attention to what is making you feel so much dread. Notice where you are, when it is, what your reactions are. Pay attention so you can change it. You have to consciously rewire your thoughts. Go to a comfortable spot for your 25 minutes, make a game of the task, have a reward ready for when you’ve finished, and stay positive.

Lesson 3: Overcome procrastination.

This blog post is already much longer than most of my posts, so I won’t go into the other things I’ve learned… yet. I’ll save them for another post. But, in the meantime, here’s a little audio mix I threw together while at work. I was to test out Adobe Audition on a virtual application environment. I used the audio from one of the extra interviews and… well, you’ll see. (Or hear.)

I should probably cite relevant information. The man talking is a the Executive Director of the American Society for Engineering Education, Dr. Norman Fortenberry. I hope it’s okay that I’ve used his interview. The setting on Soundcloud is “private,” so hopefully I won’t incur anyone’s wrath by having done this and/or having posted it.