Help me learn how to learn more efficiently.
April 30, 2019 12:09 PM   Subscribe

In my twenties, I taught myself how to computer and managed to make a career out of it. Now I'm in my forties, my life is more complicated, my time is more constrained, and I'm finding it harder to acquire new skills using the scattershot techniques that served me when I was younger. I have no formal education beyond high school, where I was the stereotypical ADHD kid – terrible study habits and pretty good grades. What are some techniques, tricks, or resources for structuring self-guided learning that have worked well for you?

A few clarifying points:
  • My ADHD is currently untreated for annoying medical reasons, and even medicated my ability to focus is weak unless the topic is my current fixation. I'm still interested in hearing about techniques that might be difficult due to that limitation, though.
  • My default study method when I was coming up in the industry was to over-caffeinate, read books or technical manuals cover to cover while hyperfocused, and spend a lot of time dicking around with whatever tool I was trying to learn. These days I'm lucky to have a couple of hours at the end of the day where I have enough attention to read or practice. My ability to retain information acquired by cramming seems to have gotten worse over time, too.
posted by murphy slaw to Education (11 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I am 41 and just now finishing med school. Although it goes against my nature, studying in the morning has worked for me.
posted by 8603 at 12:32 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

Learning How to Learn is the world's most popular MOOC, is free, and does what it says on the tin. The classes are made up of short, easy to absorb, charming videos, and it's all based on solid research. Worth the short time investment.

(After 14 years a MeFite, mostly on the Green, I'm feel like I've finally reached the point where I just have half a dozen answers that I give in rotation, many of them passing on things that I've picked up here, and this is one of them...)
posted by penguin pie at 12:40 PM on April 30 [37 favorites]

Tim Ferriss' book, the 4 Hour Chef has a large section at the beginning on learning how to learn. He describes the technique he used to learn Japanese, it involves techniques to break down subject matter into their essential subsets of knowledge, achieving early successes and so on.
posted by storybored at 12:52 PM on April 30

Basically, the biggest bang for your buck is active recall. So that's any technique where you are forcing yourself to find the information in your brain and bring it to the forefront, which in the long run will store the information in your long term memory. This includes flashcards (spaced repetition algorithms like Anki are best for this) and even things like reading a page, putting it down then trying to sum up what you just read without looking at the book. What I find really helps is trying to sum up a concept like I'm explaining it to someone else but without any notes in front of me, and also doing it out loud. There's something about saying it out loud that forces me to consider the explanation more, and helps me realise which points I'm tripping up on. It also stops me from getting bored and therefore distracted. Of course, this only really works if you can study alone. Having said that, one of the best ways to solidify knowledge is to teach someone else, which is one of the reasons why study groups can be very beneficial.

'A mind for numbers: How to excel at math and science' by Barbara Oakley was the book I read when going back to uni in my 30s. I felt it was helpful, even if not studying STEM subjects.
posted by BeeJiddy at 1:35 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

Spaced repetition software is a great way to learn material when you've only got short periods of time to study. (Link to older comment with more info and tips on use.) It's suitable for anything involving memorization, which may not be applicable to everything you're looking to learn, but there's a bit of memorization involved in pretty much every subject area. And it's an extremely ADHD-friendly method.
posted by asperity at 1:47 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

I've experimented with a lot of learning techniques, technology, etc. but nothing has helped me more than 1) writing things down on paper and 2) making flashcards (I use Flashcards Deluxe on my phone) for things I specifically need to recall.
posted by thebots at 3:33 PM on April 30

Flashcards. Make flashcards as you read and quiz yourself on them continually.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:52 PM on April 30

I came in to recommend A Mind for Numbers as well. Great for learning more than math and science.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:10 PM on April 30

Barbara Oakley of A Mind for Numbers is also the primary instructor of the Learning how to Learn MOOC, so they supplement each other. She also recommends many other books and resources in both the book and the course.
posted by camyram at 3:00 AM on May 1

Stereotypical ADHD kid here. I've found that sleep, diet, exercise, and meditation all help in varying amounts. From chatting with several dozen coworkers about it, which one helps which person seems to vary, but if you want to learn more efficiently, it may be worth exploring that way as well.

"My default study method when I was coming up in the industry was to over-caffeinate"

Yeah, that covers me as well. My tactic in my 40's has been to more often focus where I'm strong, especially if that area *isn't* a career dead-end.

My style of learning is often "learn by doing", and the first half-hour is the roughest; getting started or getting engaged is a nightmare, but once any of the small things click, the rest becomes much, much easier.
posted by talldean at 6:23 AM on May 3

How Did James Holzhauer Turn 'Jeopardy!' Into His Own A.T.M.? We Asked Him
How did you learn so many facts? What was your education?

I went to Illinois. Most people think I went to Princeton or something. But I was never a diligent student.

I have a strategy of reading children’s books to gain knowledge. I’ve found that in an adult reference book, if it’s not a subject I’m interested in, I just can’t get into it.

I was thinking, what is the place in the library I can go to to get books tailored to make things interesting for uninterested readers? Boom. The children’s section.
also btw...
How to learn anything... fast :P brilliant?
posted by kliuless at 5:55 PM on May 6

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