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Learn Like a Pro
Read in 30 min.
Listen in 38 min.
Learn the key ideas of the book by Barbara Oakley , Olav Schewe

Learn Like a Pro

Neuroscience and psychology at the service of learning

Many people say that studying does not come naturally to them and that they have to work hard to commit anything to memory, but there is something that can be done: you need to apply the right learning strategies to become more effective, organised and aware. Drawing from their personal experience, Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe have packed their book Learn Like a Pro full with learning techniques and strategies, which can be adapted to many fields of study. This book explains some important concepts from neuroscience and cognitive psychology that will help you limit distractions, plan effectively, take perfect notes, and find the right motivation to become the student you have always dreamed of being.

Learn Like a Pro
Read in 30 min.
Listen in 38 min.

The Pomodoro Technique: concentrate intentionally and defeat procrastination

There is a technique that has been shown to enhance productivity and stimulate concentration; it is called the Pomodoro Technique, and can be used with a simple kitchen timer - from which it takes its name - or with a special app, such as PomoDone or Toggl. The technique is simple to follow: you start by sitting at your -workstation and eliminating any sources of stress; then, set a timer for 25 minutes and, during that time, focus on what you need to do without interruption. If the mind wanders or if you think of something else you need to do, you can quickly jot it down and then return to what you are studying. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5 minute break. The cycle can then be repeated several times throughout the day, making sure to take a longer break, of about 15 minutes, every three or four cycles. The success of this method lies in the fact that anyone is able to concentrate for 25 minutes straight, without distractions or interruptions; moreover, the short mental pauses between one cycle of concentration and the next help us to transfer the concepts we have just learned to the back of our long-term memory.

A study conducted by two professors from Rutgers Business School revealed that using our break to look at something on a computer or smartphone does not allow our brain to recharge as effectively as other types of breaks. It works better, therefore, if you physically detach yourself from these devices, doing something more physical such as taking a walk, drinking some tea, listening to music, playing with your pet, or any other activity that allows the mind to roam free. This is the only way that the use of short and frequent breaks can help to improve the quality and effectiveness of your learning.

During the study cycles, however, there are some things to take into consideration. First of all, multitasking is generally to be avoided: while we study, we activate a certain set of information, and if we interrupt what we are doing, to go and do something else, whether it is just sending a message or reading an email, we activate a different set of information. The transition from one set of information to another slows down the cognitive process which allows us to go back to being fully focussed on what we were doing, thus causing lower productivity, a slowdown in our pace of work, and a higher number of errors.

However, there is a positive side to multitasking: changing activities helps to free up our minds if we are stuck, and stimulates creativity; so it can be useful, when the timing is right. Another important thing while studying, to avoid breaking your concentration, is to work in an environment where there are little to no distractions. The ideal scenario is to study somewhere you can be alone, such as in a quiet library, or earplugs that block out any external noise. Since our tendency to check notifications can become compulsive, it is best to disable them all, to keep the phone at a distance, and to install a system that blocks access to certain websites when studying; some examples of website blockers are Freedom or StayFocused.


The key ideas of "Learn Like a Pro"

The Pomodoro Technique: concentrate intentionally and defeat procrastination
Focussed Mode and Diffuse Mode: use them alternately to promote effective learning
Active learning is key to committing information to long term memory
Sleep, sport, and nutrition as allies to effective, long term learning
Taking better notes is key to lightening the load of the working memory
Some visual and verbal memorisation techniques help us remember things better and for longer
Procedural memory helps us learn new concepts through models, practice, and intuition
How to exercise self-discipline: creating the conditions for you not to have to depend on it
Increasing motivation through values, mastery, objectives and sharing
Effective reading can help you understand and remember a text better
It's time for the exam: plan, practice and manage your time
To become an excellent student, it is important to nurture metacognition and self-assessment
Take-home message
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