Some thoughts on learning based on reflection of my various learning experience. I also stole some ideas from Scott H Young and Barbara Oakley in her Coursera course ‘How to learn’. The summary is as follows.

1. Practice – learning by doing

Choose subject / topic that offers lots of opportunity for practice. Example topics include programming languages, DIY skills, cooking, gardening, etc.

2. Focus, intensity, consistency

Choose a subject that can focus on consistently over a long period of time. Study it intensely.

3. Chunking

Break a hard topic into manageable learning components. Finishing one component can boost motivation to further pursue the subject.

1. Practice or learning by doing

This I believe is one of the most important strategy for effective learning. I remember having to learn dozens of subjects in schools at various levels, some repeated multiple times. Yet despite all my efforts, I have very little retention of subject matters which did not involve enough practical components. Admittedly this may have to do with the working of my brain which tends to favour facts over abstractions. But even for people with strong aptitude for abstract concepts, such as mathematicians, it still requires thousands of hours of practice to master a subject. This is because new neural connections are only formed in the brain once we gain familiarity with concepts or patterns.

Insight: learning by doing is the key. For example, if you want to learn a new programming language, start writing code in that language as soon as you start your journey. If you want to understand a hard theorem, struggle until you can prove it.

2. Focus and Intensity

Curiosity and yearning to learn is good, but if done wrong can be a waste of time. I’ve been trying to broaden my knowledge in diverse fields such as culture, history, and economics, often by reading articles or sometimes books. But much of the information is not well-consume and in fact, has refused to be a part of me. The end result is that I only have a passing knowledge in such domains — enough to participate in casual conversations or to give a one-or-two-sentence response, but not profound enough to engage in deep discussion.

Insight: focus on a narrow topic and study it intensely (and consistently). With focus and intensity, learning becomes more effective and reward comes faster, which further motivate the learning process.

3. Chunking

Break a hard topic into sub-topics that can be tackled in chunks.