EP13: Gaining qualifications or certification from self-study

Today we’ll discuss how you can find exams or vocational awards to gain qualifications and certifications for the things you’ve learned through self-study.

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP13: Gaining qualifications or certification from self-study
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Hello and welcome to the autodidactic podcast. This is season one, episode 13. If your a returning listener then welcome back! If you have just started to listen then welcome aboard.

We are at the end of season one. I had intended to do another show with answers to any questions I’ve received, but I think I can cover those at the end of today’s show. So unfortunately I’m going to end on unlucky number 13 for this Season.

I’m ending this season a bit early for a couple of reasons. The first reason is another Lockdown in the UK because of the Covid virus will mean I’ll not have the peace and quiet required to record a show, and because it is quickly approaching the holiday season. Therefore, I’m going to end Season One and return again next year for Season Two.

I haven’t yet made the show schedule for Season Two, so if you’re interested in hearing something in particular please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. If you’d like me to expand on anything we’ve already discussed in Season One I’m happy to do that as well.

Today I’m going to talk about getting qualifications or certifications for things that you’re self-studying. This is a difficult topic to cover in detail, since I don’t know what you may be studying. However, I’m going to give some examples of qualifications or certification testing which you can do in some topics which I’m familiar with and hopefully you’ll be able to apply what I’m saying to the area that you’re studying.

Professional qualifications are vocational training courses relating to a specific industry or career path. They are typically regulated and awarded by relevant professional bodies, and are designed to ensure that everyone employed in a particular job meets the minimum required standards of professional expertise.
The first example I’m going to give is related to Information Technology. Previously I had mentioned surveys indicated over 60% of all programmers were self-taught. Many Project managers, or other IT professionals are also self-taught and then take a relevant certification test in order to prove their knowledge to a standard. Some examples are Prince2 project management training, Togaf technical architect training, Microsoft Certified Engineers and many others.

For some jobs in the UK for example a professional qualification is required. For example, to work as a qualified solicitor you must take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and to become a chartered accountant you’ll need to pass the relevant exams.

There is some form of professional qualification available in most industries. In the UK these include:
• Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
• BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT
• Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
• Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)
• Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
These are just a small selection – there are many more.
• HR courses
• Management courses
• Marketing courses
• Sales training courses
• Social work courses
• Travel and tourism courses
The entry requirements for professional courses depend entirely on the qualification and what it leads to.
Many professional bodies offer different levels of vocational qualification, suitable for school leavers, graduates and experienced professionals. Typically, when you complete one exam, you become eligible to work towards another qualification at a higher level. Possessing some relevant work experience or having a demonstrable interest in the subject is often essential.
So how can you find out about some of these? Well in the UK you can contact the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) – the trade association for professional awarding organisations offers a wealth of information and contacts. If you’re not in the UK search for trade organisations in the area that you’re studying and see who awards any qualifications or certifications.

Another area where you might want to gain qualifications is languages. For example the DELF, HSK, or other language proficiency examinations which will give you a standard level which you can then use as your official level in the language.

But outside of vocational training and languages what can you do to apply your self-study toward a degree program?

In the USA you can get some college credits using CLEP testing. CLEP stands for “College Level Examination Program.” It’s a set of tests developed and administered by the College Board.

So what exactly are the CLEP tests? They’re exams that test your knowledge of a variety of academic subjects. Many colleges and universities will give you credit towards a degree for each CLEP test you pass.

CLEP exams are much cheaper than a full college course. With the right CLEP tests and undergraduate program, you could get your degree in as little as a year. But you must find a University which accepts CLEP testing. There’s no point in taking CLEP tests if you can’t transfer your passing scores for credit.

Many countries will have similar systems for allowing you to bypass courses in favour of self-study.

Many MOOCs (Massive open online course) will allow credit if your signed up with the University.

It might be that you’ve decided you’re going to do a self-study course through a “mail-order” course, although nowadays they call it “distance learning”, which gives qualifications at the end. This is a good approach, and in the UK you can even get a degree completely through distance learning from the Open University.

So although it is difficult for me to give anything other than general guidelines, hopefully you can see that there are many different ways to have your self-learning and autodidactic work recognised by the rest of the world through some type of testing.

But remember that it isn’t always necessary to have a qualification to become a recognized expert. A simple example of this was my father, who although never had a single qualification as a car mechanic managed to have everyone we knew around to the house anytime there was a problem with their car. He loved working on cars and through self-learning had taught himself everything need to repair a car.

I’m sure you can think of someone who is a recognised subject matter expert without any formal qualifications.

Well that covers just about everything I can think of regarding getting qualifications as a self-learner. Lets move on to the questions I’ve had from listeners.

The main question I’ve been asked boils down to: “What have you taught yourself?”

I have taught myself quite a bit over the years by self learning. I’ve alluded to some of these in previous podcasts. I don’t want to “toot my own horn”, but since you’ve asked…

I have taught myself French and Italian to a good level over a number of years, and I’m currently toying with Mandarin Chinese. I also administer a language learners forum (links in the show notes) and so get a lot of advice and assistance there. If you want to learn another language then I highly suggest you take advantage of all the great advice and lists of resources available there. It is all free, no advertisements or anything so make use of that if you can.

I have taught myself a lot of programming languages over the years, so many in fact I’ve probably forgotten a few I did know. But these include Assembler, C, C++, Java, Javascript, Rust, Perl, Python, Tcl/tk, and a lot of database stuff, SQL, PLSQL, etc.

I taught myself Lean management, which used to be called the Toyota method. But having a need for this I read every book and resource I could find for over a year, averaging 5-10 books per week on the subject until I knew just about everything there was to know.

Another question I have gotten is related to this. “What are you studying right now?”

Right now I’m teaching myself basic electronics, ARM assembler programming, Flutter programming, and Mandarin Chinese. I also have an entire bookshelf of maths books ranging from basic maths to Calculus and Discrete Mathematics. I’m slowly making my way through these books a few minutes each day.

So you can see that I really do practice what I preach.

And the final question I want to cover is one that came in recently. Francois asked: “I have tried mnemonics but I still struggle to remember the stuff I’m reading. How can I improve my retention?”

There are a couple of things you can do, some of which I’ve covered before but just to emphasise they are:
• Take notes about what your are reading. Write them in the margins or in a notebooks
• Make up questions about what you are going to read and try to find the answers while you’re reading.
• Reading out loud frequently helps with retention. So if you can find somewhere you will not be disturbed and read out loud.
• Try reading at night. According to some studies retention is better if you read in the evening, and the reading is processed while you sleep.
• Where possible use physical books rather than ebooks. It seems readers forget more of what they read in an ebook.
• If you are going to use an ebook, try to get an ereader which will read to you. Some programs like Fbreader will read the text to you.
• Always skim before reading checking out the headings and making questions.
• Read in smaller chunks. Don’t read 10 chapters a day, read 10 pages and try to suck all the information you can from those few pages. Bite-sized is better.
• Try to summarise in your own words what you have just read. You can do this at the end of each page, just say it out loud.
• Always quiz yourself on what you have read.

So that is it for Season One!

I hope you enjoyed the show and the rest of the podcasts and I look forward to returning in the New Year. Meanwhile I hope you have a wonderful time of study and learning while we are apart. I really would like to gather listener feedback about the shows, and I’m interested in hearing what you’d like me to discuss in Season Two. So as always you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info or you can leave a comment on the website: https://autodidactic.info

See you next year.

EP12: How to evaluate resources for study

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP12: How to evaluate resources for study
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Hello everyone and welcome to Episode 12, Season 1 of the autodidactic podcast. If you’re a new listener welcome, and welcome back to returning listeners.

This is episode 12 and we are nearing the end of Season One. We’ll get a couple of more shows in before taking a break for the holiday period. The last show of the season I’ll try to cover off all the listener questions which I’ve had. If you have any questions you want to get on to the prompt sheet for the show make sure to send them in soon. The email address is rick@autodidactic.info.

Today we’re going to talk about evaluation of resources when you’re creating your study plan, or just generally when selecting resources. Not all information is created equal, and not all of it is accurate. First we’ll talk about information generally, then we’ll cover off how to evaluation textbooks and other traditional resources, and then finally we’ll look at Internet resources and how to evaluate them for study purposes.

I’ve drawn heavily from papers created for university students for resource evaluations for essays and other school assignments, but it is all relevant to the self-learner, perhaps even more so. These include:

  • Meriam Library, California State University
  • Flinders University Australia
  • The American Library Association and the Reference and User Services Association
  • International Association of University Libraries

What are the Characteristics of Information?

  • Good information is that which is used and which creates value.
  • Good information is relevant for its purpose, sufficiently accurate for its purpose, complete enough for the problem, reliable and targeted to the right person.
  • It is also communicated in time for its purpose, contains the right level of detail and is communicated by an appropriate channel, i.e. one that is understandable to the user.
  • Information should be easy to obtain or access.
  • Information needs to be accurate enough for the use to which it is going to be put.
    • To obtain information that is 100% accurate is usually unrealistic as it is likely to be too expensive to produce on time.
    • The degree of accuracy depends upon the circumstances.
  • Reliability deals with the truth of information or the objectivity with which it is presented.
    • You can only really use information confidently if you are sure of its reliability and objectivity.
    • When researching for an essay in any subject, we might make straight for the library to find a suitable book. We are reasonably confident that the information found in a book, especially one that the library has purchased, is reliable and (in the case of factual information) objective. The book has been written and the author’s name is usually printed for all to see. The publisher should have employed an editor and an expert in the field to edit the book and question any factual doubts they may have. In short, much time and energy goes into publishing a book and for that reason we can be reasonably confident that the information is reliable and objective.
  • Information should be relevant to the purpose for which it is required.
  • Information should contain all the details required by the user.
  • Information should be in a form that is short enough to allow for its examination and use. There should be no extraneous information.
    • For example, it is very common practice to summarise financial data and present this information, both in the form of figures and by using a chart or graph. We would say that the graph is more concise than the tables of figures as there is little or no extraneous information in the graph or chart. Clearly there is a trade-off between level of detail and conciseness.
  • The presentation of information is important to the user. Information can be more easily assimilated if it is aesthetically pleasing.
  • Information must be on time for the purpose for which it is required. Information received too late or too old will be irrelevant.

If you’re evaluating traditional resources it can be simpler than evaluation of non-traditional resources such as websites. This is because traditional resources have associated workflows. So for example a textbook publisher employs fact-checkers, editors, etc.. They ensure that information published is as accurate as possible at the time of publication or broadcast.

When you’re selecting resources try to select sources use the CARS Checklist. CARS stands for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support. If you learn to use the criteria in this list, you will be much more likely to separate the high quality information from the poor quality information.

CredibilityTrustworthy source, author’s credentials, evidence of quality control, known or respected authority, organizational support. Goal: an authoritative source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.
AccuracyUp to date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness and accuracy. Goal: a source that is correct today (not yesterday), a source that gives the whole truth.
ReasonablenessFair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone. Goal: a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth.
Supportlisted sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied. Goal: a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it). 

You can also use some of the librarian guidelines for picking resources. Try search for Research Guides, also known as Library Guides, or LibGuides, which are a series of tools librarians create to help their community with searching and common questions. Google for libguides for more information. Scholarly information usually refers to information that you find from your Library’s resources. In general, scholarly works are written by experts in the field and are vetted for accuracy and scientific rigour via accepted scholarly publishing standards such as peer review or editorial processes in the case of books. A level of credibility is assumed when an item is found within the Library. However even if your evidence is sourced from the Library, the quality of the information itself should be assessed critically.

Authority

  • Who is the author?
  • What else has the author written?
  • In which communities and contexts does the author have expertise?
    • Do they represent specific gender, sexual, racial, political, social and/or cultural orientations?
    • Do they privilege some sources of authority over others?
    • Do they have a formal role in a particular institution (e.g. a professor at Oxford)?

Purpose

  • Why was this source created?
    • Does it have an economic value for the author or publisher?
    • Is it an educational resource? Persuasive?
      • What (research) questions does it attempt to answer?
      • Does it strive to be objective?
    • Does it fill any other personal, professional, or societal needs?
  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Is it for scholars?
    • Is it for a general audience?

Publication & format

  • Where was it published?
  • Was it published in a scholarly publication, such as an academic journal?
    • Who was the publisher? Was it a university press?
    • Was it formally peer-reviewed?
  • Does the publication have a particular editorial position?
    • Is it generally thought to be a conservative or progressive outlet?
    • Is the publication sponsored by any other companies or organizations? Do the sponsors have particular biases?
  • Were there any apparent barriers to publication?
    • Was it self-published?
    • Were there outside editors or reviewers?
  • Where, geographically, was it originally published, and in what language?

Relevance

  • How is it relevant to your studys?
    • Does it analyse the primary sources that you’re researching?
    • Does it cover the authors or individuals that you’re researching, but different primary texts?
    • Can you apply the authors’ frameworks of analysis to your own research?
  • What is the scope of coverage?
    • Is it a general overview or an in-depth analysis?
    • Does the scope match your own information needs?
    • Is the time period and geographic region relevant to your research?

Date of Publication

  • When was the source first published?
  • What version or edition of the source are you consulting?
    • Are there differences in editions, such as new introductions or footnotes?
    • If the publication is online, when was it last updated?
  • What has changed in your field of study since the publication date?
  • Are there any published reviews, responses or rebuttals?

Documentation

  • Did they cite their sources?
    • If not, do you have any other means to verify the reliability of their claims?
  • Who do they cite?
    • Is the author affiliated with any of the authors they’re citing?
    • Are the cited authors part of a particular academic movement or school of thought?
  • Look closely at the quotations and paraphrases from other sources:
    • Did they appropriately represent the context of their cited sources?
    • Did they ignore any important elements from their cited sources?
    • Are they cherry-picking facts to support their own arguments?
    • Did they appropriately cite ideas that were not their own?

If you are thinking about using a printed book, Google the book title with the word “review” appended and read what others think of the book.

After you find some resources, enter them into Google and append one of the following words or phrases: controversy, dispute, disagreement, alternate views, debate, arguments for and against. This will help you broaden the scope of your resources and information.

The facts we learn today may be timely now, but tomorrow will not be. Especially in technology, science, medicine, business, try to get the latest information where possible.

Next we come to evaluation of resources from the Internet. For this I recommend using a system developed by the Meriam Library, California State University (2010). It is called CRAAP which stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.

EvaluateWhat to look for in Web sites
CurrencyDoes the paper/assignment require the most current information, historical information, or information over a period of time? When was the Web site published or created? (look for a copyright date on the homepage) When was the site last updated or revised? Are the links up to date?
AuthorityWho is supplying the information? Is it an educational institution (.edu extension)? A government agency (.gov)? A commercial supplier (.com)? A non-profit organization (.org)? Is the supplier a reputable organization? (look for an “About Us” link on the homepage) Is there an author or contact person named? What are the author’s credentials (see “What to look for in books and periodicals”)? Has this site been reviewed by experts or professional organizations?
Validity/AccuracyAre sources of information cited? Compared to other sources, is the information complete and accurate? Are the links also complete and accurate, or are there discrepancies? Is selection criteria provided for the links found in the Web site? Does the site appear to be carefully edited, or are there typographical errors?
AudienceIs the site appropriate for your needs, or is it too technical or too elementary, or too full of jargon? Who is the intended audience? Experts or the general public?
Point of view (bias)Does the information appear to be filtered or is it free from bias? Could the organization sponsoring the site have a stake in how the information is presented? Is the site free of advertisements? Are various points of view, theories, techniques, or schools of thought offered?
Purpose/contextWhat is the purpose of the site or article? Is it to share new, scholarly research? is it to report developments in an evolving news story? Or is it to rant about a government conspiracy? How closely does the web site relate to the purpose for which you need that information?

Many sites on the Internet have legitimate useful information. But it also has a lot of information which is in accurate, but often repeated, sometimes virally.

Appearances can be deceiving. Don’t assume that a great-looking Web site is automatically credible. Very professional and sophisticated Web page templates are available for a few dollars, so that anyone can put up a site that looks expensive and authoritative.

Wikipedia can be a great place to start to get an understanding of a topic. It may also lead you to relevant, high quality resources. Try looking at the references of a Wikipedia page (at the bottom of each Wikipedia page) and assess the quality of the references you find. Many Wikipedia entries will cite scholarly resources (including books and journal articles) in their references.

We’ve covered a couple of acronyms CARS & CRAAP, but you might want to remember just AAOCC (Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, and Coverage). The same basic questions should be asked of all information sources: books, journal articles, web pages, blogs, videos, sound recordings and e-books.

These questions will help you identify good resources. Bad resources can be identified relatively easily. If it makes a lot of value statements: He is the worlds best player vs He won 5 consecutive world championships. If it references a lot of vague or unnamed groups or people. It has few or no references to other publications.

However, remember that to locate fair, objective material, you must be fair and objective, too. A major error that too many researchers make is to look only for sources whose ideas, findings, or arguments they already agree with. Confirmation bias.

There is no single perfect indicator of reliability, truthfulness, or value. Instead, you must make an inference from a collection of clues or indicators, based on the use you plan to make of your resource.

Hopefully this has given you a good idea of how to evaluate resources for your study. I’d be interested in hearing your evaluation of this podcast as a resource. Thank you for listening.

Next week the topic will be getting certifications or qualifications in the topics which you’ve self-studied and how an autodidactic can gain qualifications.

See you next week.

EP11: Study Plan Creation for Self-learners

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP11: Study Plan Creation for Self-learners
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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast Season one Episode 11.

This week we’re going to talk about how to structure a study plan when you’ve not got a lot of knowledge about the subject which you want to start learning. So when you first decide, you’re going to learn a new skill rather than rushing out in finding new resources, there’s a lot of things you should do first.

So when you first decide that you’re going to learn a new skill rather than rushing out and finding new resources there are a large number of things you should do first. The first thing you need to do is determine why it is you want to learn this new skill or gain this new knowledge. And then you want to be really clear about what it is you plan to do with this skill or knowledge. So let’s examine this in a little bit more detail with some examples.

Let’s take an example where you have decided that you want to learn cheesemaking. You know the skills you want to gain but how far is it that you wish to take this. Are you going to be doing this just as a hobby in your spare time or at weekends? Are you just going to use it to give some gifts of cheese to people that you know? This will tell you what types of resources you’re going to need and how far you’re going to take it. It should also give you some indication of how long you’re going to have to spend on learning this new skill. Why does this make any difference? If you are going to do cheesemaking simply as a hobby and you were not going to sell the product then you really don’t need to worry so much about government food safety standards. You will not need to know about lavatorial testing for bacteria or viruses. You will not need to know about industrial food processing equipment. You will not need to have any related knowledge about accounting, logistics, refrigerated storage, et cetera et cetera. So this is an example which I’ve just picked out of the air but it does illustrate the levels of knowledge around the skill can depend on what you plan to use that skill to do.

It might be that you don’t have a “practical” skill that you want to learn by simply knowledge for the sake of it. But even here you would still need to try and assess the level which you want to attain. Do you want to have a general knowledge of the subject or do you want to be an expert?

So you really need to understand how you intend to use the knowledge once you’ve gained it. Will you be using it for personal development, problem-solving, general interest, a prerequisite for some others skill you wish to develop, et cetera. This

This is also a good opportunity to try and identify where you are currently at with regards to the skill. Obviously you are a beginner, but you may already have related skills which you do not need to learn. If we go back to the cheesemaking example, if you’re already an accountant then you will already be able to leveraged business related knowledge. You need to assess what prior knowledge you may have about this material because this will help you identify the gaps you need to fill.

So this initial assessment should tell you:

– what is it you want to get out of this self-directed learning.

– What level do you want to achieve once the learning is over with.

– What areas will you need to cover in order to gain the level of knowledge you require for what you want to do

It is at this point you might try and write down what you will now at the end of your self-directed learning. So this is basically the goal toward which you are striving. And it might be something along the lines of. “I will know enough about cheesemaking to make five different types of cheese as a hobbyist.”

Now that you have assessed your goal and what types of knowledge you will need generally you can begin to reflect on the design of your study plan. Remember that your study plan will be an ever-changing ever-growing document. You’re not going to be able to start off listing everything that you will need to know simply because there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know.

Now hopefully on a piece of paper you will be able to write down the skill you wish to learn and the level which you want to attain. You will be able to write down how you will use this skill and any prerequisites or associated skills that you may need to learn as well. At this point we can start to construct a study plan.

At this point it’s useful to sit down with a piece of paper or perhaps this spreadsheet and began to list into columns your current knowledge and any missing knowledge and limitations. This is not going to be an exhaustive list but it is a good starting point for the next step of finding resources.

In the current knowledge column, you will need to explore your assumptions about the subject, any personal experience you already have, any knowledge you may have already gained. Listing your current knowledge should hopefully trigger ideas about what to put in the column for missing knowledge. The things you want to include in your missing knowledge column are things like: who, what, where, when, why, how.

If your goal skill is a more academic one, then it would be useful for you to try and find a syllabus or a course structure for a degree in that particular subject. Many universities provide publicly accessible course pages that contain freely available lecture notes. So these will give you a predefined structure to work with or at the very least help identify gaps in your knowledge.

So if we returned to our cheesemaking example. Who makes cheese in my local area? What are the ingredients I would need? Where would I be able to do this activity? How do I buy ingredients? Where can I find a local tutor? Is it possible to learn all of this from a book? Where can I find video courses? What is the maximum capacity of industrial cheesemaking equipment?

The more questions you can ask, and the more entries you can put into your missing knowledge column, the more you will be able to identify the gaps in your knowledge. And knowing where the gaps are allows you to fill in the gaps.

The final column was limitations. Here you want to try and identify any limits or issues that you will have to overcome. So things in this area would be for example timeframes, budget restrictions, scheduling restrictions, et cetera. For example this might be something you can only learn at the weekend while in your kitchen. Or it might be that you cannot afford to spend more than the cost of five or six books. Or you are limited to only 20 minutes a day for study time.

Knowing these restrictions and limitations upfront will help you when you began to look for resources and to plan and schedule your study. Once you’ve got a nonexhaustive but fairly comprehensive list in your three columns you can start looking for resources.

So where can you find out what it is you need to know? The two main places to find resources are the traditional resources and online sources. Traditional resources include books, articles, film, conversation, mark courses, seminars, workshops, et cetera. Online resources include websites, forums, blogs, wikis, YouTube videos, podcasts, online learning courses. I find the best way to identify the resources that I’m going to need is to go back to the missing knowledge column, select and item from the list and try and brainstorm as many resources as possible. Let’s go back once again to the cheesemaking example.

Let’s suppose that one of the things you had listed as missing knowledge was “how do I find recipes?”. Again using paper or a spreadsheet or whatever your preferred method, write down this question, or gap in your knowledge and start to think about howt ACTIONS you could use fill in that gap. So using this example we might brainstorm items such as:

– Buy a recipe book.

– Search for recipes online.

– Go to the grocery store and look at the ingredients lists on all of the cheeses.

– Join a local cheesemaking club and swap recipes.

– Find a local cheesemaker for tutoring and recipes.

So without a lot of effort I managed to come up with five different ways to fill that particular knowledge gap. And it was one question and of hopefully many. So using this technique if you had managed to come up with 20 or 30 questions, you may have potentially a 100 to 150 different avenues to explore.

Now that you have a large number of avenues to explore you can start your official study plan. I recommend that you use a spreadsheet but you can do whatever you please. Your study plan should include the activities that you want to do and a deadline for when they will be done. You should try and have three plans. So if you’re using a spreadsheet you can have three workbooks and these are labelled Today, This week, This month. There is optional fourth workbook called future where you can list all of the things that you will need to learn but not this month.

The today workbook is simply a todo list. And you list out the things that you are going to do today. This can include actual study, but you should also include resource searches, resource evaluation, et cetera. Having a list of things that you’re going to do each day will help you estimate the amount of time is going to take you to get through the list.

The workbook labelled this week should be a list of all the activities you are going to do in the first column, and then seven columns with the name of the weekday as the header. And then you simply put an X on the grid to show what day of the week you will be doing which activity.

The workbook labelled this month should have a list of all the activities you are going to do, and then the week number that it will be done, 1-4.

So using this spreadsheet or paper if you prefer, make up entry into one of the three workbooks for the actions that you identified based on your questions. So one of the actions I thought I was by a recipe book, I’ll put that in the today workbook. I’ll put search for recipes online into the today workbook. I might put go to the grocery store and look for ingredients into this week. And everything else I put into this month.

Now that you’ve started your study plan it simply a matter of continuing to update it as you learn more things. Before we move on to how to keep your study plan updated, I would just like to point out that this simple exercise done before you start studying will help you enormously.

After you have done some of the actions from your planning session you might have some resources which you can start to do the actual studying. For example you may have downloaded a textbook from one of the free online distributors and you want to start studying. Looking back at your constraints column let’s assume that one of those constraints was time. You only have 20 minutes each day for textbook study. With this in mind open the textbook and do a swift evaluation of how long you believe each chapter will take you to study, generate questions, and take notes related to the chapter. Then determine how many chapters or what percentage of a chapter you can get done in the time constraint that you have. Then you need to map this into your study plan schedule. You may determine that you can complete the entire textbook within one month if you do one chapter every two study period. So then you just need to schedule that in. And having this in your schedule allows you to not get yourself overbooked. It means that you can stagger the purchase of resources, for example additional textbooks, until after you’ve completed this one.

One thing to note when you get online resources is that the Internet is awash with information produced by people with varying experiences and opinions. You should be sceptical of any resource that you get online. You should try and ensure that you get peer-reviewed academic databases, for example Google scholar or world cat if you’re looking for reliable resources. Now Georgetown University has a guide to research and evaluating Internet content. I’ll put the link in the show notes but it’s worth reviewing it.

Each time you complete a resource you will most likely identify yet another gap in your knowledge. When this gap has been identified it’s worth doing this exercise again on a smaller scale to identify what resources, time, et cetera, are required to fill this gap. And in fact you need to evaluate if you should even bother to fill the gap.

As you progress with your study plan you need to be constantly assessing whether your learning is successful. So revisiting your initial evaluation of missing knowledge or gaps is useful to see if you are getting the results from the efforts that you put in. You should be assessing what went well and what didn’t, and trying to determine how you could improve efforts processes and outcomes in the future.

You should also be assessing your knowledge against your goals. There is probably an infinite amount of things you could learn but if you already know enough to have attained your goal should you continue studying? The decision to continue studying is obviously yours based on how close you are to your goals.

Another problem that you may have is if you’re not assessing yourself against your goals, you might discover that you had gone off on a tangent and you spent five months studying something that really wasn’t particularly relevant to your end goal. So you need to work with your end goal in mind and be constantly assessing what your resource is you’re using and the study that you’re doing and the time and effort that you’re putting in against that goal. And it might be that you decide that you want to revise your goal.

You decide that you want to take this further than your initial goal. So if you’re cheesemaking example, you had initially thought you would be a hobbyist. But now you just decided that you want to do this is a full time job or start a company doing it. This constant evaluation will help you work through your knowledge, knowledge, gaps and your study plan, and you should be constantly reassessing your study plan as well to make sure that it’s working for you. and it’s worth trying to improve your study plan. Improve your scheduling, Improve your notation. Uh, improve the way that you identify resource is etcetera. So always be trying to improve what it is that you’re doing against your study plan.

Okay, that’s it for this week. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at Rick@autodidactic.info and I’ll try and help you or make a podcast about any future requests that you may have next week. I’m going to try and delve a bit deeper into resource evaluation on how you can evaluate resource is that you may get online. How you can evaluate traditional resource is before you buy them on. Just generally go through how to pick out. The best resource is for what you need for for your studying to attain your goal. Thank you very much for listening

EP10: Solving concentration problems

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP10: Solving concentration problems
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Hello and welcome to the auto didactic podcast. This is Season 1 Episode 10 If you’re a long-time listener, welcome back to the show. And if you’re joining us for the first time, welcome aboard. As always, I just want to say that I enjoy getting feedback for the show. So if you have any feedback, feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info, and you can request topics or give feedback or give your experience.

Today we’re going to talk about concentration. Now, when you study, concentration is very important, and it’s something that you may have in abundance or something that you might not have, but it is definitely something that can be acquired.

So what is Concentration? Concentration is focusing your attention on what you’re doing, and concentration is an important in just about everything, especially reading or listening or studying. It’s very difficult to say what concentration is, but it’s very easy to explain what it isn’t.

For example, if you’re reading a chapter in your textbook, you’re concentrating only as long as you’re thinking of nothing else, as soon as you start to think about how many pages you have left to read or what time you’re gonna eat dinner or a soon as you start to think about something else then you’ve been distracted and you’re not concentrating.

So if you think about the fact that you should be concentrating, that means you’ve actually lost your concentration. So, for example, if you were in some sort, of course, or watching a YouTube video and you become interested in something that’s happening outside your window or behind you or other people talking, then you’ve lost your concentration. And you’ve probably missed some of the points that the person was trying to make.

Being distracted interferes with your ability to focus, and in each of the sort of examples I’ve given you are actually concentrating on something. The problem is, you just were concentrating on something other than what you wanted to be. Now the difficulty with concentration is a pretty common place for most people on.

I think basically, there three types of concentration and improving your concentration is something that’s very important if you’re going to become an autodidactic. Studies say that there are three levels of concentration.

So as you’re reading your text assignments. Time yourself for 20 minutes, and each time you think of something else or look up from what you’re doing, put a tick mark in the margin of your book. You’ll find out that you probably weren’t concentrating at the level that you should have been. And at some points during the 20 minute period, you’ll have noticed that you were more focused on the material than other times. If you look back at the tick marks that you made in your books, you can see where you were starting to lose concentration. And typically, most people find that these are in the early parts of the study section or the section, which you’re studying.

Why is that? Basically, most people are less distracted toward the end of the 20 minute period. Let’s take a little look at how concentration works. You have what they call light concentration, moderate concentration and deep concentration. A light concentration is typically when you first sit down and you first start a task. So at this stage it lasts, probably for the first five or 10 minutes of your activity on. Then, as you get settled into reading or studying or whatever it is you’re doing, you can see that in the first few minutes you’re not really as focused as you should be, and you wiggle about in the chair or you pull your hair or you start twiddling a pencil or doing something.

So when you’re in light concentration mode, you’re easily distracted. So if somebody starts talking behind you or you see people walking around outside or whatever or some noise occurs, you may find yourself thinking about other things, and you typically don’t accomplish much in a light concentration phase.

Now, after that first five or six minutes, you start to move into a moderate concentration mode, and at this point you begin to seriously pay attention to what you’re doing on the task that you’re doing or what you’re reading, etcetera. Now you may find that you’re actually interested in in this material on what you’re doing, and at this stage you’ll find that you’re not as easily distracted as you were before. So although you might lose your concentration at this point if somebody actually speaks directly to you or knocks on the door or whatever, typically you’re going to stay focused on what you’re doing, and then at some point you might move into deep concentration.

And this means you’re completely engrossed in what you’re doing reading, studying, etcetera and you aren’t thinking about anything except what you’re doing. It’s this. This is the sort of phase where you jump when somebody comes up behind you and touches your arm because you’re so sort of engrossed in what you’re doing that you didn’t even notice the person. Enter the room or say your name when you’re in deep concentration. You’re not really aware of doors opening, clock’s ticking, other sounds that you may have found distracting. And this is the stage of concentration where you’re working the most effectively and you’re gonna have the highest comprehension.

This is the mode that you want to get into, and this is where you’re gonna learn the most and complete the most amount of work.

How do you get into a deep concentration? Concentration typically is a cycle, and you might be thinking that it’s easy to get to a high level of concentration. You know you work for 10 or 15 minutes and then buying you’re in deep concentration, but it really doesn’t work like that. What typically tends to happen is you’ll be able to work up into deep concentration for 40 minutes of say in our study session. Typically, the first few minutes is not really any good to you. And unfortunately, some people never actually get into deep concentration. They flip back and forth between light and moderate because they’re more or less constantly distracted.

Every time you’re distracted, you move back to a lesser stage of concentration. So if you’re in deep concentration, you get distracted urine sort of moderate, and then if you’re in moderate, you go back to light. What you need to do is keep interruptions very short if they happen or not at all. And you need to do this until you get deep into the material. This might take you. You no longer than five or 10 minutes to do. But you’re still gonna have to move through these two other steps of light and moderate before you could get into deep or heavy concentration. And this is gonna take you a while.

So you’re gonna need to study in places where you’re not interrupted as much where you’re you’re gonna be able to basically concentrate for longer periods and your your ability to concentrate. It’s gonna vary from task to task and depends on what you study in the text and things on the time what you’re doing, it etcetera. One of the things you definitely don’t want to be doing is studying in a noisy or distracting area where there’s loads of people and you should actually try and study at the same time each day because you just get into a habit of studying. Most people, as I said, have concentration problems. But most people don’t actually have problems concentrating, which sounds a bit weird, but people have the ability to concentrate. No problem. They just have problems getting into concentration.

So there’s three kinds of problems that are typically found. There’s difficulty focusing at will like you know immediately when you want to. There’s a difficulty sustaining that focus over a longer period of time, and there’s a different difficulty in limiting the focus toe one task at a time. So let’s discuss the first one focusing it will. So have you ever noticed that you have difficulty concentrating when somebody starts lecturing or when you start to the video you may find yourself looking around or thinking about you know, when you’re when you’re gonna be able to get thio whatever you’re doing next. But you basically have trouble focusing all your attention on the task at hand, and this is focusing at will, being able to turn your attention on and off like a light switch. Now some people can concentrate immediately. Others find it difficult.

Many people have developed techniques to focus their attention on the task at hand. You picture yourself of that critical minute when you’re gonna make your move, and you go through some sort of ritual to calm yourself or focus your attention. People that play sports ballplayers, bowlers, tennis players, runners, etcetera have strategies to focus their attention. Many people use self talk to focus yourself, so you might say things like, Okay, pay attention. I’m gonna do this. Some people give themselves a little pep talk. You know, pay attention. I need to do this. I need to concentrate, etcetera. Some people have sort of a totem, you know. They put a pen or highlighter in front of them, and they, you know, they know that they’re going to start studying or they have ah, particular place where they study and they associate their concentration with that area, so these sorts of things help them to focus their will.

The other problem that people have is sustaining that concentration once you actually start, as we discussed previously, the concentration is a cycle, so it’s not as easy as it sounds just to keep in that mode. And some people have difficulty maintaining concentration. Regardless of the task, Some people can focus for long, long, long periods without ever becoming distracted. Why is there this difference? Well, the difficulty of the task level, the person’s interest in the material, their motivation can all be factors in what is the ability to sustain this focus? The final type of problem is, uh, limiting your focus toe one task at a time.

Now, a lot of people think that it’s good to multitask, but most of the time this isn’t a good idea, especially when you’re studying or trying to learn something, you need to focus your attention on the task at hand without being distracted by, you know, another uh, text that you need to review or another thing that needs to do but happen or something else on your to do list. Various strategies around this include, you know, having a good study environment that helps you avoid distractions.

Strategies for setting goals and time management and prioritization will all help you. When you find yourself thinking of other things staring out a window or being distracted, you may have difficulty focusing at will, sustaining your focus or limiting your focus on one task. The rial cause of most problems for concentration are simply a lack of attention, lack of interest or lack of motivation. The two main signs of poor concentration are external internal distractions. Distraction is anything that divert your attention from the task at hand. So external distractions or things like doorbells or people walking past etcetera, internal distractions or things that you’re thinking about or you’re worrying about, or you know, something that pops into your head while you’re while you’re working.

Common internal distractions, air sort of anxieties, personal worries, indecision, etcetera. You probably find that it’s really easy to concentrate when you’re interested in what you’re doing. So when you’re focused on something that you’re doing, like a hobby or or whatever you find it easy to let the time slip away. You’re very focused on what you’re doing. Your level of interest in this particular course from the material that you’re studying, maybe part of the problem with A without having a high level of interest. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when you’re surrounded by distractions. I like the motivation is another cause If you really don’t care about what you’re studying or you have no motivation to complete on, learn what you need to learn, then you’re really not going to see the relevance, uh, toe what you’re trying to study or or what your you’ve assigned yourself to do on. It’s hard to exert.

You know that extra willpower to get it done, you really need to have a motivation and and find out, you know, why am I doing this? Why am I trying to learn this? You know what is my motivation and keep that motivation of mind. It will help you improve your concentration. If you’re motivated to succeed, these problems can be marked. Is AIM (Attention, interest and motivation).

And they’re the real reasons that distractions interrupt you. Internal distractions are difficult to put away. It’s very difficult to not worry about personal problems or think about what you have to do later, or if you’re feeling hungry or tired, you know is another common distraction. You need to make sure that you try and solve these types of problems before you sit down to study, you know, have a snack. Eat something before you start. Try and make sure you’re getting proper sleep and things so that you’re not tired, and you need to make sure that you’ve got the right attitude towards what you’re doing so that you’re motivated, that you know what you want to do and you’re ready to do it. There’s a lot of people have concentration problems when they’re reading assignments, unlike the person speaking or varying the pitch of their voice or the tone or the changing environment around them. These folks can keep you from being distracted and can keep you interested in what’s happening. But if you’re lying in bed reading a textbook, well, you know it can affect your ability to concentrate. If you try and read late at night, you’re gonna experience more difficulty staying focused because you’re tired.

Concentration actually requires effort, so it’s hard to make that effort if you’re tired and you have difficulty maintaining concentration when you’re reading for long periods of time without a break. Okay, So how do we improve concentration? How do we go about making the concentration better? Well, by now, you realize that concentration is pretty common for everybody. And although it makes you feel a bit better to know you’re not the only person who has this problem. It doesn’t actually help you.

Look at ways to fix our concentration strategies. There’s various motivational and organizational strategies we can use to improve concentration. And probably the most helpful ones are a positive attitude. A general interest in the task in hand, goal settings and scheduling yourself. You know, your study periods.

So you need to develop a positive attitude towards what you’re gonna what you’re gonna do. You need too. Want to do the study you need to see it is relevant and valuable and important. So before you even begin to do all of this stuff, have to think about how it benefits you, right? And, answer the question of why you want to do this and then have some self belief. You know, you can do this assignment. It’s not a problem. You have successfully completed things before and you’ll successfully complete.

If you’re having any self doubts or frustration, they’ll interfere with your concentration. You need to have a positive attitude, and then you need to be interested in the task If you’re not already interested and you’re gonna have a lot of difficulty in doing, uh, this task If you need to read a two part data sheet on, uh, microprocessors or something, then you’re gonna need to be interested in that. In order to sustain your focus, you’re gonna need ways to find to make this material interesting on dso that you can generate an interest in what you’re doing.

Now, one way is to preview the thing before you read, so you have a good idea of what you’re going to go through. You know, we’ve talked about this before where you review the chapters. You look at the headings, you sort of have a good idea of what’s gonna happen before you start to read. And in order to increase your motivation, you start to ask some questions from the headlines on the headers so that you are looking to answer these questions as you’re reading along so that that gets you more motivation and more interest in the topic because you’re actually searching for answers at this point.

Another thing that you might try is to break up, break up this task into smaller chunks so that you don’t have to read eight Chapter Section one of this book. You break it into smaller chapters or half a chapter so that you’re basically doing one task at a time, and you’re taking your way through it so it won’t matter as much if you’re distracted midway through if you’re only midway through a relatively small section. The other thing you might try is if you’re not particularly interested in this particular topic and you have another topic what you are interested in, you can try flipping between them so that you know you force yourself to do 20 minutes of mathematics in order to read 20 minutes of history book.

Now you can use goal setting strategies, so set a clear specific goal to help you concentrate. So if you know what you need to accomplish, then you can limit your focus to that tasks of it again. If we go back to asking questions, you’re focusing on answering your own questions rather than just reading the text. But having a clear purpose in mind can help you limit the distractions that you run into on time. Management strategies are very important, you know. Have a to do list. Have a reverse revision, spreadsheet, that sort of thing. To develop a steady schedule study schedule for yourself each day. Then you need to create a positive environment. You need to be able to reduce the number of external distractions on.

The easiest way to do that is just just eliminate them by going and hiding away somewhere where you’re not gonna be distracted. You can avoid most external distractions by closing yourself off or getting yourself alone somewhere. Find yourself a nice, quiet study place. Limit your distractions. So even in your study place, you can put your desk against the wall. Eso you can’t look out the window. Turn off emails, etcetera. Use your desk to study, you know, Don’t use it for everything else. Don’t eat your dinner there. You know it’s just for studying and don’t get a comfy chair to study in. Get something that’s not too comfortable that basically keeps you awake. Never study while you’re lying in bed, because basically, you fall asleep. Um, you can try and turn off your phone, or at least screen your phone calls. Turn off radios, televisions, radio, etcetera. If you need something sort of white noise, you can use soft, familiar music or because even APS you can download that have sort of a sound of falling rain. Etcetera.

Try and study when where you’re at is the most quiet. So if you’re studying at home, when your family members or asleep or outside, um, try and consider going to maybe a library or somewhere quiet If you can’t get any quiet time at home, try and just reduce or remove all distractions in order to get your place. Get yourself into a place where you could go into deep concentration. Now again, everybody says multitasking is great, but really multitasking is not great for study. You need to focus on what you’re doing. You can’t be, you know, studying mathematics While watching football on television. You might think that you’re able to but you just can’t because you’re concentrating on neither thing. If you’re trying to listen to your, you know, respond to text messages on your phone while you’re studying, it’s just not gonna work. Don’t do it. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize all your distractions.

Try not to focus yourself internally, so don’t think about you know the things you could be doing or should be doing or want to be doing. Uh, that’s not the time to be focusing on that. Focus on what you’re doing. Task at hand. And when you find yourself drifting off and thinking about something else, pull yourself back and the more often you pull yourself back and focus, the easier it will be for you to focus later. So one of the better ways to keep distractions from actually getting to you in the first place is to generate a high level involvement using active learning strategies. You may understand video tutoring better if you’re writing notes at the same time. If you’re physically actively writing notes, um, or you know you may have other um, strategies for, I don’t know, looking for grammatical errors and sentences, etcetera. So all of these sort of active strategies to get you involved and focus your attention on the task.

The other problem that you may have is that your you prefer one type of activity over another. So, for example, you may prefer to watch video tutorials rather than read text, which is fine. But you need to be able to make sure that when you’re doing a an activity that you don’t particularly like so much that you’re focusing and concentrating on that as well. Now, one of the things we said earlier was to put a check mark or a tick mark in the book. Every time you’ve got distracted Onda at the end of the study session, you can count the number of interruptions. One of the things that you can do with this is you can use this as a monitor to see if you’re improving your concentration. The way that you do that is, you basically put a tick mark or something in the margin of your study book or in your notes.

If you’re in a lecture hall or you’re watching a video or whatever, each time you get distracted and then what, you’re gonna try and do is make a commitment to reduce the number of ticks and distractions in order to force yourself to concentrate when you notice that you’re distracted or day dreaming or thinking about something else and you’re putting that tick in the in the margin or in your notes or whatever, then have a think about what actually caused you or triggered you to lose your concentration. And if you can pinpoint the cause of your distraction than your step closer to coming up with a solution.

So, for example, if you if you’re studying and you over the course of two or three days, you notice that you’re always constantly distracted by the the postman putting post through the letter box, it might not be, you know, a good idea to stop the postman from delivering your post, but you can at least try and schedule your study time after the postman has been, for example, or if you know, approximately the time that they’re going to show up. Schedule a study break, then, rather than having it being forced upon you many benefits to improve concentration, and obviously the most obvious one is that you’re making better use of your time, and you’re actually studying more but improves concentration while studying has another benefit, which is, Actually, it improves your concentration the rest of the time, bringing your attention back on point. Every time it goes off, you’re training yourself to become more focused and more aware of what you’re doing and better able to fix your concentration at will on a particular thing.

This is something that a lot of people who meditate have found that their ability to meditate and to focus on one thing allows them much, much better ability to get in the flow of something and focus and concentrate. Monitor your distractions so you can hold yourself accountable and try and figure out what is causing these distractions or lack of concentration. So you can try and come up with some sort of improvement method or system or something that will help you do it. And if you’re putting in the time but not getting much done, then you probably have a concentration problem, and you and you need to work on fixing your concentration problem.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks podcast, and I hope you have found something to take away and improve your studying and improve your concentration.

Next week in next week’s podcast, I want to cover off something that you might have been wondering, which is has an auto didactic. You don’t have a teacher or professor or someone showing you what to learn. And, of course, you yourself don’t actually know yet about this subject in full. So how do you go about creating your own self directed learning plan or curriculum for yourself? Next week? We’ll cover off some of those topics just to try and cover what it is you should try and look for when you first start out and how you plan create an Evolve, a learning plan that helps you become a lifelong learner and also to cover the topic that you’re interested in. So that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. And, as always, if you have any feedback, please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. Uh, with any questions, feedback, anything you want to discuss. Thank you very much.

{{This transcription was computer generated and may contain errors.}}

EP9: Taking Lecture Notes

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP9: Taking Lecture Notes
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“Hello, everyone, and welcome back. This is Episode 9 Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. If this is your first time, I welcome you, and if you’re a returning listener, thanks for coming back.

Today I want to cover the topic of lecture notes. As an Autodidactic, self-learner you’re probably not gonna attend many formal lectures, although you might. Other than attending class every day, taking good lecture notes is probably the single most important activity for college students, but if you’re self learning, you might not think you need to worry about this sort of thing.

However, like I pointed out last week, a lecture may take many different forms. It could be an online lecture, or it could be a class from an on line tutor. It could be a speech at a conference, or it could be a podcast or YouTube video. If someone is verbally imparting knowledge to you, you should consider it a lecture and try and take some notes.

If it is recorded audio or video lecture, you could re listen. But this isn’t a very efficient use of time. With these types of information, you’re not going to get things spoon-fed to you like you did back in high school. There probably isn’t a blackboard where the important stuff is itemized in a list for you. You’re going to have to listen closely and pick out the most important parts for yourself.

Developing good note-taking skills takes both time and practice. Taking lecture notes

promotes active listening, provides an accurate record of information, provides an

opportunity to interpret, condense, and organize the information, and provides an

opportunity for repetition of the material. Learning and practising effective strategies for how to take lecture notes will help you become a more successful autodidactic.

By taking notes, you can improve your concentration because you’re focusing your intention on what is being said. You have a purpose, which is listening for the next point that the speaker will make so you can write it down.

Taking notes is a very active process. You can generate a high level of involvement in your own learning by taking notes. Note taking involves more than just writing down what the instructor is saying however, it includes thinking about what is being said, determining what is important, recognizing the different points and how they relate to each other. Anticipating what will be said next and putting the information into your own words and organizing the information in your notes, condensing and interpreting the information helps make it more meaningful for you, which helps you to learn it. The process of taking good lecture notes can help you become both an active listener and an active participant.

Research studies indicate that without rehearsal, you may forget 50% of what you hear in a lecture within 24 hours and 80% of it in just two weeks. And in fact, in one month you may have forgot 95% of it. So you can’t rely on your memory of the lecture, you need your notes too. Taking lecture notes forces you to interpret, condense and organize information.

You’ll quickly find that you can’t write a quickly if someone can speak. If you could write that fast, you could simply write down a lecture verbatim and then re-read it later. But re-reading is the same as re-attending or reviewing a video recorded lecture. It just isn’t an efficient use of your time.

You have to condense the information and you have to think about each sentence and interpret it, often putting the information into your own words as you write down the information in a condensed form, you’re also forced to create a system of organization that separates the main and supporting points. You structure the information your way and in a way that will make sense to you.

So now that we know why it’s important to take notes, how do you do it? You can judge the effectiveness of your notes by reviewing them against recorded lectures were possible in making sure that you’re picking out the important information and condensing it properly.

I wrote a book about note taking; and the majority of the book covers ways of making notes faster by using abbreviation and speed writing and also some general methods for note taking and meetings, etcetera. I’ll put the link in the show notes. (Effective Note-taking: Note-taking for business)

When you start doing lecture notes, you need to consider the organization of the notes and the way that you’re going to structure the material. If you just try and write down everything as quickly as possible, you’ll end up with a tangled mass of disassociated ideas and sentences so it’s important to separate the main points from the details and show the relationships between the ideas.

Therefore, before you even start to watch the lecture or enter the lecture hall or go to the conference centre, you need to have prepared your notebook or your app or whatever you’re going to use. You should try and be familiar with what’s going to be discussed a much as possible. And if you have a textbook on the subject, study it before the lecture so it’ll be easier for you to pick up on the main points and organize your notes if you have a good idea of what’s gonna happen next.

Personally, I recommend that you use a paper based notebook simply because it allows more freedom and it allows you to do some additional work with it after the lecture, and we’ll cover that a bit later. Now, remember that you only get one chance to listen to a lecture unless, of course, it’s been recorded. But you can read the textbook or your notes as many times as you want.

Try to make sure that you see and hear the speaker and that you’re not going to be distracted. So to take the notes, you need to:

  • Decide that you want to listen.
  • You need to be paying close attention to the lecture.
  • You need to select the relevant information and ignore any distractions.
  • You need to interpret the information to make sure it’s meaningful. And you need to condense the information before writing it down.
  • organizing the information into appropriate headings and subheadings
  • you take notes

When writing down the notes in your notebook, never, ever right on both sides of the notepaper. And I’ll tell you why in a little while.

People often confuse hearing with listening on listening means that you’re engaged in. You’re paying attention and you’re interpreting what you’re hearing, and you’re trying to assign meaning to it. Active listeners air physically, intellectually and emotionally involved in the lecture. Some strategies to become Active listener are:

  • read any text you can before the lecture to build up a background on the topic
  • review your last set of notes before a lecture begins. (If this lecture is related to a previous one)
  • make sure that you want to listen.
  • Focus your attention by physically sitting up and making eye contact with the speaker. (If the if the lecture is live but otherwise sitting forward and paying attention to the screen or the audio, focus your attention mentally by eliminating or avoiding distractions.)
  • Listen with an open mind and set aside your own biases. So don’t be distracted by things you might find unappealing about the message or the messenger and concentrate on what’s being said.
  • Try and control your emotional response to what is being discussed.
  • Listen for the main points and the related details.
  • When you’re taking your notes, ask any questions if that’s possible for recorded materials right down the questions as they occur to you so that you can review and look up later.
  • Monitor your listening. In other words, check that what you heard or think you heard is what was actually said. So you can do this by checking with the lecturer or another audience member if it’s live or if you’re unsure the information, or you can just watch it again if it’s recorded. So basically, just monitoring to make sure that what you thought you understood, you actually understood and then hold yourself accountable for the material that was presented, you know, make make yourself learn what is being discussed.

One of the systems for note taking is the Cornell system developed at Cornell University, which has an excellent format for setting up your note page. But I recommend that you have different notebooks for different topics. So don’t mix up your I don’t know mathematics study with your Electronics study, for example.

Although there are many, many note taking systems, there are three that worked particularly well for lectures.

They’re called the Informal Outline, the Block and the Modified Block style, and they all work well in lectures. So try them all and see which one works best for you.

The informal outline is similar to the formal outline that many people learned in school where you have the headings with a capital A and in subheadings are 123 etcetera. The end former outline is a very similar system, but you just don’t label things you know ABC or 123 etcetera. In addition on informal outline contains a lot more information. So you’re not just putting single word headings and subheadings you’re actually writing, you know, full sentences. And after writing the main points next to the you know margin line. You just use indentation to show that the following points are subordinate to the lines above.

And now the block style of note taking is another very simple system. Block notes are especially useful if you need to record a great deal of information very quickly. Are you listening to someone who talks so fast that you can’t keep up who never goes back over information? Well, when taking block notes, you need only to write down the heading and then focus on writing as many details as you can. So block notes are written continuously across the page, separating any details by dashes or slashes.

The modified block method is similar to an outline. However, you simply have a heading and then a paragraph underneath of it with all of the details.

The block and modified-block methods allow you to take notes efficiently and

effectively because you have to concentrate on only two things:

  1. writing down the main points (headings) and
  2. writing down any details about them.

You don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to place or how to label

each new piece of information.

But still, there’s the question. What should I write down? Or perhaps you find yourself thinking. Should I write that down? If you’re asking yourself the question, should you write that down? Then the answer is yes.

After you’ve written your notes in the lectures done, congratulations. You have completed the first draft. Now you have to edit your notes.

You need to edit, revise your notes and correct errors. Clarify meanings. Make additions improve organization etcetera. Editing your notes helps you become a better note taker because you’re basically giving yourself feedback on the quality of your own notes. And as you go through the notes checking for accuracy and filling in gaps and information and proving organization, you can see where you made mistakes, and this feedback will help you take better notes next time.

Editing provides you with an opportunity to review both the text and the lecture material, and it gives you a chance to integrate the course material textbooks or other subsequent information. This additional repetition, which requires both critical thinking and active structuring of the data, helps you to reinforce what you read and heard and leads to a better understanding of the material.

So editing your notes, you need to do within 24 hours of the lecture, because if you wait too long, you’ll have for gotten too much.

Note editing is very straightforward. There’s basically five steps that you’re trying to do.

  1. Fill in the gaps and missing information. As you read your notes it will jog your memory and you’ll be able to add more detail.
  2. Refer to a textbook or other information sources to help fill in gaps in your notes.
  3. Check for accuracy. If you notice some incorrect information in your notes or if you’re unsure of the accuracy of some points, check with the lecturer if possible or textbook or other sources of information to verify whether the information is correct.
  4. Expand your notes. Make your notes more understandable, expand abbreviations, finish sentences, correct spellings, etc.
  5. Rewrite your notes in order to improve the organization of the information.

This last point is the reason why I said earlier, never right on the back side of the paper. As you’re taking your notes, the back side of the page is blank, but because it’s related to the information other side, you can rewrite your notes on the back in a more organized and accurate way. And then later, when you review your notes, review the back side of the notepaper, not the front.

And to review your notes is similar to the other reviews that I mentioned in previous podcasts. You need to develop recall questions and generate many quizzes to test yourself. If you need to go back and review previous a podcast, now would be a good time to do it, because now you know how to take lecture notes while you’re listening.

Okay, so that’s it for me this week. Next week we’ll try and cover concentration while studying. So how to make sure you’re concentrating on your studying your concentration levels, concentration problems, strategies for overcoming issues?

Thanks for listening and as always if you have any feedback I would love to hear from you. You can email me at: rick@autodidactic.info or you can put comments on the website. Thank you very much for attention on. I’ll see you soon.

EP8: How to mark and highlight text books for review.

We cover how to highlight, what to highlight, how much to highlight, and how to review highlighted material.

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP8: How to mark and highlight text books for review.
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Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the show. This is Episode 8, Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. Today we’re going to discuss textbook highlighting.

If you’re new to the show I would like to welcome you and if you are returning, I’d like to welcome you back. As always, I really enjoy getting feedback for this show. So if you’re interested in giving me some feedback, you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info. You can make comments on the website as well where I will be uploading the show notes for this show as well as others.

Why should you mark up your text books?

When done correctly, text marking promotes active reading, condenses the

material for later review, increases your comprehension, and serves as a mini

comprehension-monitoring system.

Active reading

By marking your textbooks as you read, you can achieve a high level of concentration and knowing that you should mark specific sections as you read helps keep you alert. It gives you a purpose for

reading. To mark your text effectively, you have to think about the content of the chapter. You constantly need to make decisions about what’s important and what isn’t.

Condense Material

Because you are highlighting the important areas, there is not need for you to read the entire section again for review. You only need to review the highlighted areas.

Increased Comprehension

Identifying and marking the main points and then looking for supporting details help you understand the text. When you highlight you’re effectively reading twice, because your eyes will follow the marker and reinforce the reading.

Feedback on comprehension

Highlighting also monitors your comprehension because it gives you feedback on if you are paying attention. If you’ve highlighted everything, then it means you have not been looking for the important information and making decisions about what is or isn’t important. If you haven’t highlighted anything in a large section it means you’ve not understood well enough, or that you were distracted while reading.

So how do you go about marking up your textbook? The main two methods are underlining or marking with a pencil. You can use either, but I would recommend that you use a highlighter, since this forces you to read a second time. You might think you get the same effect with underlining but studies have shown that people tend to look at the pencil like rather than the words. Highlighting doesn’t have this disadvantage.

Before you underline or highlight anything, you need to have completed the reading of the section. After you’ve read the section, have a little think about what parts were important, then go back and find those areas and highlight them. Don’t mark anything until you complete the section. If you start marking right away then you might mark something important which actually isn’t. In addition marking while reading interferes with comprehension.

When you do mark, make sure to highlight in the direction of the text to force a second reading. Don’t highlight the text backwards. You also should you a soft shade like yellow or pink, this is because highly fluorescent colours tend to cause eye-strain when you go back to do your reviews.

When marking, markup sentences where possible. If you ‘re highlighting keywords, then you need to use linking to connect them together. While marking just try to remember to mark things in a way that they’ll make sense when you review a month or six months later. This is why it is better to mark meaningful phrases instead of just words.

I recommended you only do highlighting, but don’t throw away the pencil just yet. While you’re marking up the textbook use your pencil to make notes in the margins. Mark margin notes about areas where you disagree with the author, or put a question mark if you need more information about this particular point. You can use margin notes to make a summary of the keywords and creating a link between them.

But don’t over use the margin notes. You defeat the object of highlighting if you’re creating huge summaries in the margins.

Keep It Simple Stupid – The kiss principle.

Diversity is great, but not when it comes to text highlighting. You’ve probably seen people who have 10 different colour highlighters and they have one colour for facts, one for opinion, one for keywords, another colour for examples, etcetera. I would advise against this. It makes you think more about the colouring than the content. Using two colours is really the maximum.

One thing about colours however. If you’re using a used textbook which has already been highlighted make sure you get a different colour for your highlights. This might be difficult if the previous owner was a multiple-colour highlighter.

Another time consuming exercise in futility is the multiple symbol method. This is where people underline, double underline, circle, bracket, use asterisks, etc. The idea being you have a set of symbols you use to encode the review material. This is very time consuming, and often leads to over-marking the text. You spend too much time thinking about the system instead of the content.

A simple system will help focus on the important information without the distraction of remembering various symbols, or colour combinations.

Now that we have discussed how to mark, the next step is figuring out what to mark. In the past you’ve probably caught yourself thinking; “I wonder if I should mark this?” Until you become experienced at marking, it’s better to mark a little too much rather than not enough.

There is no real set of rules for what you should mark. But, headings, subheadings, main ideas, supporting details, definitions, examples, and statistics are important. Even though they’re not always identified by bold or italic print. So let’s go through some good practice guidelines for marking up information.

Mark headers. It is very likely that headings in the text are important, since typically, they are a summary of the most important idea of the section.

Mark the main ideas of the section. Main ideas are the general statements that the author makes about the topic. The main idea statement, or topic sentence, is generally found in the first or second sentence of a paragraph. Sometimes authors don’t directly state the main ideas; they only imply them. However, as you practice looking for these main ideas you’ll find the implied ones. You want to write the implied idea in the margin notes.

Focus on the supporting details. Look at definitions, examples, facts, statistics, and signal words, etcetera. You should absolutely highlight definitions, and perhaps even load them into a SRS, spaced repetition program in order to learn them off by heart.

Look through the examples and highlight where the example is illuminating the idea.

Lists or enumerations, like definitions, should almost always be highlighted. They contain itemised information.

Facts or statistics are also worth highlighting a because they will support the main idea.

Some important information is found outside the regular body of the text. You need to read and mark any definitions for technical terms, even if they’re in the left-hand margin. Don’t omit information included in charts, graphs, and other diagrams. The information under photos, in footnotes, and in boxed features is also important to your understanding of the material.

For Math or Science books make sure to highlight all formulas, as well as any problems that

you want to review. Be sure you also mark the text material that explains or discusses that formula or problem. The prose material material is as important as or perhaps even more important than the problems.

Finally it is probably worth highlighting negation words like, but, however, on the other hand, conversely, etcetera. This is because they are showing a change in the authors direction in this area. So you’ll need to highlight them in order to avoid confusion later when reviewing.

So now we know how to make, and what to mark, how much should we mark? Well, the correct answer is “just enough”. But what does that mean. Firstly, you don’t want to over mark since this will lengthen your review times, if you highlight everything, you might as well just read the book again. You need to be actively looking for important ideas and information.

However, being overly concerned about over-marking can lead to another problem which is under-marking. Marking too little means you’re probably only marking the headlines or key words. But you should also highlight related details. You may miss important information by trying to pick out only one or two important points in each paragraph or headed section. You may have heard or read that you should mark only one main point in each paragraph or that you shouldn’t mark more than 20 percent of the words on a page. This might be good rules-of-thumb, but actually you need to mark all the information which you need in order to understand and retain all the important information.

So both over-marking and under-marking are a problem. Just like Goldie-locks you need the find the one that is just right.

Remarking and review. After you’ve marked your textbook, on the next review don’t leave the highlighter behind, pick a second colour for your second review. So I recommended you only use one colour when you highlight, but this time you’re not highlighting, you are re-highlighting and therefore you need a different colour from the first time.

The idea here is if you have to remark the material you are once again engaged and actively reading the material. As you reread the marked selections, you can determine whether or not the information is important enough to review again. The first time you read the chapter, everything was new

to you. At that time, many things may have seemed important. After having completed the chapter, worked through text questions or a study guide, read or listened to other material, you should be able to reduce the text material even more.

When you review you might also want to rewrite and summarize the information into a notebooks. One really good method of review is to generate a mock examination from the information on a separate sheet of paper. Don’t make multiple choice questions however since this might lead you to remembering incorrect information. Write a broad question for each heading or subheading and then

as many specific questions as you can.

After your review, have a think about your markings.

  • Did they make sense?
  • Did you mark all the important information the first time around?
  • Does the markings retain and contain the meaning of each section?

Giving yourself feedback on your markings will help you in future markings. You’ll get better at it as you go along. For an autodidactic, there probably isn’t going to be a test or examiniation in your future. So you’ll need to review your books periodically and having a good well thought out set of markings will reduce the time you need for review.

That is all for today, thanks for listening and I’m glad you joined me. Next week, we’re going to talk about taking lecture notes. Thank you very much.

EP7: Textbook Study Methods

Today we’ll go through three reading and study methods, P2R, SQ3R and S-SUN-R. These methods help to increase comprehension and retention of information when using textbooks.

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP7: Textbook Study Methods
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Welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast with your host Rick Dearman.

Hello, and welcome back to the Autodidactic Podcast. This is Episode seven Season one. Today I’ll be covering the topic of studying and reading textbooks and the methods that you can use to read textbooks in order to get the most out of them.

I’ve struggled to record the podcast this week because I’ve been so busy myself studying. I recently began or rather re-started doing some assembler language programming using a raspberry pi. And this led me down a rabbit hole that had me reviewing various microprocessors. And assembly language instructions on day finally down to electronics and on creating an eight bit computer with a bread board on some chips. One of the reasons for mentioning this is I’m planning to do a short podcast sometime in the future that discusses how you can keep yourself from being distracted from your primary goal of learning and study and not going down a particular rabbit hole because you find something interesting and go off on a tangent. But that’s for a later date.

Today we’re going to discuss text reading and studying and there are a lot of systems for doing this, but today we’re going to cover three of them in particular, So let’s get into it.

The three systems that I’m going to talk about today are called the P2R to reading and studying system, the SQ3R studying system and the S-RUN-R reading and studying system. Now there are probably at least a dozen different systems developed to help students understand what they read, and they’re all very similar.

We’re going to discuss these three today, but it doesn’t really matter how you use each system or how much of it, and you just need to choose the one that works best for you. And you might discover that one method might work well with one type of study, and another one works better with a different type of study. Or you might decide to mix-and-match and chop-and-change to create your own method as appropriate. And all of that is fine. It’s not a problem, but these are the standard systems that most people will be taught if they are taught a reading and studying system.

Most people don’t like to teach or to learn long complicated systems, and although some systems are very long and do work, the students don’t use them because they take too much time. So you can try and get a much out of your textbook as you can with a simpler approach.

And now the first one we’re gonna talk about is a three step approach called P2R and it’s designed for textbooks from easy to average level of difficulty. This isn’t for the really difficulty or information dense textbooks, but more of the sort of, you know, easier level or average level.

So you use the P2R to on the entire chapter or on 10 page chunks. If the chapters are too long, all right, and basically, what you’re doing is your previewing, you’re reading it actively and then you’re reviewing it.

So the first thing you do is you preview the entire chapter or the 10 page chunk that you’ve chosen to study and you actively read by highlighting or taking notes as you read. And then finally you review using an active strategy, such as reciting it, answering your review questions or writing questions in the margin. So that you’re not just sitting there reading the text chapters. You need to be engaged, actively reading and reviewing.

I mentioned this in a previous podcast where I said, When you study, you should be writing yourself out little test questions so that you can give yourself quizzes weekly and and examination monthly, sort of thing. So the three steps again, our preview read actively in review.

So in the preview, you should always preview the chapter before you read it, and the preview is a brief overview of the chapter, which you do before reading. So previewing doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, and you can usually do it in like five minutes. So the first thing you do is you read the title of the chapter, then the introductions, the outline, any structured overview. You look at any visual displays of key information at the beginning of the chapter, etcetera.

If it doesn’t have an introduction or an outline, you just read the first couple of paragraphs. And as you turn the pages of the chapter, read all of the headings. Anything that’s in bold print, have a look at any pictures or tables or graphs. But you know, don’t bother reading the text that the bulk of the text that goes along with it. Here you’re just trying to get a summary in your head and an overview of what it is you’re going to be studying. If you don’t have a lot of information, visual tables, that sort of thing. What you can do is just read the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs in order to get sort of a summary.

Once you’ve previewed, write down any information that you gleaned while previewing, right yourself. Some sample questions describe a brief summary of it of what you think you’re going to get and then move on to active reading.

Now, the second step is active reading, so you need to be doing something whilst reading. So one way that you could become an active readers by marking up your text and you see a lot of people do this with markers, you know you’re going through and you’re highlighting things. So after you read a paragraph or a headed section pause to think about what you read and then go back with a highlighter to mark any material, you think you want to review again. So that you’ve highlighted any information that you believe will be relevant to yourself, and you’re trying to condense this into a summary for your review later.

Now you can run into a lot of problems with highlighting, and I’ll probably wind up doing another podcast where we just discuss highlighting text, because many people over highlight things. But just keep in mind when you’re when you’re highlighting. You’re just trying to highlight things that will be useful and relevant in summary later.

Okay, so you’ve completed the first two steps, and then the final step is the review. So after you’ve completed your chunk of reading or at the end of the chapter, you need to review and do something to reinforce the important information. Now there’s a number of ways that you can review the text material, but the four most common ones are.

  • First, you look at your highlighted entries or the notes, and you read them aloud. You write questions in the margin of your text or notes at the end of each chunk, and then when you finished reading the entire chapter, you recite the answers to your questions
  • Secondly, used the headings to recite the key information on cover the details with your hand and then recite using only the headings as a clue.
  • The third ways to do some or any exercises or questions they may have at the end of chapter. Many textbooks have this sort of thing, at the end of chapters.
  • And finally, you can take the end of chapter tests or online test to review and monitor what you’re learning.

You don’t need to use all of these strategies, but you should try as many of them as you can, after you complete your reading. And then try and find the one that works best for you that allows you to remember the most. Now the advantage of the P2R reading study is it’s very efficient with text material by previewing actively reading and then reviewing your text. You should be able to significantly increase your comprehension, and you may find it takes less time to read the chapter, and then you have an increase in interest, and it builds up a background for your comprehension.

Previewing the chapter basically builds up this background before you start reading and then it reduces the reading time. You would think that previewing would appear to add time to your reading, but it probably reduces the total time it takes you to read the chapter and you can test this yourself. Just select a section in a chapter, and time yourself is you read it and then select another one where you’ve done the previewing and then read it and, you know, figure out which chapter took more time.

You generally find that you’ll get an increased interest in the chapter because of the previewing. And this is especially true when you’re reading something that you find boring. Because as you preview, you may notice a particular topic in the middle, which seems more interesting. And then you’ll be able to read to get to the good stuff as it were. And then because you’re reviewing periodically either 10 pages or a chapter, it helps you reinforce this information that you get, and without reviewing, you can’t really be sure that you understood the material and that you need to be quizzing yourself and then marking up your your the text or taking notes.

In addition to aiding your comprehension will actually help you prepare later for another review. Or if you do have actually to take examinations, it’ll help you when you’re reviewing, for for those sort of things. So that’s the first system. The P2Rreading system, and then the next one we’re going to discuss is something called the SQ3R. Now the SQ3R was developed by a fellow called Frances Robinson in 1941 on is probably one of the most widely taught system. So if you’re going into a sort of a high school or university, someone probably would teach you the SQ3R system.

What does it stand for? SQ3R is an acronym for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. And this time we have five steps. And use these five steps to review textbooks. Some of the steps are very similar to those in the aforementioned P2Rmethod, but the main difference is that the steps were performed on each headed section rather than on 10 page chunks on whole chapters.

So, as you see, this difference makes this particular method a bit more time consuming. Because of this, you may want to save that SQ3R for more difficult textbooks. And because although it will take, ah, lot of time, many people find this a bit more effective for longer or more advanced textbooks.

So the five steps are:

Survey- So you survey the chapter before you read it. You go through the chapter quickly, you glance at the headings, you read the final paragraph to get a general idea and the main points so very similar to the previous method and then question.

Question – Before you begin to read each headed section of your chapter, you turn the heading into a question. For example, you may have a heading “housing population” and so you would typically turn that into a question. What is and then the heading, But formulating a question forces you to think about what you’re going to read before you read it.

Read – So the next step is to read the material underneath the heading to try and find the answer to the question which you generated. Turning heading into a question helps you focus your reading, and the reading in this section helps you locate the answer to your question. Hopefully, and so you’ll get actively involved in the reading material. As you read the selection, see if you can answer your question and then the next bit is recite.

Recite – So at the end of the section the headed section, recite the answer to the question that you formulated. Recite the answer in your own words, though, so that it’s a summary without looking back at the text. And if you can’t recall part or all of the answer, then go back to the section again and then try and jot down the answer in a sort of an outline or a summary form. But don’t take any notes until you’ve read the entire section, and then the next step, the final step is review.

Review – So after you finished reading through entire chapter, look over the notes that you made to familiarize yourself with the important information and then check your memory by covering up your notes and reciting the main points out loud, and then cover each point in your notes and recite subordinate points that you’ve noted. So this type of review should only take five minutes because you’re only review in a very small subset of what you’ve, that you’re only studying a small subset.

Some of the advantages is that it breaks the task down into very small segments and has a built in comprehension system. There’s a great deal of repetition here, so this is another advantage because it allows for repetition of important information. And because you’re focusing on smaller segments of the material. If you’re focusing on smaller segments of a really difficult or advanced textbook, it can make it a lot easier for you and very helpful. Because it’s a smaller chunk and it feels more manageable and you’re not being overwhelmed. And then, of course, you have your built in comprehension model / monitoring because you’re you’re testing yourself on this, repeatedly as you go through.

You can change this to be more effective. You don’t have to use it for every reading assignment. Usually you would only use it for difficult textbooks. You know this this method the SQ3R method, because with easy text, the other system that we mentioned before the P2R are is probably easier to use with smaller, less information dense text.

And you you wanna formulate a broad question. Because typically these textbooks have a lot of information just in the headed section. You know, just in that sentence, you can generate a lot of open ended questions like; What is; Why is; How does this work? etcetera and then highlight the answer to your question.

So instead of just reading as you’re going through, make sure you’re highlighting the answer. So when you find the answer to your question highlighted and then recite the headings as clues and, the highlighted answer. And now this may be able to be used with some mnemonic techniques that we talked about last week. To help you try and remember the journey through the textbook. And then at the end of the chapter, you need to go back and review all of the questions for all of the headed sections. So this is the repetition piece. So you you’ve done each, say you’ve got 10 headed sections, you’ve done all 10 of them. You have 10 questions, and at the end of the chapter, you go back and you review all of them.

The final system I want to talk to you about is called S-RUN-R. The S-RUN-R system was developed by a lady Nancy Bailey on this combines review steps to better help you with your comprehension on because you’re focusing on one section at the time. This is also a useful technique for difficult or advanced textbooks which are, information dense.

The five steps here are S, survey and then you have R, read U, underline, N, note taking and then review.

Survey again is you simply serving the entire chapter. You read the title introduction headings, subheadings, summary, etcetera. And this is very similar to the previous two, try and build up a background and interest. So this isn’t going to take you long. It shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to do, and it has taken you longer than five minutes. Then you’re probably you’re probably reading too much or stopping too long to look out illustrations or tables or whatever.

So after you’ve done that, instead of formulating a question before each section, you write the heading of the section that, the section heading, on a piece of notepaper and then just copying out the heading makes you pay attention to it and focus your reading. And then you read the section as if you would, you know, reading any other text material and then critically thinking about the material as you’re reading it.

Now, after you finish each paragraph, think about the important bit of the paragraph and underline or highlight only the important bit. So if the important bit is just a single word, just highlight that one. Or if it’s one sentence, highlight that. If you’re highlighting the whole paragraph, chances are you’re over highlighting. For now. Just just think about the information you think you may need to recall and highlight the particularly important information. Now, as soon as you’ve completed all the highlighting for the entire section, so you’ve highlighted paragraph by paragraph and you you’ve completed that section. Then you need to open your notebook and start taking some notes.

So you take notes on the key information, which you should have already highlighted and briefly summarized this information in your own words. And then you skip to the next line on write the notes of meaningful phrases as you do it.

So you have in your notebook, you would basically have the heading title that you’ve written down. You have a brief summary of the section in your own words and then underneath, slightly indented, you put in the highlighted information, the important relevant bits. But you don’t copy what you highlighted. You’re paraphrasing what you’ve highlighted in your own words because, paraphrasing and making it your own will help your comprehension.

Then the final bit is review. So once you’ve completed the entire chapter, you’ve highlighted everything and you’ve done your note taking then you try and recite the key information that you wrote down under the heading. Try and do the end of chapter questions. If there are any. Try and predict the questions that you may get or create self-tests for yourself in order to practice. So this is the review information, and you can do this at the end of each chapter, or you could do it slightly later, but you should try and do it as soon as you can.

Now, the advantage of using this particular system is that it highlights all the important information in every section in every paragraph, and it increases repetition as well, because you get more repetition of the important points because you’re not just highlighting it. You’re actually having to rewrite it and paraphrase it into your notes, and so it will increase your comprehension and hopefully your memory. And then it prepares the text for review later, so if you need a go back and review it, the relevant important information is already highlighted. It matches information in your notes, and you’ll be able to review it quite quickly.

In summary, textbooks are generally different from any sort of normal book that you may be reading. They’re generally written at a higher reading level, they are longer and they’re more information dense. So they don’t just seem harder. They actually are harder. You need to try and keep on top of this on.

Understand what you’re reading and use a reading strategy while you read to try and retain the information. Try and learn to be a critical reader so that you think about evaluate information as you’re reading. Now, using these three systems P2R, the SQ3R or the S-RUN-R will help you increase your comprehension as you as you go through it. The whole point of these is to try and get you actively involved in your reading. So you may find that you only need to use a really simple system like P2R when you’re reading textbooks to get yourself engaged. Or you may need to use one of the more complex systems in order to get a good comprehension or to chunk up the material into a smaller piece that you’re you can work your way through. Or you may decide to just adapt these systems to make it sort of roll your own where you mix and match the best bits.

So you might decide that you like the note taking idea. But you want to use the P2R more simple system. So you may combine P2R our with with note-taking.

That, in summary, is the three main methods. There are many, many other methods, and you could go out and find as many as you like. But I recommend you try one of these three, or try all three, and see how you get on with your information.

Now, obviously, this is for reading textbooks, and it doesn’t really help you, necessarily, if you’re watching videos or you’re, listening to audio. Or you may be doing sort of massive online classes where you’re actually in a lecture and you need to do lecture notes and things like that. So we’ll cover that sort of information later. And what we’re gonna call that is taking lecture notes. So although it may not be, actual lecture notes, in other words, you’re not in a formal lecture. You’re not sat in the classroom. But you might be watching, for example, a YouTube video on how to construct an eight bit assembly language computer with a bread board and you’re gonna decide you’re going to take notes because he’s effectively giving you a lecture. The person with the video.

Whatever the subject is you’re studying. If you’re doing lecture type material like YouTube videos or some of these paid for systems or Khan academy or whatever, you want to take notes to retain that information on, and I know that you could just go back and watch the whole video. But if you just walk to the 30 minute video and there’s only four important points. Do you want to go back and review 30 minutes? When actually, there’s only the relevant bit is two minutes long.

So I want to talk about lecture notes. But one of the things that we also need to review, which goes along and sort of dovetails with this particular podcast is highlighting and marking up textbooks and organizing text information.

Okay, that’s it. So that’s the three methods that I think you should try. The P2R, the SQ3R or the S-RUN-R systems. So next week, we’re going to talk about marking up your textbook on using a highlighter and organizing textual information. So these three podcast dovetail together. It is all about reading, reviewing and studying text books.

I’m hoping that next week I’ll be able to get marking, highlighting and organizing text information all into the same podcast. But if not, and it runs long, then we may or I’m a split it up.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please, please, please tell other people. I mean if if everybody who listen told two people and they listened I might get up to I don’t know, six listeners. But seriously, if you can spread the word, it really helps me out a lot, and it gives me the incentive to carry on. Okay, Well, that’s the end of the podcast. Thank you very much for listening. I hope you enjoyed the information. And I hope you find it useful. And I’ll see you again next week.

Thank you for listening to the auto didactic podcast with your host Rick Dearman, if you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving a donation by a Paypal. Thank you very much, and see you again next time.

EP6: Mnemonics and memorization of study materials.

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP6: Mnemonics and memorization of study materials.
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Hello everyone and welcome back. This is episode six, season one of the Autodidactic Podcast. Today I will to cover the topic of memorisation. Last week I said I would be covering study methods and mnemonics but I’m going to focus only on mnemonics this week since it is quite a big topic. I would also like to say thank you to a listener, Janice who requested I do a show dedicated to mnemonics and memorisation.

Many years ago I read a study which suggested engineers who graduated with a bachelors degree in engineering would have all of there memory outdated in 10 years. All of the knowledge they gain in their university time would have been superseded within 10 years, with new information and new techniques and new materials. Information is growing at such a huge rate in modern times that if you’re not studying every day then you’re not just standing still, you’re actually going backwards.

So why have I put mnemonic tricks ahead of real study methods? Firstly these aren’t tricks, they are methods known to work and proven to work over hundreds of years, and in some cases even centuries. Now rote memorisation gets a bad rap nowadays, but it can come in very handy. For example, you can remember formulas off the top of your head. If you’re learning a foreign language can help you with memorisation of various items like vocabulary retention. If you were learning some mechanical process which required you to remember the sizes of all of the adapter assemblies and they were various sizes from 13 mm to 110mm you could use these techniques to do that.

Lets get into it. Today we’ll discuss Mnemonics techniques. Mnemonics is a word derived from the old Greek Goddess of memory. The systems we’ll talk about today aren’t new. For example, the System of Loci dates back to 500 BC. Mnemonics refer to a technique to improve memory and they can be either visual or verbal. They normally add something to the information to be memorised in order to make it more memorable, so many scientists researching memory call them elaborations.

The first of the three basic mnemonics we’ll talk about it rhyming. You’ll probably know this one from the rhyme beginning “Thirty days has September…” and if you’re like me, “Thirty days has September, and the rest I don’t remember.”

This is an example of using a verbal technique to elaborate the memory. But remembering months and the number of days can be done with a visual technique also. If you hold your hands out in front of you and make a fist, the knuckle of the little finger is January, the valley between that and the next knuckle is February and so on. So all the “knuckle months” have 31 days and the rest are short months.

Today I’m going to cover number of mnemonic systems, both visual and verbal. The first two were really easy and straightforward, and the remainder require some actual upfront learning, and can take some preparation before you can actually begin to use.

The first two that we can discuss are easy and anyone can use them. They require no previous knowledge or ability or system.

The first one is simply creating a word from the initial characters of the thing that you want to remember. This is called an acronym. You may or may not know that laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. You can use the word homes to describe the great lakes in the United States. Homes will give you a memory prompt for the names; Lake Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eire and Superior. There is also Roy G Biv. Which is a prompt for colours of the rainbow.

You can use this type of mnemonic really easily. You just have to take the information and organise it in a way that can come up with a word. When doing this if you come across two issues. The first issue is if it needs to be learned in order then you cannot necessarily use this type of mnemonic, because unless it accidentally becomes a word you can’t rearrange the letters.

But if you can rearrange the information and you can rearrange it into a word that the second problem that you may have with this method is that there isn’t sufficient amount of words that are long enough to encode all the information.

So if you encounter these problems you’re better off using a sentence rather than a word. These types of prompts are called Acrostics. Here you make a sentence using the first letter of the words you wish to recall.

Sentence systems like the one to remember the planets of the solar system where you put each letter rather than representing a ladder, you have a word that represents the initial information.

For example: My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us New Potatoes.

Of course now that scientists have demoted Pluto from being a planet, you’ll need a new sentence to memorise the planets in order from the sun.

Both Acronyms and Acrostic sentences are a great way to remember information, but if you want to remember things like PI to 50 decimal places, or countries and capitals, or simply a lot of related or ordered information then some of the next few techniques are more useful. But some require some up front work.

The first system we’ll discuss if a simple one and easy to use. It is called the Link or Chain system. Here you simply link concepts or things together two at a time. For example if you needed to remember 5 things such as; Doctor, Car, Candle, Rose, Ball then you would chain them together by first imagining a Car riding on a doctors back. Images which are unusual or out of the orginary are more easily remembered. The you imagine the car covered in hundreds of burning candles moving slowly forward as not to blow them out. Movement in visual images are also helpful. Then you imaging a rose bush growing out of a candle, or perhaps a candle holder with a burning rose instead of a candle. Then you link rose and ball by perhaps a rose bush playing soccer, or two people playing catch with a rose instead of a ball.

An improvement on this technique is called the Story. Here instead of linking the items to each other, you tell a story which includes the items. For example, The doctor was jumping up and down screaming because he lost the keys to his car, so he made a key from wax using a candle and managed to drive to the rose garden where he began to operate on a giant plastic ball.

These two systems are easy to use and very useful, however, people often struggle to remember more than 20 items using these methods. This is normally because of the limitation of remembering each item based on its association with the previous item.

Another system which doesn’t have this limitation and which I mentioned earlier is from 500 BC can is called the Loci system. Loci is the plural of locus and means places or locations. This system requires some pre-learning before you can use it. It is a two step process and the first step is to memorise a set of locations in order. Normally you would use something familiar to yourself such as your house. The second step is to mentally place the thing you want to remember in a place as you move through your loci.

So to create your loci or memory palace as they are sometimes called start with somewhere familiar. Lets use your home as the example. First imagine yourself approaching the house and the first loci may be your front door. Inside you walk in and see the hallway. The next room might be your kitchen, then a bedroom. You just need to imagine a journey through your house, room to room and always go the same way.

Now just take a mental walk through your house putting things in different rooms. When you want to remember them, you simply walk through the house again and remember the things you put there. You might thing you don’t have enough rooms to remember what you need, but loci doesn’t have to be just the room. It could be the living room, the sofa, the chair, the lamp, the bookshelf in the corner. Which turns the living room from one loci into 5, and if you include floor, ceiling and 4 walls then you’ve got a dozen loci in a single room of your house.

In addition you can have as many of these loci journeys or memory palaces as you’d like. The loci system allows you to remember things in order, starting with the first locus and carrying on through your journey.

Another way to explain the loci system is to put a story in a locus using the story or link methods. This will increase the amount of information density you can store in a single place.

One of the disadvantages of the Loci system is it is difficult to jump to a certain section of the list which you’ve memorised. If you want to jump to the thing in place eleven you’ll probably end up starting in the first locus and counting until you get to 11.

The next method we’ll discuss works around that limitation. It is called the Peg system. The peg system can be traced back to Henry Herdson who developed it back in the 1600’s. The peg system uses objects to represent numbers and then hangs information on to these pegs.

The system uses rhyming to remember encode the numbers to the objects.

1-bun

2-shoe

3-tree

4-door

5-hive

6-sticks

7-heaven

8-gate

9-wine

10-hen

So if we link our previous examples: Doctor eating a giant bun, A car with shoes instead of wheels, a tree made from a candle, a rose growing out of a door, and little small soccer balls flying into a bee hive.

This allows us to jump straight to the number 4 door which has a rose growing out of it.

One of the drawbacks to the peg method is finding rhyming words for numbers above 10.

A method for learning numbers above 10 is the major system. The major system associated consonants with the numbers 0-9 and then you can build up words based on these building blocks.

0 is represented by S, Z or soft C

1 is t,d

2 is n

3 m

4 r

5 L

6 sh, ch, j, g, zh

7 k, hard c, hard g, hard ch, q, qu

8 fv

9 pb

after you have memorised this list you can then use it to build words for numbers. For example the number 123 might be represented by the word DeNiM (denim) because it contains D, N, M in the word and you know D=1 N=2 and M=3

Many people recommend generating fixed images / words to represent the numbers 0-100 so that you can use them quickly.

Another method is called the Dominic method and is similar to the Major system. This was invented by 8 times memory champion Dominic O’Brien. It is a PA (or person-action) system where you memorise the numbers 0-100 where each number is represented by a person and each person has an action. In the Dominic method the numbers 0-9 are represented by O,A,B,C,D,E,S,G,H,N. So the number 15 would be AE and this might Albert Einstein and he is writing E=MC2 on a blackboard.

I have used this system & a memory palace to memorise PI to about 50 decimal points. So the first few are:

3.14157265

For me this is 3 Pies at the front door (3. ), then Arthur Dent writing on a blackboard (1415), in the next room Napoleon Bonaparte is playing with a train-set (7265), and I could go on.

I have have recently been using this system and memory palaces to memorise a French dictionary. I’ve managed to memorise 7 pages with about 50 words per page so far. Which is about 350 words, with IPA pronunciation, spelling and translations.

For a lot of people these sorts of things are tricks, and you can’t use them to learn. But people have been using these tricks to remember everything from names of the great lakes to speeches for many hundreds of years. So they do work, but like anything you have to put some work into them.

If you’re interested in finding out more about these techniques and many others go to The Art of Memory forum. I’ll put a link in the show notes. You can download their free book and look at the various discussions they have about the pros and cons of each technique.

Well that is it for me this week, and next week we will cover study methods which aren’t using mnemonics but are still systems which you can learn and use methodically and intentionally to study your chosen topics.

Thanks for listening and as always if you have any feedback I would love to hear from you. You can email me at: rick@autodidactic.info.

EP5: Using Flashcards for Study

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP5: Using Flashcards for Study
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Welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast with your host Rick Dearman.

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the show. Today we’re going to discuss flashcard learning.

If you’re new to the show would like to welcome you and if you are returning, I’d like to welcome you back. As always, I really, really enjoy getting feedback for this show. So if you’re interested in giving me some feedback, you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info. You can make comments on the website as well where I will be uploading the show notes for this show as well as others.

Flash card learning is something that I do every single day, mostly with regards to language learning. But I also use it for other things as well, and today I’m gonna go through how to use flash cards and how to create flashcards so that they’re more memorable and useful to you. I recommend that if you have a smart phone or computer or something available that you try and get a hold of a program called Anki (ANKI), which is an electronic flash card system, and it’s free for most devices. I think Apple phones you have to pay for, but everything else is free. But there are other electronic flash card programs available.

But what we’re going to discuss today can be used either with the electronic versions or with the paper version flashcards like you may have used in school long ago. So let’s get it started. If you’ve got Anki or an app that you’re going to use, you generally need to set up an account, and you’re going to need some way of importing this into the system.

Now Anki uses a CSV file, which you can generate with Excel or LibreOffice, or you can open the program and input them manually. Now, in addition to just text electronic flashcards generally support sound as well as images. So rather than just write some text, you can have images and audio.

There is a program which I have done a video tutorial on YouTube about how to create what’s called subs2SRS, which is subtitles to spaced repetition. But that’s if you’re learning a language. You’ll be able to use the subtitles of the film to help you learn, and I’ll put links in the show notes to that.

But this is one of the reasons that I would recommend that you use an electronic flash card system as opposed to a paper one. Since it’s much easier to get audio and video into flashcards nowadays. One of the other reasons for an electronic version is fonts and colouring. The reason for this is generally you can use different fonts for different subjects to help you; give you some context when you’re memorizing things, but you don’t need an electronic version for this.

So if you, for example, were learning nouns in French, which have a gender either masculine or feminine, you might want to put yellow cards as masculine and blue cards as feminine, for example, or whatever you want. But that is one way of using context to give you some indication of the flashcards type.

Now there are two basic concepts behind flashcards, and that is active recall testing and spaced repetition. Now, active recall is something we talked about in previous episodes, where you basically test yourself on the subject that you’re learning and that testing the active recall forces you to recall what you’ve learned.

Spaced repetition is a learning technique which uses increasing intervals of time between the reviews of previously learned material in order to exploit a phenomenon where humans more easily remember or learn things when they’re studied a few times over the space of a long time.

So with any learning method, there are very good and very bad practices for anything. What I’m gonna explain here is the best practices for you to follow when creating flashcards and studying them.

And one of the very first things that I recommend is that you make your own flashcards. If you use an electronic flash card system like Anki, you can download pre-made decks for just about everything from languages to biology, chemistry, mathematics, you name it. There will be a pre-made deck for it. But part of the learning process, I believe, is actually creation of your own flashcards, using your own context and your own methods and I think this is gonna help you more than just downloading a pre-made deck.

Now, having said that, there are some quite good pre-made decks for things like mathematics, which you probably don’t want to expend the time to do yourself when the actual learning is straightforward. So, for example, multiplication tables or square roots, etcetera. They’re pretty simple; Question on the front, Answer on the back type cards. You can also get pre-made paper cards, certainly for vocabulary and things from places like Amazon. But again, I recommend that you just make your own cards.

Now the second thing about flashcards is you should never try and memorize what you don’t understand. So if you’re making a flash card, you need to understand the the topic in which you’re making the card about. You know, a parrot can just repeat sentences, but it doesn’t understand what it’s saying. So when you’re making the flashcards, it’s going to ingrain this information into your head in a spaced repetition system. So if you just made a card that said !22W2! and you looked at it repeatedly, you would actually learn that. But it doesn’t actually mean anything and is of no use. So make sure that you understand what you are putting onto your flash card.

The next thing is to relate the information on the card to some other context, so related information is much easier to memorize. If you have multiple associations in your mind, you will remember it. So every piece of our information in our memory is connected to other pieces in another way. For example, if you’re given the word pear, you may think of something green and round and sweet and pear shaped, and it’s from a tree, and it’s a fruit on. It’s made into cider, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, so there’s lots of associations with the word pear. So try and make a many associations as you can with the card, and you might want to make multiple cards relating to each other so that the information reinforces itself.

The next thing is to start with the basics. So if you’re a beginner, you need to start with the basics of the information. And you might want to keep separate decks of basic information versus more advanced information, which builds on your basic deck. And just try and keep it as basic and simple as possible. And once you have completed the basic cards, move on to the more advanced.

The next thing is the KIS Principal. K.I.S (keep it simple). Don’t try and put every piece of information you have about a concept on one single card. Complex cards are difficult to memorize, and you need to chunk up this information. It’s a smaller bits and pieces, so you try and break up the information on to multiple cards while keeping the information per card as simple as possible.

So, for example, on language card, you may have six congregations of verb in the present tense. Well, rather than put all six congregations on one card, it would be better to create a card for the first person card for second person, etcetera, etcetera. Whatever the subject you’re studying, you need to simplify the information as much as you can.

Now. The next thing and this sort of only applies to electronic versions of cards is to use close deletion cards where possible. A closed deletion card is a, for example, a sentence, which has the information in there, but one of the words is blanked out. One of the critical words is blanked out, and you have to type it in. Now this type of card forces you to actively recall. You can’t just press the next button and be given the answer. You have to type it in so these types of cards are very, very useful in forcing you to actively recall what the word is, which completes the sentence. And it may not be a word, it maybe, if you’re doing mathematics, it might be one variable of the formula, for example. So these types of cards are very useful and I highly recommend them.

Wherever possible, try and use images because, as they say, a picture is worth 1000 words and as human beings we’re of quite visual creatures on its very easy to link pictures and images in your mind to various bits of information. This can be done on paper flashcards as well. You can print out images and use them in your flashcards, etcetera. It’s very easy on electronic version.

When you create cards trying, use as many senses as possible. Now, obviously, even on electronic one you’re not going to get the sense of smell. But you can put the word on a flash card. You can put the picture of the thing on the flash card. You can put a linked to a sound of what’s being said on it or some other form of sound, so sight and sound can be done, and it’s very easy to manage that.

Try and avoid sets of information. This goes back to the KIS principle of keeping it simple. It’s almost impossible to memorize a set without forgetting some numbers and typically, things in the middle of the set are almost invariably forgotten, because we tend to remember things at the beginning of a list or at the end of the list, and not so much the stuff in the middle.

Don’t set up your cards with a set of information. Break that set up into smaller cards or close deletion cards. Try to not just learn in one direction or the other. So what I mean by that is an example. If you’re learning vocabulary is that you might have always put the French word on the front of the card and the English on the back. Well, actually, you need two cards. You need one where English is on the front and another where French is on the front, for example. And you do this the same on, other study cards. You need to have a reversible card that presents the same information and the same question in the other direction.

Okay, When you’re creating your decks, try and keep a theme for each deck. So this is similar to the rule about related information. So, for example, if you have a deck about the circulatory system, only have things in there about the circulatory system and have a completely separate set of cards for the respiratory system. If you were studying biology.

For languages, it’s the same thing. You have a theme for animals, and then you have another one for kitchen utensils, but you try and keep them separate.

Now the other thing is to try and make sure that you only have one point per flashcard again. This is stressing the not having sets of information and not trying to put all the information on one card. But you need to have one fully comprehensive point on the card. Now, if that means that this card is particularly large or long, that’s fine. But it needs to only consist of that single point of information. So you’re dedicating one concept to each card, and hopefully one question with one answer.

Wherever possible, you should try and use sentences for your question and sentences for your answer, rather than just image cards, but enhance that question with images and sounds. Try and commit to completing your allotted amount of flashcards every day.

Now, how do you a lot yourself Flashcards? Well, if you’re using electronic program, it will allocate that for you based on whatever for algorithm it uses. If you’re using a paper flashcard system, then typically what you would do is you would have it in a file card system and you have today’s cards. And if this is your first day, then you say you start with 10 cards and you do them until you’ve learned them all, and you put them in tomorrow’s card. On tomorrow you take 10 new cards and you go through those and then you go through the 10 from yesterday and see if you forgotten any. If you have forgotten them, you move them forward into tomorrow’s set. You basically carry on doing a review each time.

Now, wherever possible, try and say the answer out loud when you’re doing the flash card. This is because it helps you to retain the information because you hear yourself saying it.

Never do opposites cards. An opposite card is, for example, what is the opposite of hot in French. This only leads to confusion, and you start to mix up the concepts of hot and cold, and things don’t don’t do opposite. Ask what is cold in French. Don’t use what is the opposite of hot. So whenever you’re doing any study cards that you’re creating, try and remember not to do opposite cards and dependent on what you’re studying, you know that can become a problem, especially for vocabulary for language.

Vary your question format. In other words, don’t make all your cards the same. Some cards, maybe question cards, try and come up with other types of cards that aren’t just questions that they are asking you to do an explanation. One of the methods I use to create a different type of card when studying a language, for example, would be to create a card that says; practice grammar point A practice grammar point B and then you go away and study for 10 minutes on that particular point of grammar. So this isn’t giving you a easy question answer thing. It is directing you to study this particular topic for five minutes. That type of card is also useful because it’s prompts you at different times to do different things.

Okay, so memorizing using flash cards is a great way to help you progress in your study. Just memorization isn’t going to help you necessarily, you know, fulfil all of your requirements. You’re going to need to do other things in order to become an auto didactic learner, you’re gonna have to study other ways. But flashcards are an amazing, excellent way to take those little stolen moments of time when you’re standing in a queue or you’re waiting for something and use those to progress your study and also the creation of cards itself, works as a study.

So in order to generate the cards, you are having to ask yourself questions. You have to find the information you have to find the answers. You have to find related information. You have to simplify the information so that it fits one concept per card, etcetera, etcetera. So flashcards aren’t just a way of studying in the stolen moments they actually help you study full on while creating the cards. And this is one of the reasons I tell you not to download pre-made decks because the actual creation of the card itself will help you just as much as memorizing the card.

Okay. Thanks for listening today. And I’m glad you joined me. Next week, we’re going to talk about memory, and memorization and study skills. Thank you very much.

Thank you for listening to the auto didactic podcast with your host Rick Dearman, if you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving a donation by a Paypal. Thank you very much, and see you again next time.

EP4: Finding Study Resources

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP4: Finding Study Resources
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Hello everyone and welcome. If you’re new to the podcast, I want to welcome you to the show and thank you for coming along. If you want to listen to previous episodes of the show you can find the shows and the show notes on the autodidactics.info the website.

The autodidact podcast is a podcast to help self learners try and become more efficient and more effective in the way that they learn and how they proceed. You don’t have to listen to all the podcasts but I would recommend that if you hear something you don’t understand that is a reference to a previous show you should probably go back and listen.

On today’s show we’ll discuss gathering resources for your self-study sessions. The resources we’re gonna talk about today run the gamut from physical to electronic, from free to paid, and everything in between. We’ll start the show with paid resources and work our way through to the places where you can get free resources at the end of the show. As always I like to solicit feedback and suggestions for my show from listeners so if you would like to give some feedback on the show you can feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info where I’m happy to take suggestions.

It’s been a busy week for me this week as I’m recording the show I’ve managed to overwhelm myself with resources and I’m struggling to make my way through all of them. I got a large number of SRS cards or spaced repetition cards to get through and it’s becoming a bit of a torture to get through all 400 or 500 cards per day.

However, hopefully at the end of the show you will have gained some insight into where to get yourself some resources for your study times and you might have the dubious pleasure of having too many resources as well.

I’ve got a large number of dead tree formatted books to read and a lot of electronic books as well. I’m also attempting to improve my memory and recall using some of the memory methods in use today such as a memory Palace, or the Dominic method, et cetera. Just for fun I had a go at memorising Pi to 25 decimal points and honestly it was very easy but unless you continue to hone and test yourself I think you can rapidly forget some of the things which you use these systems to memorise. In a later show I’ll discuss some of the methods for memorization.

Right, let’s get into today’s show. Today were gonna talk about where to get resources for your study. I will put links to any place I mention on the Internet in the show notes.

Let’s begin with paid resources.

As the name would suggest these are resources for which you have to pay money. These include things like purchasing books off of Amazon, paying for a tutor, paying for a class, or paying for a subscription to an online training course. Now depending on what your topic is you may have a wide variety of paid resources which you can use. Generally these type of resources are going to be very high quality, simply because people have an expectation of quality when they’re paying.

Let’s look at some of the resources available to you today.

Amazon

Abe books

World of books.com

Cheapesttextbooks.com

Ebay

These are just a sample of places on the Internet where you can purchase textbooks. Abe books sells mostly used books but with delivery all around the world.

With Amazon on you have access to not only textbooks but workbooks, sample tests and many other items of study. So purchasing resources is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t really be difficult for anyone to do.

Additional resources might include online tutoring, for example if you’re learning a language you can go to iTalki.com and schedule lessons with teachers or tutors in the language in which you want to learn.

A number of websites have sprung up in recent years on the Internet where you can get video instruction. Probably the largest one of these is Udemy.com but there are many others including Pluralsite if you are interested in programming languages.

In addition to paid sites let’s move on to sites which are technically free, but have some payment requirements. These type of sites are exchange sites which are technically free but you pay for some postage.

In the UK I use a website called readitswapit.co.uk where you put up a list of books that you no longer want and you can swap these books for books other people no longer want. On the website you agree to do an exchange and then you both post each other the books that you’ve selected. Here the service itself is free however you pay for the postage of sending your books to the other person.

Now in addition to the paid and semi free resources there are a number of resources which are absolutely free. I suspect most of my listeners are going to be interested in this category of resources. If you’re anything like me you struggle to find the money for everything you need and want to do. This means we need to be very frugal in our approach to becoming autodidactic.

One of the very first free resources I would like to discuss is available to just about everybody in a first world country as well as available to a number of other countries. This is your local library.

If you have the ability to go to a local library you should take every opportunity to join support and use your local library. If there is a library system in your country this is going to be one of the best free resources you will ever find for self-education. For example, the reason that I am currently having an overabundance of resources to use is because I overbooked checkouts from my local library. I am very privileged in that my local library allows me to browse their collection online reserve the book online and have it delivered to my local library from other branch libraries in the same system.

So although my local library branch is very small, smaller than most peoples living rooms, I have access to dozens of other larger libraries.

In addition to books, videos, and audio materials, my local library also gives me access to Internet databases, language courses, and other online subscriptions that I can use for free via my library card. It is well worth a visit to your local library to find out what is available to you.

The next free resource like to discuss is the Internet. And while I realise that were all paying for access to the Internet most of the resources that I’m going to discuss are available for download for free. So ignoring the cost of the actual Internet connection let’s talk about these resources.

There are a number of organisations and people who release textbooks under a creative Commons or public domain licence. You can download a number of these directly from the sites. An Internet search will provide you with a number of other sites but I will give these three honourable mention.

people.math.gatech.edu

openculture.com/free_textbooks

open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/

This last website has a large number of textbooks available for humanities, business, computer science, law, mathematics, social sciences, and education. Because these textbooks are published under a share alike licence then you will be able to get this information for free. These are actually high-quality textbooks written and used by universities but published on the Internet for free.

And finally the last thing I’d like to discuss is MOOCs. Which stands for massive open online courses. These courses are generally open to everyone and anyone who has access to the web and computer meets the basic requirements for enrolment there is no physical classroom and there is no limit to the size of students.

They are generally free however some providers do charge a small fee normally in exchange for a certificate of completion or other non-degree credit earned. Some do offer an academic course credit but the student normally has to be formally enrolled in the academic institution which gives the class.

Given that the classes online and anyone can sign up the coursework is generally self-paced so you can dive in at your own pace and at your own time. Unless the class is a scheduled event then you have to sign up to get some sort of grading or credit then there will typically be some sort of examination or a rough schedule for completion.

So one of the major providers is Coursera. But a great place to find a comprehensive listing is mooc.org which has a searchable database. Open Culture website also maintains a long list.

Although there is no requirement for you to take prerequisite course for any of these courses you might want to review pre-requisites before you jump in. This is because you may need some basic level of knowledge that you may or may not have.

If you’re interested in one of these courses things to do are:

  • Figure out your reason for taking it, e.g. do you need a certificate or not.
  • Determine if there is a pre-requisite required.

  • Confirm any technical requirements. Normally technical requirements is simply access to a web browser however some courses you may need special software in order to access or view the materials such as a PDF reader and while most computers or have the ability and the necessary software some computers with older operating systems may not be able to manage.
  • You will need to register with the course provider, typically this is just a name and email address but it may ask you for your academic history or relevant work experience.
  • You have to pay a fee if it’s applicable, and applied to the relevant academic institution if this course is for a credit.

When you sign up you definitely need to check out the course overview the platform and the course requirements before course actually starts if you don’t you may end up falling behind. Many of these courses also have forum discussions and you may find it useful to participate in discussions in order to get the most out of the materials.

Okay everyone, that is it for today. I hope that you found this information useful and that you’ll be able to find all the resources you need in order to self-study. Once again if you have any comments or feedback or questions please feel free to email me at: rick@autodidactic.info. You can also leave comments on the website about resources I didn’t mention.

Thank you once again for listening and I hope that you will join me next time. In the next podcast I will be discussing flashcard creation, and using the stolen moments of time in your day in order to help you progress. I will make some recommendations about space repetition software but will mainly focus on how to create useful flashcards whether they be on paper or electronic.