Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: How do you learn? Is there a faster/efficient way to Learn?
31 points by treyfitty on Mar 17, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 15 comments
I'm currently pursuing a part-time Online MS degree through Georgia Tech in Analytics. One course is very programming intensive (I had to learn d3, JavaScript, Java, and Scala from scratch so far this semester). Another course is math heavy.

I'm struggling in both courses for different reasons, but it comes down to a single self-assessment: My brain feels like soup, and I just don't feel as sharp anymore. It takes me way too long to absorb information, and requires reading the same topic from multiple sources before things click.

I was never really "smart" in the sense that things clicked naturally, but as I get older, and time becomes more valuable, I think my brain has been accustomed to inefficient study/learning methods. How do I re-wire my brain to be more efficient in absorbing information?

I find most people can learn anything, it's just a matter of what order they learn it in. If you try to learn how to read before knowing your ABCs, you'll have a hard time. But a kid who has been watching ABC videos for 2 years will pick up reading almost "naturally".

In CS and engineering, I find that concepts are hard when you don't have the basic building blocks.

It's really important to know the building blocks intuitively, and not simply on the surface. It's not enough to know something enough to pass a test. You should know it well enough to not even worry about the test.

A good rule of thumb is when you can't absorb a concept, find the prerequisite concepts, and learn those well. So something like image processing, you should know your (Fast) Fourier Transforms, your memory management and pointers.

Once you know all the basic concepts intuitively, the more advanced things just seem to emerge naturally.

Hey dude keep at it! Everyone has to go through this one way or another you just chose to go through it while in a MS program. I don't know why you would openly apply to this without knowing your way around programming but hey, you're in so keep going!

People often tend to overlook the pain and growth/development that happened and just look at the end result. Meaning when you see a top performer people are always mesmerized as to how they currently look. They didn't care to look at the million times he sucked,fell, felt like quitting, etc.

What I would do is try to go full submersion into it (its helped me speed up). Meaning, instead of taking that 1 hour free time period to watch Netflix go and listen to an interesting software development interview, coding video etc. Read up on some tech blogs, go to the different subreddits, theres soo much out there! Best of luck

Learning about how you learn can be a great first step! I highly recommend the aptly titled Coursera course “Learning How To Learn” [0] with Barbara Oakley. She also has an accompanying book “A Mind For Numbers”, which has much of the same information in it.

I’ve worked through both and found them very enjoyable and useful, and I occasionally review my notes on them (with a short quiz, of course!) to refresh my memory. I’m also pursuing further education (coincidentally also a part time masters in a field I have little academic experience in), and I’ve found that the lessons are very applicable.

[0] https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Thanks. I’ve actually taken that course already. The only thing notable, that I got from that course is the importance of spaced repetition. But my angst is that I simply can’t pick things up at first glance, and envious of those that can.

> " It takes me way too long to absorb information, and requires reading the same topic from multiple sources before things click."

That's usually how it is with new or difficult concepts. There are things I understand really well today that I had to read about many times before I understood them, like recursion.

Reading multiple sources about the same topic is a good thing. It means you care enough to really want to understand it. Not all sources are equally good at explaining things, and different people understand different explanations more readily.

With programming related stuff, playing around with code and trying out different things to see how they work can also be helpful.

Oh man, recursion is something I read up on every 3 months.

I just hate the whole RTFM mentality when it comes to asking for programming help. There’s stuff beyond the documentation that I can’t grasp, and I don’t quite know what it is that I don’t know... I just know my program isn’t running (if that makes sense)

Are you also working full time or part time while taking this course? And are you getting enough sleep?

The brain needs to be very well rested to best absorb information. Even the least demanding job can leave one drained at the end of the day.

Make sure you're getting enough sleep every night that on weekends you wake without an alarm after about 8 hours, feeling rested. And try taking a 20 minute nap before and after studying, and a 10-minute break every hour while studying.

I find that I must spend a significant amount of time on every new page of technical content to really understand it and soak it in. As I'm reading through any publication I stop after each page and mentally quiz myself on what I've just read just to be sure I'm not faking the funk. It's one thing to understand a concept as you're reading it but I would say that's not enough--you should be able to recall it from memory with the ability to explain it to someone else who has never been exposed to that concept.

This worked for me at my first few jobs and it's working for me now in learning complex systems and tactics as they relate to flying and employing military helicopters.

To augment my reading I also use the spaced-repetition app Anki. This has proved invaluable to me and I currently have over 2000 "flashcards" related to my current occupation.

Take cornell method notes as you watch lectures and do the assigned reading. Go back over notes and teach an invisible class out loud each topic/theorem. Practice on your own everything presented, so in addition to homework assignments you think of your own homework/small projects. Constantly review old notes after new lectures. Work in a quiet area, go to a library if one doesn't exist, not a cafe or in front of a tv or with emails/chat ect open.

Those lectures are self paced so plenty of time for review and practice as compared to pressure of a regular university course load with weekly deadlines.


My secret is time management. Outside of your daily obligations where are you spending time? Can any of those things be swapped out for more time to learn X?

Yeah this has been the key to me learning things faster, finding more time.

Another secret, find podcasts with people who are experts at X that talk about X.

Surround yourself with as much as X as you can.

I’ve used these techniques to learn, JavaScript, ruby, php, java, swift and more.

Personal experience: Learn by doing. Practice. There's no shortcuts, afaik. Take your notes by hand ( paper & pen[cil], Cornell style is very nice. Typing does not work like handwriting ) study by night before having a full night's sleep. Let your shot-term memory be written to your long-term memory over the circadian cycle while sleeping.

There is no shortcut or method to better learning. You get better at it by practice. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone. You can use the revolutionary Fennyman technique for doing this. You assume that you are teaching a new topic that you have learned to a 5 year old.

I listened to Cal Newport's Deep Work a few months ago and am now a regular reader of his blog. He has a wealth of great study tips and articles on staying focused.


Try exercising before you study.

I highly recommend "A Mind For Numbers" by Barbara Oakley.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact