S2EP1: Season Two Introduction – The Why

Welcome back to the first episode of Season Two. I’ll be talking about the plans for this season, and why you should be an autodidactic.

The Autodidactic Podcast
S2EP1: Season Two Introduction - The Why
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Hello and welcome back to the autodidactic podcast, episode 1 season 2. If you’re a returning listener Welcome back! If you are new to the podcast then welcome aboard.

This episode I want to just give a brief introduction to the new season and the types of things I’ll be covering. Let me start by quoting the first few lines of a Rudyard Kipling poem.

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Season one of the podcast was focused primarily on how to study and various methods to use. This season I’d like to explore two of Kipling’s honest serving men, Why and Who. So I’ll do this episode on why being an Autodidactic is a good goal to pursue and the remainder of the season I’ll focus on Who.

Therefore, the season will primarily focus on Who. The reason for this is that I believe if we look at some autodidactics such as Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, and many others we can try to discover and adopt their methods for learning.

In many cases it is difficult to find any record of the methods which they used for study. Some are relatively easy to find information about, for example Ben Franklin wrote about his methods in his autobiography. Others we’ll have to find through research and contemporary writings.

I would also like to attempt to interview some living autodidactics and try to understand their methods.

But first let’s get into the Why of becoming autodidactic and what I mean when I talk about an autodidactic.

An autodidactic is a person who is a life-long learner and while they might study for to enhance their careers or job prospects when I speak of an autodidactic I’m talking about someone who doesn’t just learn for work purposes. A Uomo Universale an ideal developed in Renaissance Italy which considers humans limitless in capacity for development and that everyone should embrace knowledge and develop their capacities to the full. Exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), whose gifts were in the fields of art, science, music, invention, and writing.

Many of the benefits and reasons why someone should be autodidactic will apply to both autodidactics and anyone who is learning by themselves.

The first two reasons are ones that everyone can relate to, they are time and money. Self learners can save money by not enrolling in formal courses and time as well. The reason a self learner can save time is they focus on what they don’t know and can skip information they already know. While in a classroom environment you would have to sit while the lecturer brings others up to speed with things you already know.

Self-learning is neither location constrained nor time-bound. With proper planning and tools you can do your study anywhere and at any time.

Another often over looked advantage is tangents. Self-learners are allowed to go off on a tangent and then return later, since they have no constraints. For example, while studying computer science you might spark and interest in basic electrical systems and spend a few months on a tangent where you learn more about electrical systems and maths related to electricity before returning to your computer studies.

When you contrasts this with formal education where you have to attend the classes or miss out, the obvious benefits of self-learning becomes apparent.

Then there are the emotional benefits. A sense of accomplishment and pride. It will also make you happier according to Vanessa King, a positive psychology expert. Scientific research from the 1990s shows, a challenged, stimulated brain may well be the key to a vibrant later life. These studies have also shown a link to learning and the delay or negation of mental and physical ailments and diseases.

The one thing in life which is guaranteed is change. Change is the only constant around us, and in modern society the pace of change continues to increase. Many people believe that the economy of the future will require people who can continue to learn new skills and continue to adapt. This is because many jobs are already being automated out of existence. Lifelong learning enables us to keep up with society’s changes – especially the technological ones.

An autodidactic with the notion of Uomo Universale will pick topics and skills to learn outside of the work they do. A relentless focus on building a single skill is not, for most people, the best formula for leading a happy life.

So these are some benefits for becoming autodidactic. Thanks for listening, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast. I’m always interested in hearing what you’d like me to discuss. So as always you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info, or you can leave a comment on the website: https://autodidactic.info

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.

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.