‘Learning How to Learn’ before you start learning

Mara Zalite
4 min readFeb 12, 2018

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If you ever observed a 3-year old independently completing a 36-piece-puzzle, you’ve probably witnessed that mastering a new skill gives a lot of joy and confidence. The better we do, the more confident and accomplished we feel.

My 3-year-old son after completing a 36-piece puzzle

I got through my formal studies without ever being taught how to learn. I did ok, but I remember the initial excitement of discovering new things faded with an occasional setback. I was acquiring new skills and knowledge, however I was not equipped with techniques to truly master the subject or fight procrastination. I didn’t really know what the procrastination was. Parents, teachers and professors would routinely share their insights: don’t leave it until the last minute, make sure you get enough sleep, practice makes perfect, etc. As I went about my studies, I trialled a myriad of techniques from index cards, to study groups to memorisation to staying up till 4 am.

Turns out learning is a skill like any other and it’s a pretty important one. It’s not a surprise to find that Coursera’s ‘Learning How to Learn’ course was one of the Top 10 most popular courses of 2017 (trumped by Machine learning and Deep learning).

Two modes of learning: focused and diffused
Our brain is at work even if we’re not consciously focused on learning. The diffused phase of learning is as important as focused. It reaffirms what you learn during the focused phase.

Chunking your learning
Learning complicated subjects takes time and involves processing a huge amount of information. The process can be simplified by chunking. Chunks are pieces of information that are linked together through meaning. Once the chunk becomes hardwired in your brain through practice, you can access it effortlessly. Chunking is the most effective if done through focused and undivided attention, practice and developing context.

Testing your knowledge through recall
The recall is the best way to test if you have understood the subject. Taking 30 seconds to summarise the key points after a meeting, study session might just be the best habit one can develop.

Tackling procrastination
Turns out the reason we easily indulge in procrastination, is the fact it shares some features with addiction. It offers temporary relief and feel-good feeling. If I asked my friends how to beat procrastination, the most common response would be willpower. However, turns out using willpower take a lot of energy. There is an easier way: using what’s called The Pomodoro Technique. Set yourself a short, focused and uninterrupted sprits of time to complete something and give yourself a reward at the end. Whether it’s a snack or a scroll through your Instagram feed.

A mechanical kitchen timer

Learning to manage your Imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome which is defined as an inability to internalise own accomplishments and persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud initially was thought to be an issue with high achieving women, however, it’s been attributed to both genders. Turns out the syndrome affects 70% of the population worldwide and very offend goes unrecognised. While some researchers suggest that it might be beneficial to a personal growth, it can also hinder it through fear of failure, overworking and undermining success. People often develop anxiety, depression, low self-esteem. Recognising that all of us suffer from it and creating positive support systems is a good way of managing it.

Yep, it’s all of us.

Healthy body, healthy brain
The key to a healthy brain is keeping active through exercise both physical and mental, being socially engaged and consuming nutritious food. Research suggests that physical exercise encourages new cell development in the brain even in the later stages of life.

While learning for some, especially kids, might come effortlessly, understanding our brain and taking control of our own learning can open up new, exciting opportunities, build confidence and lead to much more fulfilling life. Learning how to learn is a lifelong skill worth mastering.

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Mara Zalite

Believe in collective brainpower 🧠, mother of two 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦, live in 🇬🇧