In this lesson series, I’ve talked about why it’s crazy we’ve never been taught how to learn. I’ve discussed how cognitive illusions trick you into using lousy studying methods. I’ve also explained why we get stressed over studying and how to beat it.
Today, however, I want to talk about the importance of having a learning system.
Tips Versus Systems
If you’ve been following my writing for any length of time, you know I write about learning…a lot. I’ve written hundreds of essays, done in-depth personal projects and reviewed countless research-based books on how learning works.
One part that can be missing from simply following my regular writing is how it all fits together. For instance, perhaps you’re convinced now that retrieval practice works better than review. But how should you actually implement this over the duration of a semester-long course? How should you apply it to learning languages, programming or investing?
Developing a learning system, and not just a collection of tips is essential for a few reasons:
- The advice interacts. Retrieval practice is better than review. But guessing your way through problems is less effective than studying the solution. Variable practice leads to better transfer, but not always in the beginning. Advice can’t be considered in isolation, but as part of a broader goal.
- Practical nitty-gritty often trumps big principles. Deciding to use flashcards to learn words in French is good. But exactly how should you do it? What makes a good flashcard? What makes a bad one? Getting the details wrong can override any noble intentions to learn better.
- You need to sustain your motivation toward big goals. A lot of learning tips are on the small end—how to remember facts, understand concepts or practice procedures. But ultimately, we don’t care about facts or concepts. We care about things like getting a better job, acing a difficult exam or launching a new business. Being able to see the big picture is essential.
Join Me in Building a Learning System
On Monday, I’m going to reopen my six-week course, Rapid Learner, for a new session. Unlike my essays (or even my book), this course represents a guided, hands-on experience for developing not just a collection of learning tips, but a learning system. Throughout the course we’ll cover:
- How to design a learning project—converting big goals into concrete actions.
- Developing a productivity system—so you actually get the studying done as you plan, instead of just thinking about it.
- Refining your practice process—much of the bad learning strategies we use can be fixed through knowing how to practice better.
- Demystify deep concepts—tools for getting your head around the most complex ideas.
- Making memories endure—deep dives into mnemonics, metaphors and other strategies to make memories stick.
- Mastery and lifelong learning—how to go beyond a single project to a lifelong system of learning.
The course has guided worksheets, so you won’t just be watching lessons but actively participating in constructing your new system. The community and discussion sections also enable you to work with me and other students on hammering out the details of the learning system you’ll develop.
A small investment in learning now can pay huge dividends later. I hope you’ll consider joining me for the next six weeks as we work to learn better together.