Welcome to the Auto Didactic Podcast, Season two, Episode 12. This week, I want to discuss some learning processes that I use. That might be helpful for you as you become self taught.
One of the main issues that you may find yourself running into is motivation. So you start off quite well and you’re charging along learning whatever it is you wanted to learn and then you dip, you run into an intermediate learning stage where you’re not really learning much more and the subject doesn’t excite you as much as it did initially. And you basically run into the problem that you just aren’t motivated to continue to study this. Now, some things about this might be helpful if you just decide that you’re going to take a break.
Sometimes it’s very worthwhile just to have a break and then come back to it. Now you should decide in advance before you take your break how long that’s going to be. So you decide, well, I’m going to not bother to study for another week for example, but don’t just stop without a restart time and date in mind because otherwise you may just never start again. So this is what you need to keep yourself on track if you take a break and you need to restart. The other problem you may have is that you’re doing too long study period. So for example, if you’re doing study periods of five or 6 hours a day, then you can quite quickly get burned out on study and you’re not really interested. And it becomes a problem. You can avoid this by trying to shorten your study times or take a break or try and change things up in one way or another.
Something else that can help you stop procrastinating or not studying is to increase the urgency of why you need to study. So if you are learning a language for example and you look at it as a long term thing, uh you know, you’re going to go to Spain in 10 years time and you want to learn Spanish. The fact that it’s 10 years from now doesn’t give you a driving urgency to learn. So you need to add some urgency to your goal, assign a date to complete certain tasks. So you’re going to start having conversations in Spanish in two months time. Well this makes it a lot more urgent because two months isn’t very long compared to the 10 years. Set yourself a shorter deadline and a more dynamic thing that you need to do.
Now, one of the other problems that many people have when they’re studying is time management. For me, this is a bit of a misnomer because you can’t actually manage time. Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day, so you can’t actually manage time. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. What this actually is, is scheduling management, it’s scheduling your time properly to fit in, all of the things that you need to fit in and to do. I did a podcast on some time management aspects in season one, but realistically you need to manage your schedule not time because you can’t actually manage time. And part of the thing for managing your schedule is prioritizing your study time. So if you’re falling behind in your studies, it might be that you have not prioritised it over watching television or some other task that’s bit more pleasurable or you’re not finding the study time pleasurable, in which case you should try and find some way to make that, you know, a bit more interesting and a bit more fun.
Now, one of the ways that you can make your study time a bit more interesting is that actually use what you’re studying now frequently if you are learning a new skill, typically, if it’s a physical skill, like, I don’t know, juggling, you’re going to be doing this in a, you have to juggle in order to learn juggling. You can read a few books, but at the end of the day, you’re going to have to practice juggling. This really does work as motivation because you’re physically doing it.
Some other studies, such as computer programming, you can read a book and not actually do any programs and you work under the assumption that you understand what you’ve read, similar would be mathematics or some other textbook type topics. So you’ve read the textbook and you assume that you can do it. But in fact with programming, for example, until you’ve actually written a program that compiles and works, then chances are you don’t understand as well as you should or could you should try and do as many exercises as you can. Try and actually use what you’re learning less study and more use of what you’re learning, I think will help you to overcome any reticence to study or reasons that you don’t want to study and it will also help you understand and comprehend what it is you’re studying now. It might be that all of this extra practice slows down your progress through the textbook, but it will help you with your comprehension.
And so in fact, it’s probably better another problem that you may have when you’re practising or working on it. Your study is that you actually do or practice something that you already know how to do and you’re not pushing yourself if you are trying to learn how to play chess, for example, just constantly reviewing the same books and memorizing the same openings isn’t necessarily increasing your ability or your practice. In this example, you need to do deliberate practice.
You need to deliberately practice what you’re not doing as well. At for example, when I was learning French and I was having some difficulty with some grammar aspects of French. When I was doing conversation exchanges, I would ask my language exchange partner to focus on the grammatical mistake that I wanted to stop doing any time that mistake happened. They pointed it out and raised it to a conscious issue and discussed how it should have been in this example. They weren’t just correcting any mistake I made, they were specifically correcting mistakes that I knew I was making or that they had identified as a fault that I commonly made. And so we would practice correcting that issue even if it was just trying to invent sentences with the correct grammatical structure for a half an hour. But that type of deliberate practice will help you when you’re doing yourself.
Study when you practice, you need to be challenging yourself. Which is why when you read a textbook in programming or mathematics or whatever, there are typically exercises and you should be doing every one of those exercises as a self study, as an auto didactic person. You need to be doing the exercises. It’s difficult when you’re doing self study to get feedback about problems and gaps in your knowledge. So it’s hard to know whether you’re doing it correctly or not. For example, learning a language, it’s difficult to know if your pronunciation is correct, unless somebody is there to sort of critique you and to show you what you’re doing wrong. You can learn quite a bit on your own, but without some feedback mechanism, you will get stuck. What you need to do when you’re doing your study is try and get feedback and get that feedback scheduled in and periodic and that you’re always going to get it so that you’re constantly going to improve. Now the best form of feedback obviously is somebody who knows already what it is you’re trying to learn for languages that might be a native speaker.
It might be a mathematics tutor, it might be a programming mentor, whatever, but they will be able to give you targeted feedback. They can help you design a learning program that will overcome any gaps in knowledge and help you to progress quite often is difficult to find somebody who can help you. But, you know, the internet gives us a lot of opportunities to look around and find more people online to help when you’re learning, multitasking is not helpful. So when you’re learning something, you need to be focused on that for that period. And if we revert back to the time management thing, you need to be scheduling that into your learning activities. So for example, if you’re going to be doing practice or if you’re going to complete the exercises, you need to make sure that you’ve allotted time to complete all of that and you need to focus on it.
Don’t try and study while listening to music or watching the television, it’s just just not going to help you. Another thing that is helpful when you’re attempting to learn is regular review and lots of note taking before, I’ve often said that you should be writing a quiz for your future self every time you complete a study session. So every time you complete a study session you write yourself a little quiz for the future. You and every time you start to study session you should take the quiz that you wrote earlier. This helps reinforce what you learned and it also identifies what you have forgotten or got wrong and that helps you go back and review. So unless you’re going to review information you are not going to retain it in your long term memory. So it’s important that you don’t cram in a short space of time.
You need to spread out your reviews. You need to do reviews weekly, daily and you try and remember it for a short period of time. And the more often you try and recall it, the more likely it is to be pushed into your long term memory. It’s inefficient to reread text And we covered this in season one. But rereading tax is a time consuming and it really doesn’t give you a great deal of knowledge highlighting words is ineffective. That doesn’t really help either. One study even suggested that highlighting hinders learning because it draws attention to individual elements and not the whole context. When you’re doing your reviews, you need to be looking at the concepts and noting them down in notes and then one you’ve done your note taking review your notes and if you need more information you can always go back and reread that particular section of the textbook rather than try and just reread an entire textbook all the time. So there are some steps you can take to make sure that you’re learning as fast and efficiently as possible. Try and have someone who’s already learned or already knows what you’re trying to learn available to give you feedback tips and mentoring.
Try and immerse yourself in the learning process. Don’t do any multitasking. It’s a bad thing if you’re going to study study, try and learn in short bursts, so don’t do six or eight hour long study periods if you can avoid it because those tend to Make you tired and you’re not really paying attention at the end of it. So you’re better off studying. Many studies have shown in 20 to 30 minute chunks after that, your attentional dwindle and it just becomes difficult to learn, write things down in notes as opposed to trying to highlight things in the textbook.
We’re much better, human beings are much better, at remembering things that are written down because you are in effect reading it, thinking it and writing it at the same time, you need to focus on what you’re doing and practice deliberate practice. And we’ve mentioned this before. But trying to explain it to someone else forces you to reevaluate your knowledge and revisit it and internalize what it is you need to to know. Also in season when we discussed memory improvement and memory techniques such as mnemonics and memory palaces and things like that, you should probably, if you haven’t already go back and re listen to some of those tips because that will help you to remember what it is you need to do. But again, practising what you’re doing frequently will help you to get that information solidified and in your head as a comprehensible thing. It’s much more useful to practice 100 maths problems than it would be to read the same page of a Math book 100 times.
Because the fact that you have to do it and you have to internalize the methods and the processes for doing these exercises will help you much more than just simply rereading. It’s also helpful when you’re doing practice because you’re actually learning in multiple ways. So you’ve read the information in the book or online, you have looked at the exercise and you’ve done some exercise. But if you’ve got a little project that you need to finish, these will often bring up a little snags and learning opportunities that you wouldn’t get just doing the exercises in the book. So for example, if you were learning to do pottery making hundreds of bad pots is probably going to teach you more than trying to make one perfect pot.
So mistakes will help you improve trying practice, trying to deliberate practice to fix known gaps, but also practice any in and of itself is useful but a project. So, for example, if you’re learning to code actually creating a website rather than just reading the book and doing the exercises about creating a website will be a significant learning opportunity. One researcher, juvie Willis said the more regions of the brain that’s stored data about a subject, the more interconnections there are, and this redundancy means that people will have more opportunities to pull up related bits of data from their storage areas in response to a single clue.
This cross cross referencing of data means that we have learned rather than just memorized. Another helpful technique is to use related learnings to help with new learnings. So, for example, if you are trying to learn some form of geometry, help doing a lot of uh algebra may help or the what you know that you’ve done in algebra will help you learn more about geometry or trigonometry or calculus or whatever. But these related learnings, you can pull in while you’re doing your new learnings many times you forget what you’ve learned and Einstein famously said never remember anything you can look up.
Sometimes we forget the details of things that we’ve learned and we need to remind ourself about some tidbit of information and often you are better off just looking up the correct answer than trying to rack your brain and trying figure out what it is. And one study showed that the longer you spend trying to remember the answer to something, the more likely you are to forget the answer in the future. And this is because these attempts to recall previously learned information actually results in what’s called an error state instead of the correct response.
That’s it for this week. It was a bit impromptu and I hope it was helpful if you have any questions, please feel free to email me or to make a comment on the website and I’ll try and get back to you as soon as I can, or perhaps even make a podcast about what it is you wanted to know. Thank you very much for listening.
[I apologise for the transcription, it was computer generated and I didn’t have time to correct it.]