How to Learn efficiently

Learning is a process that is very important to what makes us who we are now. As everything in life, it has been studied, and some method were proven more useful to retain more information, and quicker.

Here I will list everything I found useful while I was learning how to learn.

The pillar of effective learning

  1. Remove all distractions to be focus to only one thing. You need attention.
  2. Active engagement is fundamental during the learning. Conductive experiment, activate curiosity, ask questions.
  3. Error feedback. It is important to have a quick feedback about our learnings when we learn something wrong.
  4. Consolidation. Learning must be transferred from the conscious to the unconscious.

The process of learning something for the first time is :

  1. Understand something first : If you can explain it to a 5 years old it means you understood it.
  2. Then remember it : For that, active recall by making flash cards with ANKI is the best technic, but you have also to do active recall while you are learning something. After reading a few paragraph, close the book and ask yourself what have I just read ? What are the key ideas ? Can I rephrase this in my own words ?

It will seems weird and not efficient but you have to TRUST THE PROCESS !

If you test yourself after a little period you are better !

You need to be patient and resilient.

Always ask yourself while reading something you want to learn :

  1. Does this make sense ?
  2. Can I explain this to a 5 years old children ?

The most two effective technics for learning are Active Recall and Spaced Repetition (with Interleaving which means switching regularly of subjects).

The app ANKI helps you to create spaced repetition cards. Less is more with the flash cards.

Cornell note-taking system with asking question on the sides of your notes.

When I read a non fiction book I can highlight text with some color code:

  • In BLUE for creating flash card later while rereading it.
  • In GREEN for interesting & insightful (and not new things)
  • In RED stuff that I don’t immediately understand

It’s okay not to finish a book / Highlight things / Skip stuff is okay

Study Less Study Smart

After 30 minutes of learning we lose the envy, motivation and focus. To make things enter the brain we need to like them, so being positive and happy is super important !

Taking a break after 30 minutes allows to recharge your batteries, in 5 minutes ! Do something fun for 5 minutes. Say, this is my treat for having study for 30min ! When your studying plan is done for the day, plan something special (a special treat!).

By starting with 30min then having a break, you are training to lengthen those 30 minutes and go beyond, like 45, 1h, 2h before needing to take a break.

Control your study area, removes all the cues that can distract you and create a good habit.

The more active you are in your learning, the more effective.

Understanding the concept make the memory last super long.

Study groups helps a lot by exchanging ideas.

Recognize something is different as recollectioning something. Active recall is the only way to be sure you know something. Close the book and recall with your own words.

Expand your notes when you finished taking them. Reflect on each lines and concept right after so you are not wasting your notes!

The best way to learn is to teach someone else. Recapitulate.

When you read a Textbook

SQ3R : Survey Question Read Recite Review

Survey : Go through the entire chapter / book and ask questions. What is this ? Why that ? Raise questions as you go through (takes a couple of minute for surveying a chapter)

Question : While doing the surveying, it activate the search mechanism when you will be actually studying the book.

Read : Then you read the book and answer all your questions.

Recite : This is the active recall part that activate long term memory.

Review : This happens before tests, you make sure you still remember everything or nothing is confused.

First Principles

Break down complicated problems into basic elements, and then reassemble them from the ground up. One of the best way to learn to think by myself and unlock my creative potential.

This method is used by Aristote & Elon Musk.

The goal is to shift from being analog to first principle. Shifting from being a cook (and following recipe) to a chef (create recipes).

Top Down Learning

The Bottom Up way of learning is starting from the base and learning layer after each layer adding complexity at each step, Top Down learning is the opposite.

Don’t start with definition and theory. Start with the result you want, and learn some areas as needed in the context of the result they require.

  • It is iterative. Topics are revisited many times with deeper understanding.
  • It is imperfect. Results may be poor in the beginning, but improve with practice.
  • It requires discovery. The learner must be open to continual learning and discovery.
  • It requires ownership. The learner is responsible for improvement.
  • It requires curiosity. The learner must pay attention to what interests them and follow it.

The advantages of this techniques is that you go straight to the thing you want and start practicing it. It makes learning faster and more fun.

A top-down approach to learn linear algebra for machine learning would be to:

  1. Implement the method in a high-level library such as scikit-learn and get a result.
  2. Implement the method in a lower-level library such as NumPy/SciPy and reproduce the result.
  3. Implement the method directly using matrices and matrix operations in NumPy or Octave.
  4. Study and explore the matrix arithmetic operations involved.
  5. Study and explore the matrix decomposition operations involved.
  6. Study methods for approximating the eigendecomposition of a matrix.
  7. And so on…

Socratic Questioning

I will end with something a bit more philosophical about the beliefs we can have and stuff we take for truth.

It is a disciplined questioning process used to establish truths, reveal the underlying assumptions and separate knowledge from ignorance.

  1. Clarify your thinking and explain the origins or your ideas (Why do I think this ? What exactly do I think ?).
  2. Challenging assumptions (How do I know this is true ? What if I thought the opposite ?).
  3. Looking for evidence.
  4. Considering alternatives perspectives.
  5. Examining consequences and implications (What if I am wrong ?).
  6. Questioning the original questions (Why did I think that ? Was I correct ?).

It is easier to think by analogy, but the cost is being lead by our intuition, that is most of the time wrong or inefficient. Boils things down to the most fundamental truths and say, okay, what are we sure is true ? And then reason up from there. It takes a lot more mental energy, but the result can be drastically improved.

I hope all those tools will help you to tackle your learning with more efficiency and fun. Some worked for me, so I don’t see any reason why some wouldn’t work for you.


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