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“Learning How to Learn,” the most popular course on Coursera (nytimes.com)
848 points by hvo 109 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments



Took the course. A lot of it is cruft and motivation for the underlying core ideas. The techniques suggested are things many people are already familiar with: recall, deliberate practice, interleaving, spaced repetition, Einstellung, Pomodoro, Feynman Method, Cornell notes or similar (to force recall), exercise regularly, sleep well, focus on concepts not facts (chunking), etc. A composite of these dramatically enhances the learning process.

I can post some of the notes I took on the course if anyone is genuinely curious. The key premise of the course is that the brute force approach people usually take to learning is highly inefficient and ultimately ineffective (you'll forget).

EDIT: Notes https://pastebin.com/JNbGxvpQ


>> A lot of it is cruft and motivation for the underlying core ideas.

Someone else made the exact same remark about Cal Newport's book "Deep Work" earlier this week in another thread.

I find this to be true about a lot of books/courses/content of a "self-help" nature that are designed to be practical and applicable - the real helpful stuff boiled down to its essence could fit in a tri-fold pamphlet (or a 350-line pastebin), but you can't make money selling a tri-fold pamphlet, so the content gets augmented with tons of case studies and variations on variations on variations of the core ideas to justify 200 pages or a multi-week course.

I stopped buying these kinds of books. Every one turned into "thumb to about page 60 to skip the intro/life story/motivating metaphor, read a few pages, and skim the beginning of each chapter after that."


The Learning How to Learn course is free. They're not making money from it.

They are arguably gaining reputation from it.

However, I do not think it's true that they're making the same point over and over again. There is little repeated content, and what is repeated is done in a way that triggers recall.

It is a content-dense course, and to put this in the same bucket as an airport best-seller self-help book is deeply unfair.


Agreed. There's a serious problem of information density in content these days. Most publisher-driven content is almost intentionally sparse. It takes tremendous expertise to weld information with context in a way that doesn't feel hollow and commercial.

Two books I've come across recently that do well to circumvent that problem: Sapiens by Yuval Harari and Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Kleppmann. In both cases, you get a sense of the author distilling a lifetime's worth of knowledge and expertise into a form that seems hopelessly condensed, and in fact provokes you into further study. That's the mark of excellent exposition in my opinion.


The problem of low information density isn't new. Most of the "classics" of western literature have the same problem. We're just more attuned to it now because we've been trained by internet articles to expect an idea to be introduced, explored and concluded in 1000-2000 words. Beyond that, these days many people won't even bother with that if there isn't a quick hook or a TL;DR that sucks them into reading further.


I think one good test is actually the table of contents.

Some older books which were content-rich had the feature of "descriptive" TOCs. They would not only have a clear headline, but also a sort of teaser description of what that chapter would tell you. So you could use that to get a high level understanding of what the book is about and what it would tell or teach you without even having to skim the actual content.

On the other side of the spectrum, many of those sparse business/popsci/etc books often have extremely cryptic TOCs. That's a good sign to just ignore that book.


> The problem of low information density isn't new. Most of the "classics" of western literature have the same problem.

I would submit that you may not be tuned into the value in them, if you think that. Maybe it's true of some, but most are just an acquired taste of the same sort as, say, the freer-form varieties of jazz, or classical music. It takes some work and some experience before you get what they're doing, before you understand their rhythms, learn to recognize when they're telling you to pay attention (and to what, which may not be obvious at first), when and how they're simply playing and what about the particular play they're engaging in makes it remarkable and worthwhile, and so on.

There's a sensitivity required for much (not all) of the body of classic literature that most people have to work to develop before they really get it, and lots of allusions that have the chicken/egg problem of requiring you already to be familiar with a lot of literature before they start to land with any frequency—again, same as some genres of music, like classical and jazz again, hip hop especially, others too, but usually not as much as those. Just because you can read doesn't mean you get literature, just like being able to see doesn't mean you get fine art, though in either case you might still enjoy at least some of it, and you might still develop strong opinions about the works you don't enjoy.

Movies and TV are similar. You're not born recognizing good film-making, understanding why it's good, how the way the camera moved in that shot actually contributed meaning rather than just being an artifact of the medium, how that shot was a reference to some DW Griffith movie and what purpose that might have, how that shot is weak and works against the tone or action of the scene in a way that makes it bad, and so on. Most people who watch and enjoy film never bother to develop an actual understanding of it, but that doesn't mean the things that go over their heads are bad.

That's just how all art is, really. Sure there's some posturing and BS mixed in with it all, but you in fact do have to put some serious hours and effort into arts to get the most out of them that you can—even just on a critical or enjoyment or character/intellect/empathy-building level, not even getting into making art—and very probably by the time you've done that a bunch of things that seemed like worthless overrated crap when you started won't seem that way anymore.


I've spent a lot of time digging through the major works of post enlightenment philosophers. Even fairly "concise" (by the standards of the day) writers like Hume, Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell belabor points far beyond what was necessary for me to apprehend their meaning.

I'm of the opinion that if you have to be "trained" to find a work aesthetically appealing, it isn't inherently aesthetic. By analogy, some women find pretend rape and pain sexually gratifying, but I don't think anyone would argue those acts are inherently erotic.


Minus the weird and out-of-place analogy about sexual role playing and bdsm, this kinda sounds like a child talking about the bitter taste of coffee or beer, when soda is so much sweeter.


The real child is the person who cultivates "sophisticated" preferences to try and elevate themselves above others. A child that is genuine is ironically being far more emotionally mature.


Is the child wrong?

Why or why Not?

Things like taste are subjective. I am thirty something and don't like the majority of coffee and I don't drink beer or wine at all. I had a Mexican Coke (so much better than normal coke) in preference to bitter coffee this morning. Does that make me childish?


> I'm of the opinion that if you have to be "trained" to find a work aesthetically appealing, it isn't inherently aesthetic.

I don't see how this is tenable, given how much aesthetic taste is learned regardless.

A lifetime's journey through arts, if done with any thought at all, is certainly a process of learning, of training. Efforts to defend old favorites in light of new knowledge will be attempted, sometimes succeed and allow new levels of appreciation of already-experienced work, sometimes fail when one discovers that the work lacks the substance on which to defend it. Maybe one continues to like the work anyway, but understands its limitations, its shortcomings. Learning, or training, happens, taste refines, horizons widen, new works become accessible, and the process repeats. Sensitivity to the arts develops, informs other areas of life. This doesn't even need to be the result of some kind of formal arts crit/appreciation training; informally and casually but thoughtfully engaging with art will allow (perhaps slower) progress of the same sort.

However, a similar journey taken thoughtlessly is trained just the same, but arrested. The hardened aesthetic taste of the latter is still "trained", just poorly, probably in part accidentally, and with training halted or slowed at some point, leaving the remaining guiding tastes and opinions unchallenged, surviving favorites unexamined and unexaminable as the approaches and knowledge required to even begin are undeveloped and unknown. Why did the author include this particular character? Dunno, never thought about it. Must have wanted to is all. Did you feel the prose itself change pace as the action waxed and waned? Sure didn't, this book sucks and was boring. headdesk. OK, how about Encyclopedia Brown? WTF no, I used to like that but now it's boring too, give me some good fiction for adults like Stephen King. Not Dan Brown though, he's terrible. Oh, and why is he terrible? Just boring is all, and I don't like the way he writes. Ah, OK.

So, trained, advanced to a point, but arrested. Which is fine, we all pick our battles, but I'm not going to take the latter subject's aesthetic judgement very seriously or consider that anything they fail to enjoy is necessarily aesthetically lacking.

I guess we can quibble over your use of "inherent" but I can't see that ending anywhere other than "nothing a 2-year-old doesn't find aesthetically pleasing is inherently aesthetic" which doesn't strike me as a productive direction to go, however valuable the beauty of nature and child-like wonder may be.

Point conceded on philosophy though. Some of the most painful reads I've managed to complete were philosophy—More's Utopia in particular nearly broke me, and definitely wasn't worth the effort.


I wasn't speaking of fiction in my original post. The purpose of fiction is to create an experience in the mind of the reader rather than to convey information. As such, you can't judge a work by an absolute standard, really the only measure of success is how well the writing tends to induce the experience the author intended. This of course will depend on how well the author has anticipated the mind of the reader.

It is true that no preferences exist free of introduced bias. My problem is mainly with things that people train themselves to like in order to appear "sophisticated". It's like an arms race, where people learn to like progressively less pleasant things in order to differentiate themselves. Everyone would be happier if we collectively said "screw sophistication" but nobody wants to be the first person to appear "boorish".


> I wasn't speaking of fiction in my original post. The purpose of fiction is to create an experience in the mind of the reader rather than to convey information. As such, you can't judge a work by an absolute standard, really the only measure of success is how well the writing tends to induce the experience the author intended. This of course will depend on how well the author has anticipated the mind of the reader.

Ah, I misunderstood. I agree with you that redundancy is a common problem even in "good" works of non-fiction, though I think it's sometimes a sign that one has approached a work too late, not that the work is generally poor. I found the oft-recommended A Demon-Haunted World, for instance, to be an over-long, dull, repetitive, low-value work... but if I'd read it when I was 14? Who knows. Judging from others' testimonies I suspect I'd not have had the same complaints if I'd read it at a different time in my life.

Full-on self-help books—to include pop-business books—I would exempt from this cautious judgement, since useless padding is practically a codified, defining property of the genre.

> It is true that no preferences exist free of introduced bias. My problem is mainly with things that people train themselves to like in order to appear "sophisticated". It's like an arms race, where people learn to like progressively less pleasant things in order to differentiate themselves. Everyone would be happier if we collectively said "screw sophistication" but nobody wants to be the first person to appear "boorish".

Absolutely a problem. Humility, compassion, restraint, self-awareness, and plain speaking are everywhere in short supply.

[EDIT] looking back, I think I took your words "the 'classics' of western literature" more broadly than you intended them, i.e. to include fiction, verse, et c.


I think this describes a different problem. Sure, people are trained to consume small chunks now - but much of that 1000-2000 word content is also information-light.


Is it possible that the problem isn't publishers or authors, but rather readers and people in general?

I know a retired journalist who worked for 20 something years. When started articles and film pieces used a strategy of jamming as much information in as densely as possible. Towards the end of his career the strategy was making the message as clear as possible so that a few facts could be conveyed accurately and meaningfully.

The average person just isn't ready for dense facts outside their expertise. Things like repetition, dilution and numerous examples make internalizing external information easier.

As a programmer you are probably already an expert at self directed learning and find that method simplistic. How would you want to approach a topic you were inexpert at not planning on pursuing professionally?


I agree in general, but reading 3-page summary will not leave you with deep impression if it is applicable/correct and why. Blog posts are like that and how many you read vs how many you changed your behavior? I tried one of the services that provide summaries for the books but disliked it. But I agree that this books, in general, could have around 100-150 pages, 200 tops.


One of the promises of hypertext was to be able to "dig in" into deeper information if you wanted to. It would be nice to see a single page summary of a book, and then be able to click on hyperlinks to see more details about the interesting bits. Self-help books and textbooks are ideal for this, but I can see that it's a lot of work to structure something like that.


I always found these online versions of Wittgenstein's Tractatus very enlightening, because the entire book is hierarchically structured and thus lends itself to top-down exploration (which doesn't work well in traditional books): http://www.tractatuslogico-philosophicus.com/


Specifically calling out the Deep Work book, I recall after the 6 months of promo, talks, and general marketing of the book the author wrote a blog post calling for participants to actually, well, you know, help test if the ideas in the book actually had any scientific merit.

I was already pretty disillusioned with the self help crowd (even those who claimed a scientific background), but that was the nail in the coffin.


That doesn't make sense. Cal Newport's audience was built from the beginning around one person's efforts to get more work done. It's always been an anecdotal/self-experimental approach. Why quit reading now?

Probably the biggest testable assertion Cal makes is that focus is a muscle that can be strengthened and called on a schedule rather than a depletable, fickle resource. This is consistent with current research: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/03/psychologys-favorite-th...


Do they have any studies where they manipulate people's beliefs about willpower to see if that affects it?

This study has a been confound which is equivalent too "we asked a bunch of people if they thought they were strong. People who said yes we're stronger than people who said no! Therefore believing your strong is how to become stronger!"


Omg, did that really happened?

I either missed it or didn't read properly, but I'm definitely going to unsubscribe.

p.s. I've read the book and felt that there is too much noise and anecdotes for actually useful content.


My favourite example of this is Harold Pollack who got tonnes of media coverage for coming up with 9 rules for personal finance which fit on an index card. I listened to his interview on Freakonomics, and he's now selling a 256 page book called "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicate". 256 pages, about his rules that fit on an index card.

As an aside I always hear podcast adverts for https://www.blinkist.com/ which does audio/text summaries of non-fiction books, I haven't tried it yet but it might be worth checking out.


A book that can be adequately summarized isn't worth reading at all.


It is like reading a book without all the context. What is the point of takeaways if you don't know when to apply them? I will be wary of people reading summaries.


You're looking for https://www.blinkist.com - I've not bought anything yet but that's what they do.

I do feel a lot of self help books are often hammering home a single point over 500 pages. By the end even the authors tend to seem bored of writing their chapters.


A more charitable interpretation could be that all that "filler" is used to motivate you, because just reading about this methods won't be enough to actually help most people.


And a less charitable interpretation of that is that reading case studies and backing material makes people feel like they are accomplishing something without actual effort or anxiety, so they prefer reading to actual practice.

"Research by Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues has shown that thinking about the benefits of success can actually make you less likely to achieve your goals. They can reduce the amount of effort that you want to put into achieving your aims."

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201302...


I call these books candy for the brain. That audience just love to feel smart, wise or "aware" (depending on the specific subgenre), and these books give them just that -- pleasant feelings. Napoleon Hill is perhaps the poster child of brain candy, and once you realize a lot of today's books are the (supposedly) backed-by-science versions of the same recipe, the whole genre loses almost all interest.


Just finished 'so good they cant ignore you' and thought similar. It made some great, interesting points, but they were just too padded out.


I suppose this is why there is room for startups that summarize these books into a few pages.


You don't know how true that is until you pick up "the five second rule"


Derek Sivers' book notes are worth looking at:

https://sivers.org/book


Not OP but I also recently took the course, my notes* are here for anyone interested: https://workflowy.com/s/E9HW.jGUYboLrGj

*Apologies if they are somewhat disorganized; they are generally broken down into the four discrete units that match the course. I wrote the notes with no intention that other eyes would see them :) feel free to reach out if you have any questions on them though


Thanks for the notes. I did first week and honestly felt it was too slow and somewhat discontinued. I am going to read your notes :)


That's about how I feel about most of Coursera's offerings. Check out some other MOOC providers, there are other players like EdX, Udacity, Udemy.

I've had good results with EdX, but my one positive experience with them ('Introduction to Biology - The Secret of Life') is much more anecdotal than my multiple very poor experiences with Coursera. It's gotten me excited about the potential of online classes again, though!


Thanks for the recommendation! I've been interested in getting reviewing some basic biology and never really thought about looking for a MOOC..


Sure thing - go for it! It's a great class, and it actually covers a solid grounding in genetics, including some pretty modern concepts. That's an exciting field right now.


The great thing about video lectures is they can usually be sped up 1.5-2x. For many lecturers, that makes it easier to concentrate on what they're saying since the pauses in their speech get reduced.


I found that too! I can concentrate much better on a lecture with an increased speed. Never really thought about it but it makes sense that less pauses mean less occasions for the mind to wander.

It's been a gripe I've had with the Andrew Ng ML class: the audio is so bad that increasing the speed sometimes makes the lectures unintelligible. I appreciate lessons being offered for free but lecturers should really put more effort into the recording.


You may try what I did: speed up the video, I don't remember the specific increase but for Dr. Oakley I think I did speed up by around 50% but a little less for Terrence Sejnowski. It helps a lot to not get bored because they speak to slow for you.


I think their audience (i.e. style) are new college students.


I dunno, as a new college student I wasn't terribly impressed with Coursera's offerings as compared to the (half-hearted) online classes I've taken from my local community college. Despite many of the professors not knowing how to work Canvas, often the courses are engaging enough to get me to actually complete said coursework.


Thanks!

These are a hell of a lot more organized than my raw notes. Well done.


I also took the course, and I more or less agree with your assessment. However as someone who went to school a pretty long time ago and frankly never really learned how to study it was helpful. It reminded of one of those books you read where the author doesn't really say anything you didn't know, but puts the pieces together in a way you had not really thought about it. So I found it pretty worthwhile and I think if you are spending a lot of time trying to learn new things (i.e. foreign language, online courses, self study) it can be worthwhile, even if you are familiar with most of the techniques.


I thought similarly, but still think it was worth it. A big reason I took it was because I had been meaning to read her book.

My wife and I have thought about the topic of learning probably more than the average person. She has been using Anki for years to help with foreign language study. She admits she didn't figure out how to study until college and most of it was self learned try-and-fail.

We see others in our family who spend hours blankly staring at materials, but still do poorly. I feel like learning should be taught in schools. Not sure if high school is too premature or if it should be a college freshman course.


When I was in college (some 20 years ago almost), they had a freshman course that more or less covered this and was required. Less science and more "life skills", it still had a lot on study discipline and covered many of the concepts in this course. I imagine many American universities do the same.


I never had this class in college (average state university). Would have appreciated it if I had.


As a freshman it seemed like the lamest thing ever. It wasn't particularly well executed, but if I had been more mature and less of an ass I think I'd haven gotten something out of it. Alas, it was wasted on me.


My wife and I were thinking trying to teach that in HS would be written off more than college.

Honestly, teachers are all professional educators. The basic principals should be taught throughout school--effectively part of it.


When half the students say "It was just obvious stuff" it means that it was an incredibly useful and essential class for the other half.

I remember talking with two students who took a class my friend was teaching at uni: it was critical thinking with several example of typical manipulation techniques, from marketing techniques to what cults use.

One student told me "It was interesting but a bit obvious. Anyone knows that, no?" and the other one said "I learned a lot of interesting things about source checking."


Had to clean up my notes a bit. Can find those here: https://pastebin.com/JNbGxvpQ. Sorry about the formatting. There really wasn't a good way to retain the styling I had in the original that made this easier on the eyes.

Also, as some others have noted, A Mind For Numbers is a much more expedient way of ingesting the course material for people who don't care for a visual-audial medium. It's the same exact material (often verbatim). The title is extremely misleading - there's almost nothing in it pertaining to math specifically.


Sorry, you are just familiar if you already are curious about the subject (like I am). I assure you that the normal human beings don't know about it at all.


Yea didn't phrase that correctly. What I really meant was it's largely the standard stuff you come across if you spend a handful of hours browsing on the subject. But there is a convenience in having it all in one place and extra assurance in seeing it validated with actual research (Dr. Oakley is especially good at collating relevant academic papers/articles).


Well I'm not familiar with any of those methods other than Cornell notes...


>> The techniques suggested are things many people are already familiar with [...]

And you then list 11 concepts, 5 of which I'd never heard of before I took this course, 3 more which I had not associated with aiding learning and the remaining 3 not being sufficient to help me learn more.

Your tone is unhelpful, elitist and snobby. This course is extremely useful to a lot of people - there is a reason it's popular, a reason why I recommend it to many others who seem to be struggling with studying, and a reason why this should not be the top-voted comment.

I'm sorry but I find HN utterly dismal when people say things like "Oh, Einstellung, Feynman and chunking? Sure everybody knows that, right?"

Go have a think about this: https://xkcd.com/1053/

And next time, try and be more encouraging of others, please.


The original comment was written hastily. I clarified what I meant in a separate comment (my mistake for not editing the original):

>>> Yea didn't phrase that correctly. What I really meant was it's largely the standard stuff you come across if you spend a handful of hours browsing on the subject. But there is a convenience in having it all in one place and extra assurance in seeing it validated with actual research (Dr. Oakley is especially good at collating relevant academic papers/articles).

So what I meant is that the content mostly isn't earth-shattering for anyone who has already spent a decent bit of time trying to explore learning methods independently. I made the obviously poor assumption that the HN crowd would be disproportionately interested in that sort of stuff.

The course is longer than it needs to be in MY opinion. For instance, of the notes I posted, only about 10% was in bold in the native styling and that's the part I considered useful. I also noted elsewhere that the book is a better alternative.

People are always welcome to disagree (and many have).


Thanks for owning the assumption you made, and clarifying your point.

I made a lot of notes when I went through it. Nearly all of it was new to me, and I've got a degree and also taught at undergraduate level!

Frankly, I'd never really thought about the process of learning, as I assumed what I'd been doing all my life was good enough - the course was enough for me to realise there were better ways to do it, and has helped me already.


Nothing wrong with his comment. Yours is rude.


The original comment is condescending, and is not unusual on HN. To call that out is not rude.


If you are interested in the course, start taking it. It is quite quick and easy. I used the Coursera app on my phone and downloaded the lectures and watch during my train commute. It won't take long to watch the whole thing.


> - Interrogating information for its “why” and connecting new information to related existing information are solid ways of improving understanding and retention.

That reminded me the book "Make It Stick". It's something that has change the way I approach learning.


Actually, I find the course rather helpful. See, I coasted through undergrad and even some of my MSc on just being smart and doing homework and stuff. Deliberate techniques for studying were never anything I learned, and I sure as hell need them now.


What is considered brute force and inefficient?

I'm relearning to play basketball and found repetitive drills on basic skills to be the most helpful. I shoot dozens and dozens of mikan layups and it's really helped my pick up game.


Cramming


I would appreciate the notes. :)


"A Mind for Numbers" is basically the book version of this course (same author). I found it quite good, and I personally found it faster and easier to learn the concepts in book form than on Coursera.


ambivalents posted above.

https://workflowy.com/s/E9HW.jGUYboLrGj


yeah, same. felt the entire course could've been compressed to a 12-point medium article.


Chunking is most definitely not "focus on concept not facts."


Yes, that was misstated. What I meant was that chunking is a realization of the principle of focusing on concepts instead of facts since chunks are the residual output of knowledge acquisition that actually sticks in the long term.


Maybe I misunderstood chunking when I watched the class. I took it to mean grouping items to remember into a larger whole. Orthogonal to concept vs fact.

I can remember my credit card numbers because I have chunked the digits into a whole. Or at least that's what I thought was meant by chunking.


Now that I've been reflecting on it, I seem to recall what you are talking about. Stepping up the ladder of abstraction...

Sorry, it's been a while since I watched it.


Yeah I used to remember it being slang for chatting in the BBS (multinode e.g. Wildcat) days because of the loud "chunk" (or clunk) sound of keyboards in the 90s.


I'd add that discussion about diffuse and focused modes is quite important too. As well as chunking and building a foundation—but you touch on that in the last sentence.


I took this course and felt the teachers were not inspiring or motivating. The classes felt boring and went too deep into theory.


Sounds like a great course. I love hearing about learning techniques like chunking and seeing how I can utilize them to better learn.


Would be great if you could post the notes. I'm definitely interested. :)


I find this interesting for two reasons.

I think I recall that not too long ago, the most popular course on coursera was Ng's ML course. It is ironic that people are now more interested in teaching oneself how to learn versus a machine. This change could be attributed to other reasons like change in user demographics, or, market saturation, so that naturally popular courses will change once a large majority moves from one to the next. But I want to believe there is a more interesting phenomenon occurring where reading about abstract notions of learning causes a person to question how they themselves learn, and if the same abstract concepts apply. This is more a whimsical thought, than a serious one.

The second reason this is interesting is it could be surfacing a real issue with the way we have become accustomed to ingesting data. Could it be that we are becoming aware and fearful that the long term effects of suckling the internet's spout of instant gratification is causing serious harm to our ability to "actually learn".

Neither may be the case, but it seems like there is something interesting going on here.


It is the most popular course on Coursera because it's ~3 hours of lectures and ~3 hours of study and it seems to be advertised for everyone who logs on to Coursera.

Andrew Ng's Course is 11 weeks and it's about ~5 hours a week and on top of that you'd really want to be quite able at High School Maths and have some programming background.


Easiness of the course is could be a big factor in it's popularity. A simpler explanation :).


It also has a broad appeal, someone could be studying social sciences or computer science and find it equally applicable.


One reason though, that the ML course was most popular, was because Coursera was founded by Ng, and that was the first course offered. Still you make some interesting points.


Right, I agree, I am not convinced of my first point. As you point out, the first users were likely mostly technical people. This is reinforced by the fact that the first courses offered were almost all CS/ML/Math related.


Ng's ML course was one of the first ML MOOC courses. Right now you have hundreds if not thousands of excellent ML courses to choose from.


This is a sound analysis, I agree with you. I noted that this is a probable cause to the change in "Most Popular Course" over time in the parent comment.


Do you have any specific recommendations, especially ones that are more recent and/or have a high level of relevance and foundational information?


I like Johns Hopkins Data Science Specialization on coursera https://www.coursera.org/specializations/jhu-data-science


fast.ai if you want to get started quickly and don't mind much of underlying algorithms being treated as black boxes. Andrew Ng's new coursera course if you want a better understanding of the underlying theory.


Dr Oakley also wrote "A Mind for Numbers", which is essentially this course in text form. The book is great as a a basis for the theory of learning, and dives into the same content (diffuse vs focused thinking, skimming chapters before reading etc.).

I find having a text reference with dedicated time makes me learn more, so if you're interested in the course you'd probably also love the book.


Ah! I bought this book and loved it, but couldn't remember how on earth it got recommended to me. Now I recall reading up on this course and deciding to try the book instead (video courses tend to waste too much time saying what you're about to learn, barely expanding on it, and then reviewing what you just learned).


Got this at home, bought it whilst doing the course a couple of years ago, I've been planning to get around to reading it, I'm gonna bump it up to my next up after I'm finished with "It".


This is a pretty good summary of the core concepts: http://www.math.toronto.edu/nhoell/10rules-of-studying.pdf


This course revolutionized my views on learning. After taking it and applying the suggested techniques I've seen an amazing increase not just in my competence but my confidence. It left me feeling empowered. I was almost a bit sad when I reached the end.


This. I learned that it's ok to feel dumb when learning difficult ideas, and to take a break, let your mind do some diffuse thinking, and come back to it.


This sounds awesome. Definitely going to check it out. Thanks for this post.


CrashCourse has a study skills course: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8dPuuaLjXtNcAJRf3bE1...

It's geared more toward a younger crowd, but it's still pretty good, at least so far.


The guy hosting that course (Tom Frank) runs a really good blog, collegeinfogeek.com which despite being college focused has great motivational/discipline tips.


I'll report in too. I took the course and thought it was excellent. I love learning and have been learning new things for decades and thought my techniques were pretty good. I'm a very fast learner. The course helped me more than I was expecting and my learning speed and ability to memorize noticeably improved. Especially with the foreign language I'm studying. And the theories around how the brain works were interesting. And it's a pretty short course.


Great summary on the course from reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/5950tm/text_i...


Is this any good? I've had it in my list of things to check out for a while but I suspect it might just be TED-talk pop-psych voodoo stuff.


This is a zero-bullshit course. I completed it in about a week an a half (definitely not a lot of work) and it's drastically changed the way I look at learning and my perspective about the difficulty of earning new skills.

My pace on reading programming books for instance has gone down such that it takes about 2-3 times it would normally take to go through the material, however the difference is unmistakable with respect to how much I know the material. It took me 2-3 years of additional work experience to be at a comparable level in other topics.


So you read through the books more slowly, practicing, and recalling the material? Can you elaborate on your process now?


I work several subjects in parallel (three books currently). I go through each chapter twice. Once to understand the material then moving on to another book.

When I come back to the former book I go through the chapter again creating Anki cards for anything notable. The sheer amount of material I notice I had completely forgotten on the second reading is astounding.

I go through the Anki cards daily, in the morning I cover the material created from two of my books. In the evening I go through the third book (which I deem more valuable in a deep sense/abstract).

I have yet to have solid a strategy on chunk-building (as the course pushes you to do), however I can still see some bigger units emerge with time.


Can you elaborate on why it's valuable to go through different books in parallel? My goal has always been to do one thing at a time, so the idea that the opposite if beneficial is interesting.


The course emphasizes how memory works, you would think that to remember things you have to write the information well-enough in it so it sticks. But in reality, the information has been there the first time around the issue for the brain is finding the information like locating a product in a large warehouse.

It is the process of recall that makes things stick to memory as opposed to repeated memorization. Working on several subjects at a time spaces out sessions and prevents the illusion that you have access to the knowledge you worked for when in fact you don't.


Very interesting. Thanks for the info. I honestly haven't given much thought to how much I recall; I figured that I remembered what I remembered and that was that. Perhaps that should receive more attention.


These two blog posts by K. Eric Drexler explain why this is important. It's related to learning subjects you have no familiarity with.

[1] http://metamodern.com/2009/05/27/how-to-learn-about-everythi...

[2] http://metamodern.com/2009/05/17/how-to-understand-everythin...


Thanks very much


Can confirm. I'm a fast learner, and this course made noticeable improvements in my learning speed and ability to memorize.


Based on that endorsement, I'm going to have to check it out for sure. Thanks!


No, it's really good. They back up their statements with neuroscience research and give you practical implementation tips.


It was alright in the sense that I went through it passively (didn't do the assignments, just watched the videos). They put a great perspective on how we learn which summarized to spaced repetition, taking in subjects as chunks, and some time management techniques(like the pomodoro).


It is excellent. Technics I've taken years to collect are grouped and organized in just one place. Go for it.

I'd put more emphasis in topics like SRS, but maybe it is a matter of taste.


It's great. They also link to a lot of additional optional reading to backup what they're talking about and much of that is also very useful.


sp527 covered it pretty well, but it's a really good class. While you could just read the instructor's book, A Mind for Numbers, this does a good job with the motivational aspect.

It even comes with interviews from some successful scientists on the tips they use.


Here's a great playlist featuring Richard Hamming with a CS focus on a similar topic: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2FF649D0C4407B30


Am I the only one who thinks this is a cynical ploy to tap into the anxieties people have about not being successful?


I took the course. I love learning and have been learning new things for decades and thought my techniques were pretty good. I'm a very fast learner. The course helped me more than I was expecting and my learning speed and ability to memorize noticeably improved. Especially with the foreign language I'm studying. And the theories around how the brain works were interesting. You're probably being a little cynical. ;-)


What's that foreign language and how do you study it? (If I might ask)


I took the course as well and wrote a post about applying the lessons learned as a developer: https://medium.com/learn-love-code/learnings-from-learning-h...

Feedback welcome! Would love to learn what other techniques devs use to learn and level up


Quite an awesome course. I highly recommend it. In a day and age, we feel outdated by minute, sets right perspective and gives a good system for knowledge worker of any domain.


I haven't followed a course on Coursera since the first iteration of Crypto I. I heard that it became really bad, asking you to pay for a lot of courses.


You heard right, it is really bad. REALLY bad. They don't even audit the courses they sell to see if they work. I've seen blatantly missing material, completely bricked dev environments, assignments with rubrics that don't match up with their grading criteria, repositories with several errors in code marked, 'DO NOT EDIT', the list goes on.

Rough stuff. Look elsewhere for online courses. Coursera is all about pushing sales, not learning.


I suppose it depends on the course. I have really fond memories of the "Chinese for Beginners" and "More Chinese for Beginners" courses from Peking university I took on Coursera. They managed to engage me, I really enjoyed the teaching style and I learned a lot in relation to the time spent, it was probably the most efficient Chinese learning method I've taken.

Then I went into a course in edX and the website was way better, the platform was miles ahead, the forums were better, the video player was amazing with the ability to change video speed and add subtitles, etc... but I dropped out in like two weeks!

Now this post has motivated me to look again in Coursera and there are two specializations for Chinese that didn't exist before, one from Peking University (with different teachers to the one I remember) and another from Shanghai Jiao Tong... I'm going to choose one and give it a try :)


I find Udemy is a lot better. The courses have been rated by other people so you can usually figure out if it's worth the effort to spend $15 on it.


I'd counter this mindset by saying that OF COURSE they ask you to pay. In my experience they've provided extremely high quality educational material, and even while paying its a fantastic deal. I especially liked the algorithms course by Tim Roughgarden.

It's one thing to say that their lectures are objectively bad, but quite another to argue that asking for payment in return for a service is itself a bad thing. I personally have benefited quite a bit from Coursera and Udacity, and now see paying for courses as the best way that I can make sure others are able to benefit as well.


> OF COURSE they ask you to pay

I had no idea this was going to be their business model. When Coursera started I thought it was this great scheme like Wikipedia is, free education for everyone. That's why I'm disappointed, the amount of money might be little for some, but it will be a barrier to others.


If you're concerned with the quality of the courses prior to paying, I recommend googling for blog posts about different courses, and checking out sites like class-central for student reviews.


Can anyone of you report any long term benefits from these kind of courses? Personally, I think those classes (haven't looked into the coursera one) only present obvious stuff.

I've once worked through "Make it stick", a book that is often recommended when it comes to learning. What I've found is that there is nothing wrong with the content but it did not really help.

I imagine that most people who struggle with learning deal with some kind of psychological issues that need to get addressed. They need to learn how to deal with stuff like frustration, worries, perfectionism or self esteem.


Reading this book (A Mind for Numbers) and taking the mooc changed my life. The main thing that stuck with me above all else was the idea that it's okay to feel dumb when learning new things and to push through instead of giving up. I wish I had learned that lesson much earlier.


> Can anyone of you report any long term benefits from these kind of courses?

None. It's like all self help books or "learning to read" books or etc. The only thing it does is make you feel like you are accomplishing something and actually "learning". But you are just wasting time.

The title is even self-defeating. "Learning how to learn". How can you learn to learn without already knowing how to learn in the first place.

In order for the class to be useful to you, you would have to already known how to learn to learn the material.

Ultimately, those truly motivated would have gone on to learn what they wanted regardless of this course. And those unmotivated will not go on to learn regardless of this course.


This is completely antagonistic, and close-minded, without providing evidence. The course is by people who have studied these things and back up the methods with research (evidence).

The goal is long-term retention and learning. The course addresses bad habits that people use for learning that don't accomplish this goal, and suggests better methods.

I haven't taken the course but I'm familiar with some of the methods, such as spaced-repetition. Spaced-repetition hasn't falsely "made me feel like I am accomplishing something" and I've been surprised with the results over time. There is a body of research and evidence showing positive results.

> How can you learn to learn without already knowing how to learn in the first place.

This might feel like a clever comment but it's pedantic and doesn't contribute to the discussion. Most people have some minimal capacity to learn new things, and can also improve how they learn.


Wow, what an incredibly narrow world view.

Are you under the impression that everyone in the world has had access to decent education their entire lives?

Are you under the impression that motivation is the sole factor in determining one's ability to learn?

>How can you learn to learn

By not taking everything hyper-literally. The course is educating people on strategies they can use to help retain and learn information. How is that self-defeating?


> The title is even self-defeating. "Learning how to learn". How can you learn to learn without already knowing how to learn in the first place.

Don't be overzealous in finding mistakes if you want to to understand. Approach things with a positive attitude. "Learn how to learn" can easily mean "Learn how to learn better". Almost nothing is black-and-white.

That's just a little trick for you to learn I guess :-)


Took the course, loved it. Bought the book, loved it. Encouraged my partner to check it out, she stuck through it. 3 years later she's about to graduate from college with her basic counselling education and experience behind her where she hit top of the class. She's about to set out on her own. This course was a massive driver and I'm not sure she'd have gone this way this quickly without it.


For those who read her book and did the course, is there anything in the course that isn't covered by the book? what's the advantage of the course over the book?

As a side note, I have found that the most powerful technique for me is recalling.


If you just wanted the information, you could stick with the book since it goes into greater depth about the learning method.

The one thing I really like about the course were the interviews where the interviewees (such as Cal Newport and the 1 year MIT degree guy) went into great depth on their focus methods.

I also liked the assignments since the scorers gave helpful feedback although I don't know what it's like now with the changes coursera has gone through since I took this class.


The main advantage of the course is that it's free.


Which of her books are you referring to?


A mind for numbers.


Fantastic that resources like this now exist. In some ways it seems to be reminding us about how we used to learn. Children spontaneously go back again and again to things that delight them (spaced repetition) and they switch activities when bored (Pomodoro). Unfortunately, perhaps as a result of schooling, or other hard knocks, the spontaneous impulse gets lost. Adults suffer from mixed motivations and seem to be fairly clueless about what they find genuinely interesting. It becomes difficult to approach topics playfully.


Adults are forced to be much more pragmatic and less volatile. Plus, most of us suffer from time scarcity. There's a specific pivot point in life wherein you shift from primarily a learner to primarily a producer and I think the shift in how we approach knowledge and our own interests is the unfortunate baggage of that transition.


I highly recommend this course. One thing i learned and have been practicing was how useful was memorization and spaced repetition practice of things i would like learn and understand.


There is a book from the 80s with the same name "Learning How to Learn" by Gowin & Novak. The book was very influential to the UX field. Concept Maps -the technique presented in the book- is used a lot to understand user mental models. The book is 80% discussion about how to apply the technique in a classroom... 20% explaining the technique, but anyways it's worth the read.

Edit: small correction, according to google the book was published in 1984


There is a modern book called "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" by Peter C. Brown that I quite liked.


I find that learning how to learning how to learning how to learn is a good way to spend my time when I don't actually want to accomplish anything.


I love to learn how to learn. Using what I learnt to learn stuff is hard, so I don't do it.


Interesting article, personally I think this is more useful: https://www.supermemo.com/en/articles/20rules


I took this course it is wonderful and good. Also read her book.

I now always try to skim the index of a book or chapter before reading it. Also try to study in smaller sessions, every day, instead of cramming a ton of info in just one day.


I haven't done that course but I have to agree. Learning how to learn is vastly important and really hard to do on your own, because the requirement is the same as the result.


I have heard that the way it is presented is very dry. I have read a summary on reddit and I think it is good, but I just don't have the time to spend on it.


Which i neatly tagged away in my bookmarks feeling good about envisioning taking it some day in the future. :) :(


This reminds me of a book I read years ago: Learning How to Learn by Idries Shah

It was an interesting look at Sufi thought.


What's the best MOOC on Compilers?


Wasn't this the course also provided by the teaching company?


Sounds to me like a lot of people are searching for a course which will allow one to overcome a lack of intrinsic motivation. But all the best tools in the world wont make you a smith, if you find no fun in hammering red hot iron.


I saw the title and initially thought this was about AutoML.


took the course, I think it is pretty good, it follow the rhythm our brain to remember something.


The very first sentence:

> The studio for what is arguably the world’s most successful online course is tucked into a corner of Barb and Phil Oakley’s basement, a converted TV room that smells faintly of cat urine.

I feel embarrassed on the Oakley's behalf. But I'm not a cat owner so maybe a room in one's home smelling (however faintly) of cat urine isn't particularly embarrassing.

Am I unreasonable in thinking that the author is an asshole?


Not condoning the decision: however, as a former journalist/editor, I think the effort was to highlight the contrast between the popularity of their work, and its humble origins. It's a somewhat common approach in the journalistic community and was probably intended to make the Oakleys more relate-able.

That clearly misfired with some readers, so I think that means it wasn't an effective use of detail. Still, I don't think the author was actively trying to be a dick about it.


From a brief perusal of the article, there doesn't appear to be much point to the sentence you quote. It's irrelevant at best and, yes, rude at worst. I'm a cat owner; if I or any of my cat owning peers were told our homes smelled, we would be embarrassed.


Honest question. If it really smelt, would you still be offended? I am genuinely curious. I watched Bill Burr stand up comedy routine recently and he touches upon a similar topic. Though its comedy, I thought he made a good point - shame is a valid human emotion, why are we as a society so against feeling it, even when it is justified.


Define "valid" human emotion. And after feeling shame or embarrassment, if someone then transitions to feeling offended, is that somehow not a valid emotion?

I can see Bill Burr's angle - just own up to what's yours, be honest about your own shortcomings and move on with life. But everyone handles negative emotions differently, often in spectacularly unproductive and defensive ways. Which might help explain the abundance of stand-up comedian talent in the world today :P


I guess I was trying to paraphrase the comedian there, I guess I can just remove the "valid" qualifier and use embarrassed instead of offended, but the point I was trying to make pretty much remains the same.

My point, shame has always been useful, at least for me. Feeling ashamed is a sign of knowing I can be doing better, and it generally motivates to do better. Its not easy. But, why do we draw lines that shouldn't be crossed on anything that might make us feel this.

You shouldn't call a smelly apartment smelly, because someone might feel embarrassed, even if you are not trying to be a dick. For instance, the author researches and publishes an article about a popular course and the people offering it and gets called an asshole for one sentence without any judgemental qualifiers, ignoring everything else in the article.


The person you replied to never used the word "offended". The word they used was "embarrassed"; I doubt the embarrassment would be substantially affected by whether or not the room actually smelled.


I wouldn't be offended at all. If the person decided to announce to the world that my home smelt like cat piss, though, it'd be a different story.


To me that sentence reads as a factual description devoid of judgement.

EDIT: I am surprised so many feel strongly about this and it didn't strike to me as insensitive at all. Just makes me realize that being sensitive to others is quite hard, specially while writing for platforms with such diverse set of users. How would one know? :)


Would it be okay to point out that he's fat if he was overweight? Pointing out a negative fact unrelated to the topic like this is a rude thing to do.


"Hey, it's true" but it doesn't really add any useful information, it's just mean.


It might be factual, but the mention of cat urine smell is unnecessary and rude.


You're right, but it's a totally irrelevant fact that other people will still judge on.


I think the author is trying to paint a picture of just how unprofessional the setup is, how it's just the corner of a house, etc, but it sure comes off as rude and unnecessary.


People try to be good writers and they forget that people they're writing about have feelings too.


I am a cat owner.. it never would have thought that my home smelling slightly of cat urine was embarrassing. Perhaps the author also didn't think it was? I don't think cat urine smells bad.


I'm a cat owner and cat urine smells horrible. Our home does not have the smell of cat pee because we clean up after our cat quite regularly.

I don't get it. I would be embarrassed if someone said my home smelled like cat pee.


I am a cat owner, and if you have a good sense of smell, you can't really avoid the smell, no matter how often you clean. All homes that have animals have a smell.


You can't avoid some smells but the strong ammonia odor of urine is usually easy to avoid if the cats are well trained and the litter is changed/cleaned regularly. I think the most common reason that it smells are cats that are spraying/marking which isn't always something up to the owner.


A cat owner would say that...


You're perfectly reasonable. Journalism at its "finest".



zero comments. We do get a lot of resubmissions but if there wasn’t a previous discussion, we just wasted our time clicking those links.




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