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Research-backed strategies for better learning (sagefy.org)
179 points by sagefy on July 9, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

From my personal experience, the #1 factor for better learning is to learn with an objective.

Learning is hard and can be demotivating by itself but when I have an objective that requires learning it becomes the driving force/motivation behind it and improves my focus and concentration by a large margins. It also allows me to connect the dots and provides me context.

This! I learned more trigonometry in 2 weeks when I was tasked with a digital signal processing project than I did in years and years of (objective-less) schooling.

An important addendum to this is that the objective has to be closely tied to the work — the feedback loop for learning and then seeing some results from that learning has to be tight.

I think this may be why in school grades were not a good objective, for me anyway. They were just too distant a reward from the work.

Someone should make a big diagram, showing a variety of "cool things" that require math or which knowing the math helps to use, and the chain of math techniques and areas that lead to it - with granularity finer than "calc III".

Sort of like a Civilization tech tree, but for applications of mathematics. "If you want to do 3D graphics, learn this but also this which leads to this which leads to this."

That way students can say "I'm hating Taylor series but if I learn that I can use it in X" or "This is hard but if I get through it I can learn quaternions and do Y" or whatever.

Exactly! That's the context I was considering as well (including school)

Schools do a pretty bad job at providing context to the problem. What we are taught are solutions. And these solutions came from problems that were objectives to the authors. I need to "live" the problem and relate to it to understand the motivation behind the solutions.

So true. Most of these ideas are all about setting goals for yourself and finding ways to keep yourself on those goals (Do one thing at a time, Make it Real, etc). I'm glad you're finding way to keep up with your learning goals! If you're into pop-psychology, Daniel Pink's "Drive" https://www.amazon.com/dp/1594484805 is so good!

For my undergraduate thesis, I researched the science of learning. Many of the ideas put forth by this article have merit, but I would also recommend searching the keywords of "desirable difficulties" and "retrieval practice" (self testing) in Google Scholar as potential avenues for examples of more concrete study strategies.

Research shows that the best way to learn is to challenge oneself. Self-testing, in particular, is a highly effective way of avoiding the illusion of fluency (Long-term Learning != Current Performance) and creating durable memories.

Further reading:

1. Make it Stick

2. "Making Things Hard on Yourself, But in a Good Way: Creating Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning" by Bjork & Bjork [https://teaching.yale-nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/25...]

3. For a survey of student misconceptions about learning: "Instructor and student knowledge of study strategies" by Morehead et al.

He links to this in the previous, larger post, but here is the full Coursera course which is pretty great. I took it and I got a lot out of it:


Barbara Oakley's course is so amazing! I think it's still to this day the most popular MOOC. Her books and articles are great too, like "A Mind for Numbers" https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R5081JU

My book recommendations in this regard:

Make it stick


Both heavily cite research.

I want to get to "a mind for numbers", but haven't actually read it yet. I've heard great things though.

Ericsson (author of Peak) is one of the best. His stories of his own research are so good!

I enjoyed reading the article; overall good advice and a powerful change of perspective regarding one’s own learning... But I have always wondered how one can find a powerful why to more abstract subjects e.g. topics in mathematics.

I’m having a hard time finding intrinsic motivation to study at this (Master’s) level, even if I absolutely know how good it feels when you have internalized a couple of famous results...

This is the most difficult part IMHO.

> Adhere to Goals

They talk about it like it's easy af. This is the hardest thing. Motivation is the hardest part. I for one use operant conditioning and waterboard myself when I don't adhere to my goals. Just kidding. But I guess I would be much more motivated. Or develop a fetish for waterboarding, the human mind is complex.

I realize you're joking, but from what I understand is that you would be motivated to avoid waterboarding, not to learn math, and your retention and knowledge would suffer (beyond doing exactly what is necessary to avoid punishment). When people abuse kids [EDIT: as punishment/motivation], what they learn is how to avoid the abuse, by hook or crook.

I don't really know how intrinsic motivation could be controlled in the same fashion. A motivated and euphoric teacher maybe can achieve the same in the other direction, but I guess there will always be a certain kind of predisposition and "talent" to be motivated for a specific field.

Would love to know how I can design those predispositions to change my own behavior. I guess behavioral therapy could work, but that's hellofa lot effort to learn some math.

I would imagine having the tools to shape your own behavior would pay divedends well beyond "learning some math".

‘thinking fast and slow ‘ talks about this

Yes, I've read this book and liked it, although it has a big mistake: Many cited studies can't be replicated. Kahneman even apologized because of that [1].

It's a bummer, but I still believe in many of the listed cognitive biases.

[1]: https://retractionwatch.com/2017/02/20/placed-much-faith-und...

I'm glad you enjoyed the article :) Thanks for reading!

Finding that why for me is (1) go really deep with your goals, (2) find ways to remind yourself daily of the big picture goal, and (3) connect the task at hand to the big goal. For example, maybe you're doing your program to get a job... but what does that job in turn get you? Maybe its more autonomy in your life, or what have you. For my own reminders, I use Stickies on macOs and just always have it there :) I don't always, but sometimes before I start reading a chapter or watching a video, I try to think for a second how what I'm about to do gets me to that bigger picture.

"Research-backed" and not a single citation...

EDIT: Redacted, but kept up to link to the version WITH citations - https://stories.sagefy.org/eight-big-ideas-of-learning-c17a1...

Thanks for picking up on it :) I wrote the long version first actually. I had a few people review before publishing. There were some concerns about the length (25 minutes). So I made the linked summary version as well. I posted both to Hacker News today. But the summary seems to be getting much more interest :)

Before clicking these articles I never know if it's referring to deep learning or human learning

Author here, happy to answer any questions :)

Can you shed more light on doing one thing at a time? Is this about removing distractions while you're trying to learn or is this as much about picking one topic to learn at a time? IE don't try to learn to play the piano and learn to speak Chinese in parallel? My assumption is that section 1 is about the small distractions but I was also wondering if the research indicates anything for multiple courses of study in parallel.

Thanks for reading and for the question :)

You definitely can, and probably already are, learning multiple things in parallel in the scope of weeks or months. You want to make sure you have time to commit to each of those things. You probably only have about 3-5 hours a day of full effort to expend. So I wouldn't go beyond three or so different subjects in the same overall interval.

In the moment, you want focus. If you tried to learn to play piano using scores written in Chinese as an attempt to learn both at the same time, you'd probably overwhelm yourself. In the moment, the more specific and focused you can get the better. So maybe its a specific piano technique, like arpeggios in major scales. Or the Chinese characters for colors. The more you can remove distractions and break down what you're learning into smaller parts, the faster you're going to learn both in the short term and long term.

As someone researching CS Education, what are your thoughts on understanding something vs. knowing how to do something (the generally accepted Western vs. Eastern education debate)? Playing music and music theory are two separate domains that help demonstrate the other but are ultimately separate domains; I think some of CS's current struggles with retention stem from which version gets taught by bootcamps and academia.

Thanks for reading and the question :)

I'm inclined to agree that being able to recognize and recall information is a different (and often prerequisite) skill from applying the same information. Bloom's taxonomy https://bit.ly/1KRj4ZH is the way I think about it: recall/recognition, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the same piece of knowledge are all distinct skills. You have to teach or seek to learn each separately... its not automatic that learning one gives you the other skills. (There's been some criticism of the taxonomy. But I'm not sure I've seen a better model.)

The latter part of your question, about academic v practical education in CS programs... I'm not familiar with the research about what improves retention in academic programs. That said, the more you can align and connect to someone's values and beliefs -- what gives them purpose -- they more motivated they are to learn.

> 1.1 Account for the limits of working memory

Tanking in consideration how much information your brain can hold in given moment, what is the maximum amount of study hours you should have per day?

Any estimates on when you will have sagefy web application relatively ready. I signed up, but not much is usable...

Thanks for the response :) You can try out my electronic music course to see how the site works currently: https://sgef.cc/emus I'd love some feedback too if you have the time to try it out. https://sgef.cc/feedback or here on Hacker News is good too.

It's been a long, iterative development process. I started back in April 2013, had the first go live in January 2016. Since then its been iterating and improving the software, getting feedback and making updates as I go. I'm a bit limited in how much time I get to spend on it due to having a full-time job. Getting more content is at the top of my list ( https://sgef.cc/wanthelp ). I really want to show what Sagefy -- and these learning ideas -- can do :)

Thanks again, cheers!

From a quick look at the Sagefy code, it seems you've written your own web framework, including your own database layer. Was there a particular reason you didn't use a framework like Django?

Thanks for checking it out and for the question :) I originally started in Flask. I started out using quite a number of libraries, but got a little frustrated back then when I didn't totally grok how the pieces all worked together. And Python 3 then didn't quite have the same support it does today. WSGI was simple enough to understand, so I started from there https://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0333/

I've started looking into migrating the services from Python to Golang to make deployments easier. We'll see how it goes :)

Embarking on a complete rewrite just to make deployment easier seems odd -- deploying Python code might be trickier than code in some other language, but it's not that hard.

I'm curious whether or not you see music as a distraction. I do; many people don't seem to.

Thanks for reading :) I remember Ruth Clark in "Building Expertise". Here's some of the sources she cites:

- Moreno, R., & Mayer R.E. (2000a). A coherence effect in multimedia learning: The case for minimizing irrelevant sounds in the design of multimedia instructional messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 117–125.

- Gibbons, C. (2007, December 29). Professionals take work out of their workplaces. The Arizona Republic, D1.

- Kenz, I., & Hugge, S. (2002). Irrelevant speech and indoor lighting: Effects of cognitive performance and self-reported affect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 709–718.

- Ransdell, S.E., & Gilroy, L. (2001). The effects of background music on word processed writing. Computers in Human Behavior, 17, 141–148.

The studies here seem to suggest most people learn better in quiet most of the time.

That said, I listen to music without lyrics myself while learning :)

The thing that worked for me is repeat...repeat...repeat

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