Learning to Learn + 'Superlearning' + Memory development
February 18, 2021 5:26 PM   Subscribe

How did/do you prep for information intake? How did you build skillsets to develop the knowledge for your degree/craft/profession? How do you maintain?

In terms of learning advancement, looking for adventures in memory development, "superlearning," or just tools to better affect abilities to create and maintain skills. References to epistemology, personal stories or techniques, welcome, also.

Seeking to cultivate knowledge within reason. Superlearning is a new term (new to me), please no referrals to 'genius' creators, supplements, etc. Practical applications preferred.

Current tools are The Art of Memory and speed-reading courses.
posted by firstdaffodils to Education (10 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I use audiobooks or scanned, OCRed, and TTS’ed books, articles, and flash cards read at 2-4x speed while on walks. I repeat what is being said in my head as it’s being said to stay focused. I read most of my grad school books this way, and studied for many tests this way.

If I want to reread something I’ll usually listen at 5x speed. I avoid streets with any signs as those clog up some processing part of my brain.
posted by MonsieurBon at 5:55 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

I haven't gotten too deep into the meta aspect of all of this stuff (though I also listen to books at higher speed, though not quite at 4x or 5x yet!). I will say that for the memorization of facts, anki is an extremely useful tool. I've used it to get literate in Chinese, and am close to being literate in Japanese. But there are also people who use it to pass their med school exams, for example, among other things. It is a fantastically useful tool (again, for the memorization of facts, though it can sort of be used to help you with other forms of knowledge).
posted by wooh at 6:24 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I just started a class at HBS after not learning in a formal setting for 20 years. I'm finding my study techniques still work tho.

Take handwritten notes. You may need to rewrite sections until you get into a good organizational flow.

Make topical notecards for every major point.

If you do practice tests/quizzes, take any incorrect answers and add the correct response to the relevant notecard.

Write out, in detail, any aspect of the material you find challenging. Pretend you have to teach it to someone.

Reread your notecards. Reread your notes. Make flashcards of major concepts, dates, formulas, lists, etc. Review until memorized.

Take test.

Agonize privately if you are a perfectionist (hi!)


But also, I speed read naturally. So I reread like most people listen to a song they like many times. So I have a habit of memorizing through that repetition. I was in a youth theater group for 10 years and learned to memorize whole plays very quickly. It's like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it gets.
posted by ananci at 7:52 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

The memory palace technique is discussed in this very entertaining book by Joshua Foer
posted by piyushnz at 10:31 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

2nd Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein for edutainment here. Most of my data internalization was Before App. It involved a bit of writing in essentially 2 steps. 1) Read and take notes, writing and its associated muscle memory helps embed info because it is independent of just reading. 2) Refine primary notes to a key-words only executive summary. Write the key-words in columns on a sheet of paper. The keywords are different lengths and form a visual scaffolding to put things in order: similar to the basic Memory Palace associations of mnemonic objects with place. I used to draw a wiggly vertical line to emphasise the word-length on the 1st pass through the keyword list. It worked to the extent that, even in my retirage, I am an asset in Table Quizzes.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:37 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

I read a bunch of books on this when I was writing my own book on memory.

Most books on mnemonics teach the same techniques, and it's just a question of which author's style appeals to you the most.

Moonwalking With Einstein is more concerned with plot and character than with the hardcore details of mnemonic technique. I would unhesitatingly recommend it as a beautifully written and compelling work of literature, but it's probably not the best bet for somebody who wants to dive deep into using these techniques themself.

At the other end of the spectrum is Kenneth Higbee's Your Memory: How It Works And How To Improve It. Higbee was a professor of psychology, and his book has a lot of concrete information, but a somewhat academic tone. If you just want the facts without a lot of verbal flourishes, this would be my suggestion.

My own book on memory is aimed at kids, so it has lots of colorful illustrations and goofy humor. It's thorough in that I included every mnemonic technique I could find, and specific instructions on how to use them, but I don't go into the scientific background as much as Higbee.

Moving beyond mnemonic techniques to learning in general, the best books I found were Make It Stick and Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise. There's some overlap between those two books but Make It Stick focuses more on classroom learning and Peak focuses more on skill acquisition.

All in all, my suggested process would be:
• Read Make It Stick, Peak, and one book on mnemonic technique.
• Read this Atul Gawande article on coaching.
• For skill acquisition, use the techniques of Peak and the Gawande article -- IE, deliberate practice, if possible with the guidance of a coach.
• For knowledge acquisition, use mnemonic techniques to get facts into your head, and then spaced repetition to prevent them from fading. A flashcard app is helpful for this, but do make sure it uses spaced repetition. I use Anki which is extremely powerful and customizable. The downside is that it takes a little while to learn how to use it. A simpler and more graphically appealing (but less customizable) app is Cleverdeck.
posted by yankeefog at 3:08 AM on February 19 [7 favorites]

Different people learn differently, and it is up to you to find your own way that works for you.

Some people are okay getting info via audio only, so podcasts, video lectures without looking, audio summaries, audiobooks, are great, esp. if you can 2x or even 3x it.

Some people prefer audio AND visual, picture's worth more than 1000 words and all that.

Some people need to reinforce the learning with some manual motion, like take manual notes (pen and paper in long-form, or typing stuff in on computer)

Some people learn by repetition, watching the same thing multiple times.

There are seven or eight different learning styles. And some may work better with certain content than others. So it is up to you to try them all, at different times.
posted by kschang at 4:00 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]

If I'm taking a class then, as much as possible, I try to just pay attention to the lecturer and stay engaged in the presentation. To the degree that I can do two things at once, I do both of them worse. If I'm writing furiously then I'm missing at least some of what's being said and since the lecturer is the person who knows what they're talking about, I consider what they say to be more important than what I write. I do have paper and pen handy to take quick notes about anything that seems particularly interesting or tricky or whatever but for an 1.5 hour lecture I usually have less than a half page of notes.

But that's during the lecture. Immediately after the lecture, or as close to it as I can manage, I try to summarize as much of the lecture as I can remember. I'm not necessarily super organized about this and will jump around from topic to topic as some bits remind me of other bits, etc. I initially do this without reference to textbooks, lecturer notes, etc. Once I've finished my summary, I'll look over those things to see if I forgot anything and then quickly make notes on those topics as well.

There's some suggestions above about reading and re-reading your notes. YMMV but I tend to tune out when I'm just reading, especially reading something that I wrote, so for me it's a process of writing and re-writing my notes. Essentially it's the same process as above, each time trying to summarize the topic more concisely yet with more relevant detail. And, like above, I do it without reference to my previous notes or other sources until after I've written my new summary. Continually formulating and reformulating the concepts in new ways helps to cement it into my mind and I end up explaining it to myself in a way that I understand.

Generally I'll do this three or four times total: after the lecture and then again each day for a couple of days. My last set of notes will be the ones I'll actually keep around for review because they'll be the most well organized, most concise, with the best explanation.

I follow a similar process if I'm reading a book or a paper. In the case of books I'll read a full chapter then put the book away and try to summarize the info from that chapter and only go back to the book afterwards to see if I missed anything. Importantly for me, I don't just copy sections out of the book, it's too easy to pretend I understand something when I actually don't. If I have to put it down in my own words then I have to understand it and if I don't, I need to go back and take a closer look at it. For a paper it can usually be done in one shot. As before, I'll write and re-write these notes a few times over the next couple of days.

Flashcards can be great or they can be terrible. In general I think most people try to cram to much info into a single flashcard and they end up not being very useful. If I'm using flashcards I'll make lots of flashcards. For any single(-ish) piece of information I need to learn I'll usually have multiple cards approaching it from different angles. For instance, if I have a list of things I need learn:
1. Thing A
2. Thing B
3. Thing C
4. Thing D
Then instead of a single card I'll probably have 8 or more. Four with gaps:
The four things I need to remember are:
1. _______
2. Thing B
3. Thing C
4. Thing D
And four stand-alone:
Of the four things I need to remember, the second is: _______________
In addition, I might have cards about why I'm supposed to care about those four things in the first place. Something like:
The four things are important when considering subjects X, Y and Z. How do the things relate to subject X?
I can also work if you need to memorize formulas:
Given that: distance = x + vt + 0.5at^2, what does x represent? (And other cards for v and a)
In the equation distance = x + vt + 0.5at^2, is acceleration constant or does it vary? (Again, possibly other cards for x and v)
Given the equation distance = x + vt + 0.5at^2, why is t squared in the last term?
Basically the idea is to get as many hooks into the information as I possibly can. The more I understand what the terms mean, how they relate to each other and why they are what they are means that, even if I can't necessarily remember a particular equation when I need it, I can often "re-create it" from what I can remember.

So, if you're going to use flashcard, I would suggest that you don't skimp. Take every little piece of information, tear it apart and interrogate it from every possible angle.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 4:02 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Very nice, thorough answers! Thank you!! Can we do more?
posted by firstdaffodils at 3:22 PM on February 19

I need to understand something before I can remember it. Why is it like this, what would alternatives be and why are they not chosen for this? I learn the most when I explain something to someone (real or imaginary). Trying to read or listen as if I then have to explain it to someone or at least ask relevant questions helps with focus. And then actually trying to explain what I understood and ask questions. (This may be subject dependent and not work for everything you study, but an active-recall exercise of some sort should help in any case. For languages, I just talk to myself, in my head.)
posted by meijusa at 11:59 PM on February 19

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