on learning

2006-03-22 at 22:00 (notes)


  • understanding is more important than learning. trying to learn something that you don’t understand is like trying to do a jigsaw without having the big picture there to follow. understanding is the big picture, learning are the little pieces.
  • keep it simple. it’s more important to know all the major points than it is to know everything in detail
  • put effort into learning even simple things. if you forget a simple thing that you have built knowledge on, that knowledge is lost.
  • stick to the minimum information principle: learn things in their simplest and shortest form, and not in any other. you want your brain to remember things in the same way every time.
  • keep track of sources when learning. this is useful for when you need to review your notes and knowledge, or to provide context.
  • refer to other memories, perhaps personal ones, when learning. if you can associate an idea with something you know, this enhances recall. use examples — “like the one at my parents'”


  • don’t try to learn unordered lists of items. the minimum information principle says this: if you learn an unordered list, your brain isn’t doing the same thing every time you want to remember it. you might remember as “apple, pear” one time and “pear, apple” another.
  • learn ordered lists by using cloze deletion. cloze is that thing you did in primary school: removing a word, or a phrase, from a sentence and then filling in the blank. useful for poetry
  • use mnemonics for sequences of items: this compacts an ordered list into one item, provided it’s memorable enough.
  • when learning a foreign language, keep swapped word pairs: this helps build memory in both directions. don’t just remember “bord a la mer” as “near the sea”, remember “near the sea” as “bord a la mer”.

Source: supermemo.com, own experience.


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