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Learning how to learn, released from 2014, is a famous MOOC course on This course is instructed by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr Terrence Sejnowski, both of them have a solid background on neuroscience and learning methods. During four weeks in this course, two instructors taught about the human brain, different modes of thinking and ways to improve their learning. Consequently, they can apply these techniques to help them pass classes, learn a new language, write faster, sharpen their problem-solving skill, etc.

WEEK 4 — Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential

How to Become a Better Learner?

The answer is Physical Exercise. This is the best gift that you can give your brain. In a few places in your brain, new neurons are born every day. These new neurons help you learn new things but they will die if you don’t use them. New experiences will rescue them. Interestingly, exercise also helps new neurons survive.

Create a Lively Visual Metaphor or Analogy

One of the best things you can do to not only remember, but understand concepts, is to create a metaphor or analogy for them; the more visual the better. Metaphors and visualization, being able to see something in your mind’s eye, have been especially helpful not only in art and literature but also in allowing the scientific and engineering world to make progress. Interestingly, metaphors and analogies are useful for getting people out of Einstellen, which is a state of being blocked by thinking about a problem in the wrong way. Metaphors also help glue an idea into your mind, because they make a connection to neural structures that are already there.

No Need for Genius Envy

Being smart, which often equates to having a larger working memory, makes you learn easier. But it also makes it more difficult for you to be creative. The idea you are already holding in mind can block you from fresh thoughts. Otherwise, having a somewhat smaller working memory means you can more easily generalize your learning into new, more creative combinations. There’s only one way to lift average brains into the realm of those with more natural gifts, it is deliberate practising on the toughest aspects of the material. Whether naturally gifted or not, sometimes you may think you’re an imposter. You’re not alone. This feeling is so extraordinarily common that it even has a name: the Imposter Syndrome — feelings of inadequacy. But remember, everyone has different gifts, and when one door closes, another opens, just keep your eye on the open door.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Father of Modern Neuroscience, pointed out that the key to his own success was his perseverance. What he called the virtue of the less brilliant, coupled with his flexible ability to change his mind and admit errors. Similarly, Charles Darwin was able to look with fresh eyes at the data he was collecting. Often no matter how good your teacher and textbook are, it’s only when you sneak off and look at other recourses that you begin to see what you’ve learned. Taking responsibility for your own learning is one of the most important things you can do.
Unavoidably, the greater your achievement, the more other people will sometimes attack and demean your efforts. It’s important to learn to switch on occasional cool dispassion that helps you to not only focus on what you’re trying to learn but also tune people out if you discover that their interests lie in undercutting you such undercutting. As Santiago Ramón y Cajal said, you can take pride in aiming for success because of the very things that make other people say you can’t do it.

The Value of Teamwork

Researches have shown that the right hemisphere helps us step back and put our work into a big picture perspective. The right hemisphere, as it turns out, is vitally important in getting into the right track and serving as a devil’s advocate to question the status quo. While the left hemisphere instead tries to cling tenaciously to the way things were. From part of your left hemisphere, the feeling of overconfidence arises, making you sure that what you’ve done on homework or test is fine. Remember, you must not fool yourself because you are the easiest person to fool. Everyone has blind spots. Only by making it a point to do some of your studying with friends, you can more easily catch where your thinking has gone astray. It’s also important in career building. A single small tip from a teammate to take a course from the outstanding Professor or to check out a new job opening can make an extraordinary difference in how your life unfolds. That being said, we should keep small talk to a minimum and get your group on track.

How should I prepare for the test?

Do whatever it takes to answer “yes” to most of the questions below:
  • Did you make a serious effort to understand the text? Hunting for relevant worked-out examples doesn’t count.
  • Did you participate actively in homework group discussions, contributing ideas and asking questions?
  • Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
  • If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself you could do everything on it?
  • Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly without spending time on the algebra and calculations?
  • Did you understand all your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
  • Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
  • Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?
  • If there was a review session before the test, did you attended and asked questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
  • Did you get a reasonable night’s sleep before the test? If your answer is no, your answers to all the preceding questions may not matter.

Hard Start — Jump to Easy

Tough problems often need lots of time. They can also scream for the creative powers of the diffuse mode. So which order should I use? The answer is to start first with hardest problems but still let yourself to pull away within the first minute or two whenever you get stuck. Let’s imagine you’re being a chef. While you’re waiting for a steak to fry, you can swiftly slice the tomato garnish and turn to season the soup, and then stir the sizzling onions. Hard start is also a valuable technique for helping you avoid Einstellung, getting stuck on the wrong approach because you have a chance to look at the problem from differing perspectives.

Tips for the Test

  • It’s not what causes you stressed, but how you interpret them that matter. For example, if you shift your thinking from “this test has made me afraid” to “this test has got me excited to do my best”, it can really improve your performance.
  • Turn your attention to breathing while being stressed. Relax your stomach, place your hand on it, and slowly draw a deep breath. Remember, if you try to practice this breathing technique in the weeks before the test, you’ll slide more easily into the breathing pattern during the test.
  • Always have a Plan B for the alternative career. Once you plan for the worst possible contingency, you’ll be surprised that the fear will begin to subside.
  • Don’t push your brain too hard the day before the test. You’ll need both your focus mode and diffuse mode muscles the next day.
  • Whenever possible, blink, shift your attention, and then double check your answers. Using a, a big picture perspective asking yourself, does this really makes sense.
  • Check your work from the back to the front. Sometimes it gives your brain a fresher perspective that can allow you to more easily catch errors.

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I'm working on writing and this 30-day journey is my first project. I would really appreciate if you could leave your feedback and comments on how I can further improve. I will be creating more posts in future about my experiences and projects.