My MOOC journey – 3

5 06 2017

Part 1   Part 2

I do take some technical, skill improving courses, which I cherish too. But I don’t take them too often. Especially not when I’m already bogged down by regular work. My areas of interest in this aspect include data science, statistics, machine learning, data analysis, visualizations…. You get the idea. I like the ones offered by John Hopkins University as part of the data Science Specialization, though I must admit that the two statistics related courses are a little too hard to follow.

Out of my fun stuff, the following are the best:
• The Science of Happiness (series of posts)
The Science of Everyday Thinking (edX)
Life of Happiness and Fulfillment
Besides being fun, these are truly life-changing and influential. I gained lot of insights from these MOOCs.

I also loved Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies from Wesleyan University that I have taken recently. It explained lot of memory related phenomena as portrayed in movies. It was educational and entertaining. I enjoyed this course much more than the similar course – Marriage and the Movies: A History from the same university which I took a couple of years ago. It could be because of the choice of movies or the professor.

Becoming Human: Anthropology (Open2Study) is yet another introductory course that I enjoyed a lot. This is my first serious attempt to learn about anthropology. This course has complemented my earlier isolated ventures into evolutionary theories, paleontology, biology etc. through reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Helen Fisher’s An Anatomy of Love. I absolutely loved both the books.

Intro to Psychology course from Udacity had been a wonderful experience too. Despite being content heavy, the interactivity and the engaging lectures made it worthwhile.

How much do I actually learn and retain from all these MOOCs? To be frank, not much. Especially from all those introductory fun courses I take. But they are definitely helpful and expands my thinking and general knowledge. I find that when I supplement the specific topic or area with additional reading – an interesting non-fiction book or random articles, listening to podcasts etc., I can easily make the connections and feel the synergy arising out of all the past learning experiences.

I believe that true learning involves discomfort and a little frustration. If everything seemed easy and does not require any effort, one may not be truly learning much. The journey to really learn something involves getting over that discomfort by focused studying and deliberate practice. There are no short cuts to learning. Sure, there are smart ways and right ways to learn, but none that would eliminate the process of climbing the learning curve.

The 2 courses by Barbara Oakley on learning – Learning How to Learn and Mindshift – are really ground-breaking MOOCs in many aspects and require special mention. Widely popular and immensely practical and useful, they provide lot of tips, techniques, and insights into the art of learning, thinking about careers. (How to Learn: The right way, Learning Challenges, Learning). She advocates the growth mindset in Mindshift with respect to surmounting our mental blocks as to our abilities, choosing multiple career skills etc.

How do I typically choose my MOOCs? Just through simple and plain old methods. Browsing the platform catalog and recommendations that come through email. 🙂

Which platforms do I like more? As you might have guessed already (totally evident from stats from Part 1), it’s Coursera. With numerous offerings and choices, it’s like a huge shopping mall. The mobile app is very convenient. I also like the edX platform, the way the course content is arranged in the UI. Open2study is pretty basic and it doesn’t have a mobile app.

My List of MOOCs

My Fav moocs

Image credits: Open2Study, Coursera, John Hopkins, Prevention

My MOOC journey – 2

2 06 2017

Part 1 Part 3

So, how did it all start? I don’t recall how I came to know about Coursera but I distinctly remember my exhilaration at discovering such a platform. My first MOOC was “Model Thinking” from University of Michigan. By any stretch, it’s my first taste of international academic teaching and I was thrilled. I was really impressed by how well the complex and otherwise models related to social science are explained and demonstrated. And then I took “Networked Life” offered by University of Pennsylvania and then Computing for data Analysis, an R programming course from John Hopkins. Ever since I explored lot of courses and many platforms.

Out of my over-enthusiasm, I sometimes enroll in multiple MOOCs simultaneously, which was fine in the beginning when there weren’t too many options to pick from. But these days, with the plethora of offerings available out there, one can’t risk being impulsive anymore. I need to pick and choose carefully, and also time them appropriately to accommodate my regular life’s demands so that I can enjoy the learning without getting stressed or burned out.

Focused learning is so exhausting, I really welcome the break of “no MOOC months” after a stretch of intensive courses, like the one I took in 2014 after my data science courses from John Hopkins. Also, I catch myself if I’m being over-ambitious by taking on too much and don’t hesitate to drop from the courses. Most of my unfinished courses are drop-outs rather than discontinuation due to expectations not being met.

My main motivation for going on a learning spree is more to broaden my knowledge base rather than to deep dive in any particular discipline or skill. So, I can usually manage at least a couple of light-weight MOOCs at the same time. I derive most pleasure learning about new topics- just introductory courses, without requiring much effort beyond watching the video lectures and taking the quizzes. I like it when I tend to come across same studies, theories, concepts across seemingly different disciplines. I clearly enjoy the cross-discipline synthesis a lot. For example, studies like Milgram’s prison experiment on effects of perceived power, Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment on choice, pantyhose experiment on our hidden biases etc. have been referred to in seemingly varied disciplines like neuro-economics, philosophy, social psychology, science of happiness, scientific thinking and more.

MOOC word cloud2

So, what do I like in a MOOC? I like intelligently devised quizzes to test comprehension rather than testing the memory about specific studies or facts described in the lectures. I like them when too much content is not crammed into the slides and the course. Also, I would like enough repetition of key concepts, to ensure higher chance of comprehension and retention. I experienced such repetition in my recent course – Neuro-economics. For a person coming from a non-science background, the course introduced lot of terms and concepts, but strategic repetition of key terms (brain areas and their functions) helped me to progress through the course with more confidence. Pictures and animation definitely help. Cheerful professors and lively and engaging discourses also get me more involved. However, “too upbeat” kind of makes me uncomfortable. But it’s just a personal preference.


My MOOC journey – 1

31 05 2017

Part 2    Part 3

MOOCs have revolutionized learning in true sense. Though the true origins of MOOCs can be traced back to distance learning, they have undoubtedly gained wide popularity with the advent of Internet and other associated technologies. Ever since the inception of Coursera in 2012, they have become widespread and they have been in vogue ever since. And why not? It’s truly praiseworthy and remarkable that renowned educational institutions and pioneers in various fields have come forward to impart the knowledge and skills to everyone surpassing all boundaries. Several MOOC platforms sprang up offering completely free courses, while simultaneously adding more and more disciplines and courses.  And most of the MOOCs are still free, and at least let you audit for free. MOOCs have brought world-class teaching and material to the doorstep of anyone who can afford a network connection.

Coursera has started out as everything free, and later  introduced optional pay for verified certificate for most courses. And now, many of them are strictly pay courses, while some of them allow one to audit for free. Udacity was the first platform which introduced paid courses and nanodegrees designed by tech giants like Google etc. Likewise, statements of accomplishments were offered on successful completion of all free courses in the beginning, but not so much these days. However, most paid versions of MOOCs have affordable pricing, which provide authentic verified certificates.

Class-central, an aggregator of MOOCs across all platforms and universities, and provides a one stop place to find and track your interests and enrollments. It also provides helpful recommendations and articles based on popularity and student feedback. It is so easy to get lost in the ocean of MOOCs offered. And for beginners, it’s a very good avenue to start looking to get the sense of what courses are available out there.

For obsessive learners like me, MOOCs have proved to be a boon. I took courses from several platforms including

  • Coursera
  • Edx
  • Open 2 Study
  • Udacity

These platforms provide such a wide variety of courses, ranging from simple, introductory ones to more advanced courses as well. When I browse the ever expanding catalogs, I feel like a kid in the candy shop. 😛 I have completed over 30 MOOCs so far, but I’m not by any means a super MOOCer. This is over a period of about 5 years, so it’s not bad. 😉


These are just the boring statistics. Stay tuned for the interesting reflection on my motivations, MOOC highs and lows, challenges, and more in the subsequent posts. 🙂

A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment

7 07 2015

Having taken a couple of MOOCs recently on the subject of “happiness”, and having read a lot of material on the topic, my first thought when I came across yet another happiness course, this time offered by an Indian institute, was – I already know about all the cutting-edge research and material on the subject, and listened to the great pioneers in the field; what’s more to know? what new can this course offer?

I know! I sound like a true fool. Because the adage goes – “A wise man never knows all, only fools know everything.” 😛

This changed a little, when I was taken in by the intro video, which basically promoted the course as something that offers the knowledge and wisdom in the form of immensely helpful and practical nuggets like the “seven habits of the highly happy”, the “seven deadly sins of happiness” etc. The course is offered by a business school. What else can we expect. 😛 My curiosity piqued and I decided to give it a try.

I quickly realized my earlier folly and was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of new and engaging material (even though I’m familiar with many of the main ideas from my earlier courses). The presentation too is new and more engaging.  And I soon found myself impressed and looking forward to more from the course.

It wasn’t far along into the course that I started to feel like this is the ultimate practical guide you can get on happiness. What a quick transformation! 😉

Devaluing happiness is the first deadly sin of happiness. At the risk of being dramatic, I admit that it is at this point that I let my defenses down and let myself completely carried away by the bounty of knowledge in front of me. Because I readily realized that we actually don’t give happiness the priority it deserves, in many situations.

Another mind-blowing useful piece of nugget I got from the first week of the course, is about the medium maximization. It’s a common phenomenon that we confuse means with goal and pursue the medium and lose sight of the goal. The most common medium is money. Other similar ones include status, fame etc.

But in some cases, it’s not easy to distinguish between the medium and the goal. For example, I like to travel. But is it a medium or a goal? What am I really after? Do I think that I achieve happiness by travelling? If so, am I doing it wrong by pursuing travel? Same with “reading”. What is my goal in reading? Is it the means or the goal?

If they are mediums, what if I can be happy even without doing those things? Why do I think that only doing those things will bring happiness to me? Questions, questions!!!

But, really, all mediums can’t be the same in their effect. Can they? It makes sense to think that materialistic pursuits are always meaningless and lead to unsustainable pleasure, unlike the experiential pursuits. Tom Gilovich and others have proved through research that people are happier when they gain experiences rather than material things. But this implies that even experiences are means to the ultimate goal – happiness. Albeit a more reliable and sustainable means, but means nonetheless.

But what if I get carried away by these experiences – that is  what if I pursue them with as much vigor as some people pursue money or status, do they lose their significance and become as empty and meaningless as material pursuits?

The first exercise itself, which involves coming up with my own definition of happiness and identifying the things/activities that make me happy’ had been so rewarding. I realized that I have never consciously thought about what makes me happy or what I actually consider as happiness. I hope to work on my perception of happiness, refine it, and procure a more sustainable form of understanding about the concept.

I was awestruck by the second deadly sin too – Chasing superiority. It hit the nail right on the head. The instructor not only offers the reasons why we chase superiority in the first place, but also addresses the common perception that it’s necessary for being successful and motivated, by letting us know that it’s only a misconception and unravels the hidden folds of this seemingly simple attitude. He also offers antidotes to all the sins in the form of practices and habits that mitigates the sins and  reinforce happiness.

The second week exercise is about Gratitude. writing a gratitude letter to someone you are grateful to and reading it to them. I kind of cheated on this exercise in my previous course :P. Expressing gratitude to someone whom you have taken for granted all your life isn’t easy. Even though I consciously feel it many times, the idea of putting the sentiment into actual words and delivering them in person makes me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I would like to give it a honest try, this time. (This instructor says, “email” is fine too. 😛 )

I found the way how the instructor not only provides just enough science and research behind each concept, but also how he actually addresses the prevalent misconceptions about various deadly sins we indulge in on a regular basis, throws light on how they are damaging our happiness and offers practical tips about how to get rid of them, completely useful.

This is the biggest advantage of this course. I’m delighted to take this course and hope to get as much as possible out if it, given my hectic schedule these days. The fact that it’s converted to On-Demand format is really helpful.
I’m also pleasantly surprised by the depth of the content. There are lot of references to books and research articles. If only I can ever read them all.. 😛

For other happiness related posts, click here.

Happiness made easy

25 04 2015

Everyone wants to be happy. There are a lot of theories and even philosophies that explain the “science of happiness”, but as a layperson, I just want to know exactly what I can do to achieve happiness. While there are no shortcuts, researchers have put together a number of practices, which, when incorporated in our lives, will actually make us happier.  Here they are for the benefit of the mankind 🙂 :

  1. Three Good Things – Every day at the end of the day, write down three good things that happened to you that day. This is the easiest. Before hitting the bed, my son and I tell each other the three good things that happened to us that day. Makes the ritual exciting ;).
  2. Active listening – take time to listen to someone, with total focus. Take an active interest in what the other person has to say. Show support and empathy. Practice it at least once a week.
  3. Random Acts of Kindness – Each day, do an act of kindness to one or more people. The key is to be kind in different ways and to spread them across the days. Doing 10 kind things a day and nothing for the next few days, doesn’t work. Also, it is important to do different acts of kindness, rather than doing the same thing to the same person or different people. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t find this practice as effortless as I thought it would be. For one thing, maybe I have a higher threshold for kindness. And also, it is sometimes embarrassing to feel good about myself by just being or doing something nice.
  4. Forgive – This is perhaps the hardest one. Make a list of people and actions that warrant the effort to forgive. Take each one, think about it and reflect on how it impacted you – psychologically and/or physically. When you are ready, “decide to forgive”. Here, it is important to understand what forgiveness really means. It does not mean forgetting or condoning the actions or even reconciling. It just means that you are letting go of your resentment. Extending the hand of mercy actually helps “you” more than the recipient. The other person doesn’t even have to know that you have forgiven him/her.
  5. Meditation – Mindful breathing, Body scan meditation. Being mindful helps you calm down and brings serenity when practiced regularly. Of course, there are lot of other benefits associated with meditation. Its positive impact on our lives cannot be overstated. The crux of mindful meditation is not about not having any thoughts but rather being aware of them when they occur and bringing the wandering mind back to the breath. This awareness itself helps us in being more mindful. Research states that a wandering mind is the cause of happiness, not the consequence. A focused or mindful mind is happier.
  6. Self-compassionate Letter – identity something about yourself that makes you feel sad or ashamed  or insecure etc. Then write a letter to yourself expressing compassion, understanding, and acceptance of the part of yourself that you dislike. When you feel really down, or berate yourself for something, or generally feel bad about yourself, imagine what you would say to a best friend who feels the same. Extend the same compassion towards yourself.
  7. Best Possible Self – Imagine the best possible life you can imagine in the next five years and write down about it. Consider all relevant areas of your life – career, relationships etc. Be very specific. I found that having multiple best possible selves is really helpful because it broadens our thinking and enables us to learn more about ourselves. It helps us to be more optimistic – even if plan A fails, we have other plans ready. 😛
  8. Gratitude Journal – Write about the things or experiences for which you are grateful. Do it thrice a week to be effective. Don’t overdo it. 😛
  9. Gratitude Letter –  Write a honest and candid letter to someone to whom you are grateful for. Better if it is someone/something that you haven’t thought about lately or that is not often on your mind. Deliver the letter in person and read it to him/her.
  10. Writing About Awe – Write about a time when you felt “awe”. It might be about nature, work of art, human kindness, or spiritual experience.

Part 12 of Science of Happiness Series (Final).

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4   Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Part 9    Part 10    Part 11

How to learn: The right way

26 01 2015

I distinctly remember the feeling of despair that engulfed me when I was 10 and envisioned a weary future with seemingly never ending years of academics interspersed with vacations that always seemed just too short. The end of the tunnel, when I can forget schooling and get on with life carefree, seemed too far to be comforting. I dreaded the journey; the plethora of assignments, and exams.

What I never imagined was that along the journey I would succumb to Stockholm syndrome – come to enjoy it and even fall in love with the process of learning. I now realize that for the initiated, learning would never cease to occur, be in a formal academic setting or otherwise.

Thus I find myself these days pursuing academic programs, and MOOCs to my intense relish. Everyone has their own way of learning, their own bag of tricks when it comes to analyzing and understanding concepts, memorizing facts, or preparing for exams. I like to think that, given my moderate success, I did and do at least a few things right. But as I learnt recently from the Learning How to Learn MOOC from Coursera, I could’ve done/could do way better, with techniques and strategies backed by scientific research.

First things first, there is no free lunch. No pains, no gains. Learning by its own nature requires certain effort. It isn’t automatic. In order to learn something new, we need to undergo the process of first understanding it and then to deliberately practice it for retention. Any number of tips and strategies do not absolve one from the effort required. Instead, they are meant to guide you along the right path, steering you away from ineffective ways of studying and illusions of competence.

One major issue I face, like many, is procrastination. But an interesting thing I noticed is that I don’t do it with every subject or topic. It happens only with those which make me uneasy and uncomfortable. Just the reason why one should spend more time on them in order to master them but alas, that never happens. So, the trick is to focus on the “process”, rather than the “product”. Say, “product” here is an assignment or a paper, which always puts you off. Instead of thinking about finishing it, just focus on the “process” – working on it for some time.

The Pomodoro technique [1] enables you to work on a task with intense focus – without any distractions – for 25 minutes. You should follow up this period of intense focus with a break/reward. Given that 25 minutes is a reasonably comfortable stretch of time that anyone can focus, it is highly effective. Shutting yourself from all kinds of distractions – phone, noise, Internet etc., is the main catalyst. Equally important is taking a mental break at the end of this brief period, where the brain shifts to diffuse mode. It is scientifically proven that one can learn in a sustainable way only by leveraging both modes of thinking – focused and diffuse [2]. While focused mode is where the brain concentrates on something that you are learning, traversing a familiar nicely paved path of neural connections, diffuse mode is where the brain wanders around  looking at big picture perspective trying to make new connections. So, don’t regret those long walks or those little episodes of day dreaming. 😛

Despite their popularity, some study habits are anything but illusions of competence. Any amount of re-reading doesn’t help you much. Only when you apply the concepts to solve different problems, on your own, can you be able to say that you’ve mastered the material. This is what you call “deliberate practice” [3], which doesn’t seem appealing sometimes, and that’s ok. That’s how it should be. But, I’m sorry, that’s the only way to learn stuff. You can’t look at the solutions and decide that you know how to do it. The struggle you go through, the discomfort you feel when you are learning something new is inherent to the learning process.

Highlighting is another such habit that fools you into thinking that the material has sunk into your brain [4]. I highlight, but only for the purpose that when I peruse the material again, my eye is drawn to the most important points right away. I find it helpful to make analytical notes in the margins as I read – making connections to different ideas, providing context, asking questions etc.

Note-taking and concept mapping are two other study habits that aren’t really effective by themselves. I do a lot of note-taking. It helps me in slowing down while I’m absorbing new material.  It helps me to provide a visual imagery when I’m trying to recall certain stuff from my notes. But that’s it. It does not , by itself, result in learning. Note-taking, at best, is an aid. Nothing can replace the actual deliberate practice of working on the application of concepts to different sorts of problems. [5]

Spaced repetition [6], also known as distributed practice, is what enables you to assimilate and retain what you’ve learned in long term. It is necessary that you repeat and practice stuff periodically in order to push it into long-term memory. You can’t study something once and expect to recall it anytime in future. When I think back, I can certainly see this in my experience. Those ideas that I’ve spent time on  repetitively over the years are the ones I don’t have to fumble about anytime. Also, when you have multiple subjects/topics to study, it serves you well to interleave them [7]. Interleaved practice involves working on multiple skills in parallel instead of working on them sequentially. This enables the brain to be more alert and hence helps is better retention. It greatly helps when you try to apply concepts from one area to another. This technique, called “transfer”, enables you to gain mastery.

“You are what you practice”. What we do and think literally shapes our brain. It is called neuroplasticity [8]. By making conscious effort, we can change the way our brains are structured. We can learn new things, no matter whether we are naturally gifted or not. Research shows that being in an enriched environment (with creative people around) and exercising allows the brain to grow new neurons and remain healthy.

Even though the insights I provide here are just the tip of the iceberg, they are valuable nevertheless. I hope they prove to be helpful to you as they do to me.

Happy learning!


[1] Mind Tools, “The Pomodoro Technique® Staying Focused Throughout the Day,”

[2] Immordino-Yang, M. H., J. A. Christodoulou, and V. Singh. “Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 7, no. 4 (2012): 352-64.

[3]Pachman, M., Sweller, J., & Kalyuga, S. (2013). Levels of knowledge and deliberate practice. Journal of experimental psychology, 19(2), 108-119.

[4]Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

[5] Karpicke, J. D., and J. R. Blunt. “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping.” Science 331, no. 6018 (Feb 11 2011): 772-5.

[6]Logan, Jessica M., Alan D. Castel, Sara Haber, and Emily J. Viehman. “Metacognition and the Spacing Effect: The Role of Repetition, Feedback, and Instruction on Judgments of Learning for Massed and Spaced Rehearsal.” Metacognition and Learning 7, no. 3 (2012): 175-95.

[7] Birnbaum, M. S., Kornell, N., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2013). Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: The roles of discrimination and retrieval. Memory & cognition, 41(3), 392-402.

[8] DeFelipe, Javier. “Brain Plasticity and Mental Processes: Cajal Again.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7, no. 10 (2006): 811-17.

Learning challenges

15 01 2015

Learning to Learn on Coursera is an amazing opportunity to enhance one’s skill at this all-encompassing capability, called Learning. In a different course I took several month earlier, I got a glimpse of the most powerful strategies that help us learn effectively. (I blogged about it here.) This course is offered by University of San Diego and co-taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley (who authored the bestseller – A Mind for Numbers, on which this course content is based on)  and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski (a pioneer in Computational Neurobiology). I’m only one week into the course and I already love the animated videos and the enthusiasm of Dr. Oakley. The 10 Rules of Good and Bad Studying provides a small taste (as claimed on Barbara’s website) of what you can find in the book and thereby the course.

The first assignment involves writing a reflective narrative about one’s learning situation/goal and how one plans to address it based on the many insights provided by existing research. Find a version of my submission below:

Current learning situation and goal

I’m a software engineer currently learning skills to be a data analyst/scientist. Mostly, I’m relying on MOOCs for the purpose. I have some relevant background in my under-graduation and graduation and am keen on gaining right aptitude for the role. I realized that I have two major learning challenges in the process. One is getting my head around Statistical Concepts and the other is gaining some ability in storytelling, most essential for creating compelling analytical products. The other technical part, I’m sure I’ll get it eventually.

Learning aim

As I’m not a part of any formal academic program, my goal would be complete the relevant courses online and be able to create a few decent data products on my own. Six months from now, I would like to see myself as fairly confident with regard to Statistics and Storytelling (from analytics perspective).

Biggest mental challenges

While I work on the material, quizzes, and assignments, I don’t persevere when I hit a stumbling block. Also, I don’t really practice on a regular basis. While I don’t have a procrastination problem, I feel that I don’t get the most out of my study efforts. I also realize that I’m not timing my study well. I panic when I do nothing and try to cram as many things as possible into my schedule, leaving me little time for relaxation and/or reflection. I feel stressed out most of the times.

After my first few, not so encouraging, encounters with the topics, I am frustrated that the secrets of Statistics allude me, that I’m not able to master them. My storytelling attempts too were lame, at best. I think I kind of developed a mental block about them and do not approach them without considerable apprehension. I have always thought myself as an analytical person and one good at Math. It puzzles me that I couldn’t get Statistics right, that I’m not able to fathom its depth. I keep waiting for that mesmerizing teacher, who can unravel the complexity of Statistics and give me a key to understanding its essence. But of course, there is little chance for this miracle to happen. And I’m painfully aware that this unrealistic optimism is adversely affecting my learning efforts. I give up too early.   And the opposite applies to ‘Storytelling’. I believe I’m naturally bad at this, and don’t envision a dramatic improvement. So, I don’t try enough. Again I realize though that this notion of mine is self-defeating.

Existing research and learning techniques

Understanding how our brain functions with respect to learning offers insights into how to approach it more effectively. There has been a lot of research on both how learning happens and what techniques are better than others. An extensive study on effective learning techniques by Dunlosky et al. reveals that practice testing, distributed practice, interleaved practice, self-explanation, and elaborative interrogation techniques have moderate to high utility. Surprisingly, as per the research findings, the more popular techniques of re-reading, summarizing, highlighting, and mnemonic usage are actually very ineffective. This blogpost by neurobonkers summarizes the lengthy monograph of the researchers quite well.

Research also points out that in order to assimilate new material we need to alternate between the two modes – Focused and Diffuse. Diffuse mode is when the default area network of the brain kicks in. And as Yang et al. points out, “rest is not idleness”. The importance of sleep in learning cannot be overemphasized. Sleep consolidates the fresh memories into long-term memories (Pierre Maquet).

Work by Carol S. Dweck  is perhaps the single most influential research on Mindset and Learning. By learning about neuroplasticity and believing in the ability of the brain to learn anything, despite the notion of natural talent, boosts “learning”. ( Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and Math/Science Achievement. Prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education math and science grades. )

How will I apply

With the above insights, I would like to tweak my learning approach by indulging in distributed practice, self-explanation, and practice testing. I will practice more. I now realize the need to follow up intense focus periods with relaxation. One important takeaway for me is “leveraging sleep for learning”. I intend to study with focus before sleep and will to dream about it, so that I can assimilate new concepts better. I also commit myself to be more open and persevering towards the whole process.