Learn How to Learn

The reasons why I want to learn this course:

  1. Deeply understand the material from my favorite fields such as mathematics, computer sciences, etc.
  2. Learn quickly and more effectively.
  3. Avoid procastination.

Focused and Diffuse Modes

  • Focused mode: concentration, when we focus on particular subjects, deeply lookinto the detail. The example from the lecture gives me a sense that this mode is the optimization methods being trapped at local region.
  • Diffuse mode: give a broader look at the problem. This mode is used when we want to learn new materials. Different from the focused mode, this one is the random initialization, which helps us escape local minima.

Brain and Learning

The brain weigh 3 pounds but consumes 10 times more energy by weight than the rest of the body. The brain is dynamic. After a sleep or a nap, the brain upgrades by generating more synapses on dendrites, the connection between neurons.

Famous people use different think modes:

  • Salvador Dali: dangling the key while sleeping while he was falling sleep. When the key droped and made noise, he wake up, the brain switch from the diffuse mode which connects different ideas to the focused mode.
  • Thomas Edison: use the ball instead of the key. Fine, I will use my phone.

The point is to switch between two thinking modes back and forth.


When we really don’t want to something, the insular cortex is activated. This cortex is associated with pain. As a result, the brain switches the attention to something else. Procrastination resembles addiction:

  • Temporary excitement.
  • It is easy to fool yourself.
Construction of bad habits

Construction of bad habits

Willpower consumes a lot of neural resources. That why we should use it wisely.

Chunking is related to habit. Habit is an energy saver which allows us to free our mind for other types of activities.

The law of Serendipity: Lady Luck favors the one who tries

Habit composed of 4 parts:

  1. The cue: the trigger launches ‘zombie’ mode. Determine what triggers you into procrastination:
    • Location.
    • Time
    • Feeling.
    • Reaction.
  2. The routine: the habit mode, effortless mode in the brain to do an activity. Need to rewind the old habits.
    • Plan. Keep adjust the plan.
      • Daily “to-do” list.
      • Weekly task list.
      • Maintain leisure time.
      • Eat your frog at the morning. *
  3. The reward: The habit keeps continuing because it gives a pleasure after finish the routine.
    • Bigger rewards for bigger achivements.
  4. The belief: The underlying belief reinforce the habit by repeatively claiming ourself that the habit is good.

Focus on process, not product


  • Pomodoro: set a timer to do a task, learn materials.
    1. Set a short period time.
    2. No interruptions.
    3. Focus.
    4. Reward (web surfing, take a coffee, stretching, chatting)

Practice makes permanent

Practice makes thought patterns impaint into the brain. Focusing intensely helps improve the formed patterns, strengthen the neuron structure.


There are multiple memory systems for different types of learning.

Long-term memory and short-term memory

Long-term memory and short-term memory

Long-term memory

  • Distributed all areas of the brain.
  • Can memorize a huge amount of memory.
  • Take time and practice to move information from working memory to long-term memory:
    • Spaced repetition: distribute the practice session into many days, space the repetition out.
  • Located at hippocampus: this part of the brain is important for learning and memory of facts and events.


  • Allows the brain to wash away metabolic toxins.
  • Allows the brain to strengthen important parts of memories even as it arases less important memories.
  • Allows the brain a chance to rehearse difficult material, going over and over the tougher aspects of what you are trying to learn.
  • Makes a remarkable difference in your ability to figureout difficult problems and to understand what you are trying to learn.

Working memory (short-term memory)

  • Immediately and consciously processing.
  • Located at preforntal cortex.
  • Hold around 4-7 chunks of information.
  • Keep repeating to remember chunks.


  • Visual memory: easy to imagine, repeat and feedback. Use images and other senses to learn the concepts.
  • Flash cards (Anki).
  • Meaningful group: simplify the material.
  • Memory Palace Technique: remember unrelated items. Use memorable images.
  • Physical exercises.

Brain Model




  • Focus learning.
  • Pay close attention.
  • Leading to new long term memory.


  • Motivation.
  • A part of the system controlling reward learning.
  • Activated when we receive an unexpected reward.
  • Is in the business of future rewards.


  • Strongly affects the social life.
  • Risk-taking.



Context and chunks

Context and chunks

A chunk is the neural network inside our brain firing together, which connects concrete ideas and information into a bigger pattern through meaning and use. It is later easily to access. A chunk is considered as a item of bottom-up learning mode. To improve understanding of a particular subject or material, a chunk needs to be associated with a context. From that, we can determine whether to use, access to that chunk based on the context. To gain mastery, we should use both the bottom-up learning (chunking) and top-down learning (a big picture) inside the context of knowledge.

The octopus of attention

The octopus of attention

The working memory is located at prefontal cortex which includes about 4 slots to access memory. When focusing, we has the “octopus of attention”. He use his tentacles slip through 4 slots to access memory. He losts his power when we are tired of, in pain, or any negative emotions.

Chunking is an activity in which we connect small pieces of information into a bigger. We can form a chunk by repetition, learning through examples, learning bit by bit from the material. We can arrange the methods into sequential steps:

  1. Focus on the material. Turn off all distractions.
  2. Understand the basic of materials. It glues all the connected information together.
  3. Learn by doing: solve the exercises, practice the material. Even if you understand something, it does not mean that you can naturally do it.
  4. Give context for the chunk. We dicide when to use the chunk or when not to use.


Context and learning modes

Context and learning modes

One of the problem of learning and reviewing materials is the illusion of compentence. It means that by some ineffective learning methods such as re-reading, highlighting, we delude ourself into thinking that we have already understand the materials. It is also true with searching information on Internet, or practice one thing over and over again. To tackle this problem, several methods are proposed which can categorized into two groups: (1) learning methods (note-taking, text on margin instead of highlighting, chunking), (2) review methods (recall, mini-test delierate practice).

  • Recall: instead of re-reading the material, recall help us remember information as well as gain better understanding.
  • Mini-test: one of recall methods, frequently do mini-test for the subjects, mix things up between different subjects help us form the context of chunks.
  • Deliberate practice: helps us gain mastery of the subject. If we keep doing the same problems over and over, the subject becomes easy, and thus we think that we truly understand the subject.
  • Interleaving:


  • Try harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language.
    • Adults excel at absorbing the vocabulary needed to naviate a grocery store or orderfood in a restaurant, but children have an ncanny ability to pick upon subtle nuances of language that often elude adults.

Renaissance Learning

  • Create a lively visual metaphor or analogy.
    • It is often helpful to pretend you are the concept you are tryingto understand.
  • Imposter syndrome.
  • Memory-creativity tradeoff.
  • Deliberate practice.
  • Teamwork.
  • Test checklist.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool.


Terrence Sejnowski

  • Father of Boltzmann machine.
  • Infomax algorithm for Independent Component Analysis

Some tidbits from the interview:

  • Learn from experts.
  • Learning by doing.
  • Jogging and excercise help come up with new ideas, create new neurons.
  • Passion and Persistent.

Nelson Dellis

  • Come up with pictures for all numbers.
  • Memory Palace Technique.
  • Omega 3.
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