Learning How to Learn Week 1 - Diffused and Focused Modes

Notes from Cousera course that claims to 'teach powerful mental tools to help master tough subjects'. My interest in this is actually pedagogical and cross referencing the techniques with my own experiences and teaching style.

"You must plant the seed for diffused mode by doing focused mode work first"
  • research from Neuroscience and cognitive psychology
  • diffused mode and focused mode - learn little bit every day to build neuro structure (similar to weight lifting to build muscular structure). Build neuro scaffolding to hang your new learning on.
  • Synaptic changes in the brain happen regularly, new ones form and old ones fade away
  • Default Mode Network is the part of the brain most active when the brain is not doing anything specific [also mentioned in the science of meditation class].
  • Anatomy and cycle of procrastination - before starting a hard task your brain may sense 'nueral discomfort' so it turns attention away to something pleasant (social media, etc.). The secret is that few minutes after starting the 'unplesant' hard task the discomfort feeling actually goes away.
  • Math and science learning is bit more difficult because the ideas are abstract. There are no integrals you can point to in the real world. [Same for programming, useful work is done on top of abstracted ideas. I make ideas concrete when I teach with examples, analogies and stories]
  • Practicing abstract ideas creates nuero thought patterns that are real and concrete in your brain. Practice makes permanent. [conversely with use-it-or-loose-it if you don't practice an abstract idea for a long time the nuero patterns would fade]
  • Long term memory and short term / working memory - researchers used to believe that you can hold at most 7 things in working memory now it's more like 4
  • To move new concepts into long term memory it takes time and practice. The idea behind Spaced Repetition System of course. [what mom did with us when teaching us things as children by quizzing us from time to time. Also what I did intuitively when I made study schedule for final exams where I spent more time on what was covered at the beginning of the semester vs. at the end]
  • Sleep and memory - visualization: during sleep the brain cells get smaller which allows fluid to flow and clean out the metabolic toxins that are floating around in the brain while awake.
  • If you go over what you're learning right before going to sleep and set the intension that you want to dream about it, you increase the chances of dreaming about it and consolidating your learning in easier to grasp chunks [I can try this with my coding students and we already do evening coaching sessions]

Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowski:

  • Hippocampus (brain area for learning and memory) - Scientists believed that the nuerons you're born with are the ones you have. But in the hippocampus new nuerons are born all the time. Though in a rich environment.
  • In the absence of a rich environment exercise will also increase the number of new nuerons that are being born and survive.

Beeny Lewis, Language Learning:

  • Book - Fluent in 3 months
  • Advantage that children have when learning language - they are very okay with making mistakes. For example communicating vs. forming complete grammatically correct sentences is the goal.
  • mnemonic devices for memory and recall, spaced repetition, flash card apps

Robert Bilder, Biology of Creativity:

  • Creativity and originality question - even if something has been said or done before, if you haven't done it the connections have not formed in your brain. It is still creative if it's new and valuable for you.
  • Personality types and connection to creativity - Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neurotic. Openness is positively correlated with and agreeableness is negatively correlated with creativity. Lack of agreeableness interpreted as non-conformity, questioning things, not believing or taking the status quo at face value.
  • Creativity definition - doing something novel or new to you but that others also find valuable or useful. So there is a balance that can time and feedback cycles to achieve.
  • New Word sesquipedalian - characterized by long words; long-winded
  • Problem solving technique of zooming in and zooming out [commonly required in computer science problems]. Also the 10 second video mentioned

Daphne Gray-Grant, Writing Coach:

  • Diffused mode is the writing mode and focused mode is the editing mode. Often we try to write with focused mode.
  • Mindmapping or clusttering technique works to engage the diffused mode while writing (mindmapping != outlining)
  • Mindmapping can be done right after you interview someone, and your brain will remember the interesting things. [My virtual meetings would be a great place to experiment with this. Also I could publish my mind maps of books I read...kinda like the RCAnimate series. I could also do mind map of my dev dictionary topics and then ask my subscribers to vote on which one I should write next]
  • Mindmapping = inspiring yourself to write. If something is interesting or important to you, you're going to remember it.
  • "We're downplaying memory in current education". We're weary of having to memorize anything. [From personal experience, I recall hesitation before commiting to memorizing the mathematical symbols used in number theory proofs. I was glad to have made that decision, but initial thought was memorizing = bad]
  • Editing while you write = bad. Just type don't edit. Tricks to make this a habit - touch typing with screen covered with a towel, set timers, apps.
  • When writing all of us hear that editing voice. One trick is to actually talk to that voice and say 'Nope, not right now, I'll talk to you when I am in editing mode'

These are my notes from this Cousera course.  If you're intrigued my these notes and decide to take the course, send me a message. I'd be curious to hear other's thoughts and observations!

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