Learning is not easy. It takes effort. Too often, people squander their effort on ineffective activities. Ulrich Boser seeks to correct this by describing effective, research-based learning techniques in Learn Better.
Learning begins with value. You won’t put effort into learning something you don’t care about. When I was in third grade, I found very little value in memorizing how to spell words or recite multiplication tables. When my teacher tied my performance on multiplication tables to my attendance of recess, something I valued quite a bit, I found the will to exert myself.
“Motivation is the first step in acquiring any sort of skill,” Ulrich Boser, Learn Better
Once you’ve squared away the motivation, you can get on with the doing of learing. Learing is at heart doing. It is a mental activity, though it is often paired with, supported by, or supportive of physical activity. If you’re actually learning, you’re probably experience some struggle and feel like your pushing yourself a little, but not so much that you’re lost.
In a sense, Boser’s book is organized around different types of doing appropriate for different stages of learning. In the early stages of learning, you decide what you want to learn and plan you learning process. When you have a foundation, you can concentrate on improvement. As your skills improve, you can shift to deepening your knowledge and exploring more complex applications. The best experts add to this a strong sense of the patterns and connections. From beginning to end, learning requires humility, and the people who sustain and grow mastery over time evaluate their knowledge and reflect on what they are doing.
The book is full of ideas you can use. For instance, I created for myself a simple process of spaced-out learning to polish some skills I wanted to improve at work. When I started writing reviews and summaries of books, even before I started this blog, it was because I found I could remember the major points better if I summarized them in my own words, even if I did not return to my notes. I was using form of retrieval practice, which is one of several techniques Boser describes.
Though Boser draws on research, the book is intended for a broad audience. If you’re looking to improve your own learning or for ways your children or employees can get more out of their learning efforts, you’re likely to find something you can understand and use in Learn Better.
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