How to learn better?

Recently, I read a book about how to learn by Ulrich Boser. In this book,it provides many evidence-based methods to learn. Besides, it also provides steps for readers to follow.

The table of contents shows the steps for readers:

  • value: first, you have find out why you want to learn this.
  • target: after you learn(master) this skill, what do you want to do? and try to be focus on your target.
  • develop: use deliberate practice to hone your skill.
  • extend: apply the knowledge
  • relate: interact with other knowledge, mix it up.
  • rethink: be humble. review, reconsider the knowledge.

But why we have to learn how to learn? In this era, there are many online courses for people to learn by themselves. And the computer defeat people in many ways(GO, chess, and even can drive cars!). How about the value of humans? We can learn things! But we have to learn fast, correctly, and more efficiently. There is not a course at school to teach how to learn new stuff. We thought it is good to use highlighter, and it is the best way to learn to re-read the same topic again and again. NO! The are all wrong.

We have to learn under more evidence-supported ways. In this modern era, if we want to survive the age of computer, we need to use the tool of learning to hone our skills. Imagine you enter a lecture hall, you are one of the listeners. How do you feel the way you learn about things? Do you remember anything about the course after 3 days? Listening and hightlighting are the passive ways to learn. It is ineffective. If you want to learn better. You can test yourself, explain the concept to yourself.

I found something useful after reading this books.

Finding meaning

Meaning is the dividing line between the drive of the situation and the drive of the personal, and when we find something meaningful, it becomes a much more intimate motivation.

If you are forced to learn it. You could not learn it well. We are humans. We need a reason to keep us to learn. So you have to take time to think about why you learn this and how to apply them.

After that, you have to engage in the learning process.

So they listen to a lecture or scan a Web site or sit through a video, and they believe that the information will just migrate into their brains.
  • highlighting was a weak approach to learning
  • rereading showed limited effects

Sorry, we are not copy machine. We can not copy the information to our brain. In my personal experience, I’m learning in Launch School about how to program. At first, I do just watch video or just read a blog post or a book. And then I thought I understand. I thought I can program by reading things faster and watching video. But I forgot one important things. A quote from this book:

Learning requires effort. To create meaning, we have to actively make sense of a bit of expertise.

It take no only time but your effort. You have to type the code, fix the bugs, discuss with TA. By this way, you create your own meaning on understanding this topic you learn.

a wealth of new research suggests that more cognitively engaged approaches to learning — like quizzing, explaining, even enacting — show much higher outcomes.

So in this program, I have to take assessment, and post my code to be reviewed and refactor again. I have to watch others code and try my own. I also try to help other people or shamelessly share my poor knowledge with others. All of these help me actively produce what I know.

The next time a person gives you a set of detailed instructions, take time to repeat back the instructions in your own words. When you summarize the instructions, you’re taking steps to generate knowledge, and you’ll be more likely to remember the information.

I learn to do this after joining Launch School. I’m seldom write notes on my own in my study experience. But you do your own summary not because for the teachers or for sharing to other students. It is easy to follow others’ notes. And There may be a better notes than yours. But you still create your own summary. Again, Knowledge can not copy to your head, you have to create your own version.

  • If you want to learn the material, do more to actively engage it.
  • Self-testing is much more effective as a learning approach.

So I use this blog post as my own summary of this book. I don’t care how many good papers/good course/good post talking about how to learn. *I create my own version. * If I have to pick one most sentence in this book:

Learning by doing creates meaning

I write this post to explain to myself why I have to learn how to learn. Maybe I spend more time on learning this skill,and improve how to learn more than programming. At first, I just want to learn programming. No one tells me how to learn. I don’t have the metacognition about learning skill. The best and fastest way to learn a skill is not doing or finishing the topic quickly. I got lots of frustrate on learning programming. For me, learning programming now not only Ruby, JavaScript but the practice for learning.

Improve focus

How to avoid cognitive overload

Cognitive overload can also occur during protracted events. Long talks, lengthy meetings, prolonged lectures can all erode short-term memory, crowding the limited pathway to long-term memory.
When we feel stressed — when we’re scared or fearful — we can’t focus. Our emotions fill up the brain’s sketch pad.

Meditation helps. In this book or other books, they talks a lot how important the focus is. If you can do nothing but think only your breath for ten minutes, you can focus more on the learning material. Besides, it helps you to reset your emotions back to tranquility. You cannot learn well when you feel stressed. So, don’t push yourself too hard.

As soon we learn one skill, we need to move up to the next skill. Well-designed video games do this well: Players are always just a bit beyond the range of their skill. Each level is slightly harder than the one before, and it’s this ever-evolving lure of mastery that keeps people focused — and honing their skill in the game.

Of course I can self-taught by myself. But I found that either the material is too easy or they are too difficult for me. If you can learn from a designed system, the learning process is like playing video games! you level up to next topic, you are forced to out of your comfortable zone, but it is not too hard and with support. That’s the reason I choose Launch School to learn.

Metacognition has two parts, according to experts. First, there’s the planning aspect: How will I know what I know? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Second, there’s the monitoring part: Could I learn this idea in a different way? Am I making progress? Why am I doing what I am doing?

While I writing this blog, in previous section, I mention about summarizing the concepts. But it is also a way to ask myself to plan how to write and monitor what I learn. I use my metacognition to organize my thought. There are hundreds pages in this books. I have to pick some important for me and organize with them and mix them up with my learning experience.

hints are better than answers

“What parents need to do is allow their kids to be okay with being uncomfortable, to be okay without knowing the answer,” Son told me. “If students are never given the opportunity to struggle with their thoughts, then future struggles may become too frustrating.”
“As a researcher, I will never give my kid the answer. Never,” she said. Only “hints.”

The more cognitive effort you put, you will gain more. We need to believe that our hard word will pay off.

You need feedback

development in an area of expertise starts with feedback.

errors are good things in your life

  • In order to develop any sort of skill, you need to know what you know — and what you need to change
  • the brain itself seems to understand the value of struggle, of learning as doing.
  • Just as important, errors create meaning. They build understanding.
  • Errors are sharp and painful, humiliating and demoralizing. Even the smallest of gaffs — a misspoken word, a blundered errand — can haunt people for years.
  • a small but growing body of research suggest that how we learn can be more important than smarts.
  • Even geniuses need to struggle. In order to develop a skill, they will spend hours making mistakes, confused and bewildered.
  • learning demands mistakes. Errors are necessary for expertise.

I make lots of errors during my journey to learn to code. At first, I don’t aware. As soon as I take my first assessment, I got lots of feedback from the TAs. I learn that my concepts were wrong, my skill toward learning it is not good enough. I did not pay attention to nuances. I struggle a lot. I quote these sentence here, for myself, maybe I will struggle again and again. I need these sentence to keep me go through the learning process. I’ve known that all the mistakes I make, all the errors that happened help me to learn better.

Praise the effort

praised kids for their performance with just the words: You’re so smart. Others praised kids for their effort with just the words: You’re so hard working, and even that small difference was enough to make an impact.
stop using the word “smart.” People who are told they are “smart” often become complacent, performing under their ability, according to work by Carol Dweck. So praise methods, not performance: “Great job working so hard.” “This is going to be hard.” “Keep it up.”

As a father, I need to praise my children’s effort more than how good they are.

Do self-explain

So after each paragraph, after each sentence, Ross would ask himself, What did I just read? How does that fit together? Have I come across this idea before? He would also try to build associations, to see if he could explain the idea to himself relying on different words or concepts.
  • There’s another way to apply what we know — teach someone else
  • People simply work harder if they know that they’re going to teach someone else.
Learning is about reasoning and explanation, not just right answers
Ask lots of why questions in order to make connections. Make sure to apply what you know so you have a keen sense of the material and its complexity. Try and teach mastery to others so you really know what you know. Also don’t hesitate to argue a point — you’ll learn a lot more by developing your reasoning.

These concepts are just linked to each others: your brain are not copy machine. You cannot copy all these material to your brain. You have to explain to yourself, and struggle with it. Then you get your own understanding.

Use Anki

people should make sure to review what they know days, weeks, even months later. As we will find out, just making larger piles of flashcards — and thus doing more to space out our learning — can improve outcomes by 30 percent.
even the slightest amount of spacing can improve outcomes. When people take small steps to spread out their learning, they often see dramatic improvements.

Review is important. The best way is to use anki-like apps to help you review it.

Pomodoro technique

Eventually, he found that the best approach was to study for twenty-five minutes and then take five minutes off to enjoy a few minutes of aimless fun like Facebook or Pokemon Go.

Find relationship

If people come across a variety of different sampling with replacement problems with different surface features, they’re far more likely to understand the core idea. They get a much richer sense of the deeper system.
As programmer Eric Raymond argues, the hacking credo is to “make, test, debug, and document your change.”


In this book, the author argue that if you are on your own without background knowledge and support, you don’t gain much at all. But if you have guidance and background knowledge, it will be a practical experiment for your learning. For example, if you have background knowledge and join an open source project, then you try to link everything you know to this project. It will be a good practice. But if you don’t have background knowledge, you might waste your time .

Be humble

Overconfidence goes a long way to preventing effective learning. When people are overconfident, they don’t study. They don’t practice. They don’t ask themselves questions.

This is the letter I sent to the instructor when I got “not yet” on my first assessment,I think it should be a good example to show how overconfidence prevent learning.

Actually, I have studied since Tealeaf course and continue learning on my own before joining back to Launch School……. I spend 2–3 hour everyday but still in vain. I do love the course and enjoy here. I even had a bad dream last night about totally fail in Launch School and forced to quit the program.

I thought I am good enough. I thought I have already spend so much time on learning programming for more than one year, I should be good, or at least, be okay with the basic knowledge about Ruby. It is good to have a feedback about what your status know, what you are missing. I struggle with the basic concepts at that time. But I don’t waste my energy this time. I knew What I need to improve with help. And I know I am not good enough. I practice more, I ask more questions.

  • If we think we know something, we’re simply not going to take the hard steps of relating ideas or extending what we know.
  • We overestimate our skills. We don’t realize how much we don’t know.

It is okay to say “I don’t know”. I am not good enough and then go back to study more. It is good to have someone point you out you have to improve at some specific knowledge.

Ted Talks keep you away from learning

TED Talks can do more harm than good when it comes to learning. “My problem isn’t with the talks,” Markman told me. “It’s the way we consume them. We hear this fluently presented topic for 15 minutes, and then we move on to the next thing.” Put differently, TED Talks might seem like a learning experience. There’s an expert lecturing on a well-lit stage, after all. But because the material is so easily learned, it’s also easily forgotten.

I had the same situation before, when watching online course to teach you how to build an Airbnb-like web apps or build an app. I follow the code the video lecture teaching me. And I thought it is easy to do it. Of course, I forgot them all easily.

So I have to find a way to struggle with someone supports me. And that’s the reason I keep learning with Launch School.

Originally published at on April 7, 2017.