Learning how to learn | Barbara Oakley | TEDxOaklandUniversity


Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Mile Živković I grew up moving all over the place. By the time I’d hit 10th grade,
I’d lived in 10 different places. Math is extraordinarily sequential. By the time I’d hit 3rd grade,
I’d fallen off the math bandwagon. Basically, I flunked my way through elementary, middle,
and high school math and science. So it’s a little strange looking back now because today
I am a professor of engineering and I’m passionate about my job. One day, one of my students
found out about my past, and he asked me, “How did you do it?
How did you change your brain?” And I thought, you know,
“How did I do it?” I mean, here I was, this little kid, and I just loved language and culture, and that’s all I wanted
to learn when I grew up, but I didn’t have the money
to go to college, so I enlisted in the army
right out of high school to learn a language. You can see me there,
looking very nervous, about to throw a grenade. (Laughter) And I did learn a language. I’d learned Russian, and I ended up working out
on Soviet trawlers, up on the Bering Sea, as a Russian translator. So, I just love adventure
and getting new perspectives. So I also ended up in Antarctica,
at the South Pole Station. That’s where I ended up
meeting my husband. So I always say – (Laughter) I had to go to the end of the Earth
to meet that man. (Laughter) But I begin to realize something, though. I was doing all these adventures
and seeing these new perspectives, but somehow they were always external. They weren’t internal;
I wasn’t changing inside. When I’d worked in the military, I worked with all these
West Point engineers, and they had these powerful techniques
for problem solving. I thought, you know – I’d look sometimes
at what they were doing, and they had these calculus
and physics books, and it looked like hieroglyphics to me. But I thought, “What if I
could get those ideas?” What if I could learn that language?” I mean, the world’s evolving. Language and culture are important, but math, and science, and technology
are important, too. What if I could learn these new ideas and add them to the ideas
I already knew and loved? So, when I got out
of the military, at age 26, I decided to try and change my brain. It wasn’t easy. But if I knew then what I know now
about how to learn, I could have learned much more easily
and much more effectively. So, several years ago, as I begin trying to answer that student’s question,
“How did I change my brain?”, I begin reaching out to top professors
from around the world, people who not only had knowledge
of their difficult areas of expertise, but also who could teach effectively. And I asked them. I said, “How did you learn? And how do you teach,
so others could learn?” What I found was the way they learned, and the way they taught was often similar
to the way I learned and I taught. It was almost like this kind
of shared fraternal handshake. But we often didn’t know
why we did what we did. So I begin researching neuroscience
and cognitive psychology, and reaching out to talk
to top experts of those fields. Here is what I found,
the keys to learning effectively. As we know, the brain
is enormously complex. But we can simplify its operation
into two fundamentally different modes. The first is just what I’ll call
the focus mode. The focus mode
is just like it sounds like: you turn your attention to something
and boom! It’s on. But the second mode is a little different. It’s a relaxed set of neural states
that I’ll call the diffuse mode. It’s a number of resting states. So it seems that, when you’re learning, you’re going back and forth
between these two different modes. How can we better understand these modes? Through analogy. What we’re going to use
is a pinball machine analogy. You all know how pinballs work. You just pull back on a plunger, and the ball goes boinking out
and bounces around on the rubber bumpers, and that’s how you get points. What we’re going to do is
we’re going to take this pinball and we’re going to put it
right on your brain. So, there it is. There’s the pinball machine on your brain. If you look, this is the analogy
for the focus mode. When you’re learning,
you’re often thinking tightly, as you’re focusing on something. It involves thoughts
you’re somewhat familiar with, perhaps historical patterns, or you’re familiar
with the multiplication table. So you think a thought, and it takes off,
and moves along smoothly, pretty much along the pathways
that you’ve already laid. But what if the thought you’re thinking is actually a new thought,
a new concept, a new technique that you’ve never thought of before? Well, that’s symbolized
by this new pattern towards the bottom
of the pinball machine metaphor. To get to this new place, I mean,
at least sort of metaphorically speaking, look at all the rubber bumpers
that are in the way. How can you even get there? You need a different way of thinking,
a new perspective in a sense, and that’s provided here
by the diffuse mode. Look at how far apart
those rubber bumpers are from one another. When you think a thought, it takes off,
and it can range very widely, as you’re attempting
to come up with some new ideas. So, you can’t do that careful,
focused thinking that you can in the focus mode, but you can, at least,
get to the place you need to be in to grapple with these new ideas. The bottom line for all of us
out of this is this: when you’re learning, you want to go back and forth
between these modes, and if you find yourself,
as you’re focusing in on something, trying to learn a new concept
or solve a problem, and you get stuck, you want to turn your attention
away from that problem and allow the diffuse modes,
those resting states, to do their work in the background. How can we actually use
these ideas in real life? If you look at this guy right here,
he was Salvador Dali, one of the most brilliant
surrealist painters of the 20th century. Dali was the very definition
of a wild and crazy guy. You can see him there. He’s got his pet, Ocelot Babu. What Dali used to do
when he was kind of stuck as he was solving some problem
related to his painting was he’d sit down
and he’d relax in a chair, and he’d have keys in his hands. He’d hold those keys, and he’d relax,
kind of letting his brain noodling away. Just as he’d relax so much
that he’d fall asleep, the keys would fall from his hands,
the clatter would wake him up, and off you go: he’d take those ideas from the diffuse mode
over to the focus mode, where he could work with them, refine them, and use them
for his painting. You might think, “That’s great!
It’s good for an artist. But I’m an engineer. So how can I use these ideas?” If you see this guy right here,
he was Thomas Edison, one of the most brilliant
inventors in history. What Edison used to like to do,
at least according to legend, he’d sit in a chair
with ball bearings in his hand. He’d relax away, kind of thinking
about the problem, loosely, that he was trying to solve
related to his inventions, relaxing. Just as he’d fall asleep, the ball bearings
would fall from his hands, and off you go: he’d be woken up, and he’d take those ideas
from the diffuse mode back into the focus mode. He’d use them to refine
and finish his inventions. The bottom line for all of us
out of this is this: whenever you’re sitting down to solve a new problem
or analyze a new idea, even if millions of other people
have thought the same thoughts, or solved the same problems, for you, it’s just as creative as it was for famous people
like Dali and Edison, and you want to use
some of these creative approaches. But you might say to me,
“Yeah, but I’ve got a problem, though. You know, I just love to procrastinate. This back and forth stuff is great,
but I don’t have time. I cram at the last minute.
That’s just me.” So, let’s talk just a little bit
about procrastination. What seems to happen
when you procrastinate is this: you look at something
you’d really rather not do, and you actually feel a physical pain in the part of your brain
that analyzes pain. So, there are two ways
that you can handle this. The first way is you can just
kind of keep working a way through it. And research has shown that within a few minutes
it actually will disappear. But the second way is you just turn
your attention away, and guess what? You feel better, right, right away. (Laughter) So, you do this once, you do this twice;
it’s just not that big a deal. But you do this very often,
and it’s actually like an addiction. It can really cause problems
in how you lead your life. So, how can you handle it? A very simple way:
using the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro technique, as it turns out,
all you need to do is you get a timer. Any timer will do. Then you just take it
and set it for 25 minutes, and make sure
everything else is turned off – so, no instant messengers,
nothing like that – and you work with focused
attention for 25 minutes. Anybody can do 25 minutes,
virtually anyone. When you’re done, you do something fun; just a little bit,
a few minutes of relaxed fun. What this seems to do is this: you are enhancing,
you’re practicing in some sense your ability to have focused attention, and you’re also practicing
your ability to relax a little bit. Now you understand that relaxation is also an important part
of the learning process; there are things going on
in the background. The only thing is this:
when you do the Pomodoro, you want to make sure
that you don’t sit there and say, “I’m going to do
my entire homework set in these 25 minutes.” No. You just sit and say, “I’m going to work
with focused attention for 25 minutes”, and that’s the key. Students sometimes make the mistake of thinking that some
of their absolute best traits are their worst traits. What do I mean by this? Let’s take the idea of memory. Let’s say that you have
a poor working memory. You can’t seem to hold things
in mind very well. You watch these other students and they’re able to grasp all these ideas
and kind of manipulate them, but you can’t. Well, what this means is:
surprisingly, you are more creative. Because you can’t hold
these ideas in mind so tightly, other ideas are often creeping in. If you have problems with the tension, you’re always kind of diverting off
into some other idea, it’s similar: you are often more creative, because these new ideas
are slipping in instead. There’s another thing,
and that’s slow thinking. Some students compare
themselves to other students and say, “You know,
I’m really slow by comparison. These other students,
they are like race car drivers; they go past me so fast.” But, think of yourself as a hiker. Yes, a race car driver gets there
much faster than you ever can, but a hiker has a completely
different experience. A hiker can smell the pine air,
they can reach out, touch the leaves, they see the rabbit trails. In many ways, your experiences
are deeper and more profound, and you don’t jump to conclusions. So if you are a slower thinker, yes, you may have to work harder
in order to grasp the materials, but the trade-offs in many cases
are well worth it; you gain solid mastery
of what you’re studying. So, there is something called
“illusions of competence in learning”. What this means
is you can study all day long and you can be spinning your wheels because you’re not using
effective study techniques. There is such a thing as test anxiety, but in many cases, surprisingly many, it arises because you’ve just come
face to face with the scary bear, (Laughter) and that is that you have just learned
that you are not a master of the material. Researchers, with both
critters and people, are finding powerful insights
into how we can learn most effectively. One of those ways
is simply through exercise. Exercise within a matter of a few days can increase our ability
to both learn and to remember, and researchers
are beginning to understand the neurophysiological pathways
that allow this to occur. Tests. Tests are the best. Test yourself all the time.
Give yourself little mini tests. Make flash cards,
even in math and science, mix them up, study them
in different places, and this brings me to homework. When you do a homework problem,
never just work at once and put it away. Would you ever sing a song once
and think you knew that song? No. Test yourself, work that homework problem
several times over several days until the solution flows
like a song from your mind. Recall. When you’re looking at a page as you’re trying to learn
something in a book, people’s tendency is to highlight, right? There’s something about the motion
of the pen on a page that makes you think
that it’s actually going into your brain, but it often isn’t. Often times, people will just reread, but that too is simply
spinning your wheels. The most effective technique
is simply to look at a page, look away, and see what you can recall. Doing this, as it seems,
helps build profound neural hooks that help enhance your
understanding of the material. And finally, don’t be fooled
by the erroneous idea that understanding alone is enough
to build the mastery of the material. Understanding is truly important, but only when combined
with practice and repetition in a variety of circumstances can you truly gain mastery
over what you’re learning. So, in closing, I would like to say that learning how to learn is the most powerful tool
you can ever grasp. Don’t just follow your passions; broaden your passions, and your life
will be enriched beyond measure. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “Learning how to learn | Barbara Oakley | TEDxOaklandUniversity

  1. Can learn until you depart- "Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth.." ~ Baha'i Faith

  2. amazing… reallly needed this at this time of my life. Nothing could ever work better than this for sure. Thanks Barbara.

  3. Some people can teach you tons of interesting things and how to apply them in different fields…and definitely she is one of those people!An accurate explanation of what means learning to learn!Very very exciting

  4. I'm on this "How to Learn" marathon, watching videos after videos and they're all saying the same thing she's saying.

    1. You have to be excited about what you're learning. If it's a topic you hate, find a way to be excited about it.
    2. Focused learning for 25 minute, reward yourself with fun for 5min. Repeat. The more you do this, the longer you can remain focused before automatically zoning out.
    3. Recall – Test what you know. Do you know the material well enough to actually teach it? Practice teaching someone else what you learned. Apply the information, don't just learn it, use it.

  5. My uncle once told me a job begun is half done so that's what she's talking about I guess with the Pomodoro Technique I I think she said, focus for 25 minutes on a project that you want to procrastinate on.

  6. After this presentation ask yourself: Did I learn anything about learning that I didn't already know before? For me, the answer was no.

  7. I'm learning a new language. But I'm struggling. I figured some of my problems. First, I will now only focus my attention for 25 minutes instead of focusing on completing a set number of flash cards for 25 minutes. I'm now focusing on working rather than achieving something. A totally different mindset. Second, I was testing myself wrong. I was passively getting 100% on a test but I really had 0% in my head. I can't transfer a language in my life when I repeat the teacher verbatim. I have to think through it myself with my own stories, and problems. Ding dong, my 25 minutes are over. It's time to tag team like a wrestler to my relaxed brain partner. She's better at scanning wider for holes in my opponent position. These insights might help when I get back on the ring for my next 25 minutes. Thanks you Barbara Oakley, and happy learning everyone!

  8. Oh my gosh this sounds like my story. I went to a new school every year and math just wouldn’t stick and I want to learn math

  9. I am glad to have a level of self-understanding which humbles me at the beauty of this presentation. Oakley has confidently passed down to me intellectual blueprints in an utmost humble manner.
    I am forever grateful.

  10. All she did was give some techniques on “how to learn effectively” and threw in some you’re very creative mumbo jumbo to make you feel good. But I didn’t actually learn how to learn.

  11. Asians had found the benefits of test and recall for thousands of years. American education system is finally picking it up.

  12. Thank You Professor! I can see that you absolutely LOVE what you do! That's the kind of teachers that should be teaching! Much respect!

  13. I still cant learn i dont get it how to do some people just read something and thats it they will get 90 percentage but for me i will have to read it a many times write it many times and still i will forget it

  14. It emphasizes the efficiency of pomodoro (studying for 25 mins. and have a break for 5 mins.) As brin shifs from the focus mode to the defuse mode. The Edison was using to look for a problem from new perspective through relaxing holding a ball when it fall down he was getting back to focus on his work.
    This shifting interprets the tendency for procrastinating as brain in the focus mode reaches points that are not familiar to it so it prefers to shift to the other mode defuse that accepts dealing with unfamiliar points. That's good but shouldn't take long time and brain should come back for focusing again.
    Pomodoro technique. Five min. Of relaxing.
    Instead of highlighting,, read. Look away. Recall.
    Test urself, understanding is not enough to master sth, but you need repetition.

  15. This is what I don't understand. Instead of doing all the fancy stuff that she mentioned, why can't we simply start doing our stuff anyways whether we feel like it or not?

  16. Always had poor working memory. Repetition and focus seem to be key. Next time I'll remember I'm a hiker taking in the scenery! 🙂

  17. As a high school student with a wide skill set, i love to learn new things and I will take this advice to my grave. Also, if my geography is correct you lived in my hometown Klamath Falls, so that's cool.

  18. brilliantly explained the positives of wandering thoughts are in creative minds and focus and relax cycle techniques.

  19. I understand what she's saying and I'm hoping this can help me. I had brain surgery in March of 2017 and I've noticed it's extremely hard for me to learn new things. Things just don't stick. I'm purchasing the book and about to take the course and looking forward to the best.

  20. If I am asked to pick only one best thing discussed in this video, I'll go with Pomodoro technique.

    I've been practising Pomodoro from last few months, no doubt it's the best thing I've been suggested (by an enlightened being). My sitting ability has increased manifolds. Short and crisp sessions of study is always better than single long session.

    As she said you're required to do 25 minutes session with 5 minutes break, but she missed one thing. You need to take 15-20 minutes break after 4 such sessions.
    There are many apps which can help you with this, I personally use the forest app on android.
    Hope this comment will be helpful to someone struggling with their sitting routine.
    Peace! 🙂

  21. الممارسة و التكرار في ظروف مختلفة
    الاختبارات
    انظر الى الصفحه ثم انظر بعيد و حاول أن تتذكر ما قرأته

  22. I appreciate the quality of this woman so much. Her voice and pace is tempered and precise. Her delivery is with compassionate understanding. I really wish we had more women with this balance. mostly, I wish it was what I had been exposed to.

  23. I don't think that the study have to be so difficult. For me to study means: listen to something with curiosity in order to be able to use it for something. After it is done we must practice, practice, practice… and that's it.
    Maybe I'm too simple and should learn how to be more difficult… that was a good occasion to do so Now I'm feeling more "complex" 😀

  24. Amazing, I finish the course on Coursera. And I still re-watch this talk sometime. Thank you, thank you, thank you

  25. I'm a determinist, so it makes sense that I ended up here. But I gotta say, I had quite the smile the whole talk long, because I felt like she's describing me.
    As if what she said was exactly pointed out for me.

  26. I did the MOOC on Coursera. I met Barb at a Coursera Partners Conference. I have read the books. I follow her work and am a Mentor on the Coursera MOOC. None of this makes me a good learner. I quickly fall back into all the old traps so revisiting her work, when and where she speaks at different events, or reworks her thinking for younger students all helps.

  27. Lol procrastinators like me will procrastinate on using the pomodoro technique. We da pros. Hahaha….haha..ha……….. I should do something 😐 BUT I CAN'T.

  28. Without an act of will, no technique works. And finally the only thing that works is acts of will. The rest is rhetoric.

  29. I was focused, then relaxed focused, the diffusion diagram came up and I liked what I saw then the pomegram model?? This is all free style off the top. I'm a hiker and my path is way more rewarding this way. THank you

  30. ''ÖĞRENMEYİ ÖĞRENMEK ELDE EDEBİLECEĞİNİZ EN GÜÇLÜ ARAÇTIR.''

    Beyin, temelde iki farklı modda çalışır; odaklanma (yoğun) modu ve Yayılan (rahat) mod.
    Öğrenirken iki mod arasında gidip gelmeli.
    Bir sorun çözerken çıkmaza girdiğinizde farkına varın ve dikkatinizi bu sorundan başka bir yere çevirin.
    Yayılan modun ve dingin hallerin işlevini yapmasına izin verin.
    Sanat adamı olan Salvador Dali de Bilim adamı olan Edison da bir sorunla karşılaştıklarında sakinleşmek için oturur ve bazen uykuya bile dalarlardı. Tam o sırada ellerinde tuttukları birşey yere düşer ve onları uyandırır ve beyinleri odaklanma moduna geçerdi ve o güçle sorunu çözerlerdi.

    Erteleme hastalığı beyinde fiziksel acının oluştuğu bir yeri uyarır ama üzerine giderseniz 1-2 dakika içerisinde geçecektir. Ertelediğinizde ise birden çok iyi hissetmeye başlarsınız ama bu alışkanlık haline gelirse hayatınızı olumsuz etkileyecektir.
    *Bununla Pomodoro tekniği ile başa çıkabilirsiniz. (Sadece 25 dakika yapman gereken işine odaklan ve süre dolunca mola ver. Beynin hem odaklanma modunda hem de rahatlama moduna geçeceği için daha verimli olacak. Rahatlama da öğrenme sürecinin bir parçasıdır.)

    Diğer insanlara göre daha yavaş düşünüyorsanız siz daha yaratıcısınızdır. Örnek verirsek sen yürüyerek hedefine ulaşmaya çalışırken ağaçları hisseder, tavşan izlerini görür, çam kokularını alır doğayı tecrübe eder ve daha derin kazanımlarla hedefine varırsın. Yarış arabası olan ise hedefe senden önce varır evet, fakat senin edindiğin deneyimleri yaşamamıştır.

    *Öğrenirken bir kaç gün alıştırma yapmak, test çözmek, bilgi kartları yapıp farklı yerlerde okumak faydalıdır.
    *Çalıştığınız bölümün altını çizmek işe yaramaz tekrar okuma gereği hissettirir. Yapmanız gereken sayfaya bakın ve daha sonra gözünüzü başka bir yere çevirerek neler olduğunu hatırlayın tekrarlayın.

  31. great! দারুণ একটা টেড স্পিচ। ভদ্রমহিলার কোর্সেরা একটি কোর্স আছে, সেটি বেশ awesome.

  32. Inspired me to do the COursera Learning How to Learn course, then apply to be a moderator and later still to meet Barbara Oakley. Inspirational. So many others have tried to set out what she does here. It works on multiple levels, for students at different grades to academics. You follow the central thread and then click through to other resources – papers if you are an academic, something else if you are not.

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