Learning How To Learn: ‘I Wish I Had This Course At 15’

I took a course called Learning How to Learn, and it opened my mind to many things I was doing wrong about learning new things. I will recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to learn effectively.

This post is a brief lesson from the course; these are the key ideas.

We all have learning habits, and except you’re one of those who already understand how the brain works, some of these are bad for retention and understanding.

Bad habit number one: multitasking.

While studying architecture, I used to watch movies, and at the same time, I would design on my laptop. My productivity was nonexistent.

Bad habit two, writing lots of notes.

I used to take a lot of notes, and my teachers gave us lots of notes, but if you ask me what the course was about a week after the semester’s examination, I would answer with an awkward laugh.

So, yeah, learning how to learn is like updating my software from Windows 2 to Windows 10 about how learning works. It felt like waking up after twenty-plus years of sleepwalking.

The two kinds of Thinking States

For starters, I learned there are two kinds of thinking: The Focused thinking mind and the Diffused thinking mode. In focused mode, your brain just thinks hard about a complex topic. The other allows you to take a more relaxed approach to the topic.

The trick on how to learn effectively is to know when to use the two.

Use Focused Thinking to study for some time.

Use Diffuse Thinking to draw the patterns when you’re doing fun and automated things like running and driving; those activities you can reasonably do well even if you don’t focus on them.

We will come back to the topic later. Let’s discuss a technique to help you with these two thinking processes.

Pomodoro Technique

I had heard about it before and used it a couple of times, but this course explained the reason behind its effectiveness, which has changed the game for me. In fact, I am using the Pomodoro technique to write this article. Once it’s twenty-five minutes, I will stop and take a break, preferably a walk or a run around the neighborhood.

For anyone who is reading this, you might be wondering what is going on. Am I skipping some details and keeping you out of it?

Forgive me. It’s hard to keep calm when you have been given something you love for years, an excitement to learn and master things effectively.

So, what’s the Pomodoro technique

It’s a technique of learning that involves focusing on a new and difficult problem or subject for twenty-five minutes, and when it gets difficult, the participant stops and takes a break no matter what.

Why is it effective?

Our brain is an active machine. It doesn’t take a break at all times. But it needs to adjust and make room for new ideas gradually. So what you’re doing when something is complex, and you’re using Pomodoro, is that you’re giving your brain time to get familiarized with the new concept. Then, you try the technique again and again until your brain says, hey, I’m familiar with that topic now.

If you’re finding it hard to learn anything, start the Pomodoro. The first twenty-five minutes will be focused on learning, and the other twenty-five minutes will be you doing something to take your mind off the subject. For instance, if you’re learning mathematics.

You can take a break from the subject to go biking. This will completely take your mind off mathematics, and by the time you return, your brain will have adjusted and is usually a little more ready than the first time you try.

But to get this concept a lot better, you have to understand how the brain works. I am going to talk about that in a minute. I have no background in neuroscience, so forgive me for comparing the parts of the brain with two apps on your phone that are minimized.

Two Sides of Memory

Two parts of your brain. One is for focusing on what’s immediate, and the other is for storing data. Let’s call them A and B.

I am using this as part of a learning technique I have acquired through the course. The brain has more than two parts, and it is imperative to see this section as just a simple metaphor to get why Pomodoro is effective.

When you are active, you use A. When you want to store or retrieve information, you use B. Both have to be open at the same time so that what goes into one gets to the other.

Trying to learn something new, A might struggle to get the data inside.

B might also struggle to capture all the information.

Both are working at the same time. Now, you take a break and get into something like biking or running, B suddenly starts giving you back what you throw at it during your learning process. It doesn’t give too much because you don’t get it yet. But it’s telling you there are traces or particles of data within it.

So you run back to study again after running for about an hour. This time, you try studying again for another twenty-five minutes. Surprisingly, you are starting to make better progress in learning. And that’s because you gave yourself time for your brain to adjust and take in the new concepts.

This process happens between the implicit memory (B) and explicit memory (A). Implicit memory lets you remember how to do things without much effort, like riding a bicycle after you have learned it. Explicit requires much effort, especially for a beginner. Your job during learning is to make what you’re trying to learn to become an implicit part of your memory.

So you run back to study again after running for about an hour. This time, you try studying again for another twenty-five minutes.

You focused. Then, take a break again. You’re helping your brain by giving it more time to adjust at its own pace. You are moving from Focused Thinking to Diffuse Thinking and back to Focused Thinking. This process is important to learning effectively.

So, what does learning really look like?


It’s like trying a puzzle for the first time. When you see the game at first, it’s hard to connect one letter to another or one part to another. You relax and spend time with the object. Gradually, you begin to see parts that are related.

Studying a difficult concept or project is like this. Getting a degree is like this, too. Over the weeks, months, or years, you begin to fit the (learned) parts together and connect things that look related to one another. This is how to learn effectively. You spend time picking pieces from the materials you’re studying. Then, you add it to the mental image you’re building for yourself. You pick a piece and reshape it if it will help it fit into your mental picture. One day, you get to a stage where you can say, well, I get the whole picture. I understand the concept. I’m a pro. You have successfully added pieces by pieces of learned data until you have a clear picture of understanding.

Some ineffective studying habits you should change

  1. Repeating gives you the illusion of competence. People say, that if you repeat something long enough, you will understand. But the brain doesn’t work that way. Repetition alone doesn’t work except you’re using other learning strategies. It’s better to try recalling and using analogy and metaphors to remember. If you are going to repeat a thing, try to expand it across a couple of days or weeks instead of doing it in a day or one sitting.
  2. Writing down a lot of key points. Writing too many things won’t help as much as trying to recall (more details below).
  3. Losing sleep. You need to sleep a lot more if you want to know how to learn effectively. During sleep, your mind goes into Diffuse thinking mode.

Effective studying technique

  1. Recalling. Write down key terms. Once you finish studying, keep the terms on a piece of notecards. A day later, pick the cards, read the terms on them, one at a time, and try to remember the concept.
  2. Spread your repetition process across days or weeks for effective learning.
  3. Use deliberate practice to learn. Do not repeat the same old stuff. Try more difficult topics or experiment to improve what you have already learned. Learning something more difficult or trying another bigger challenge will help you build your learning muscle.
  4. Use metaphors and analogies to improve your memory. For example, you can compare Search Engine Optimization to owning a bookstore with hundreds of thousands of books. If the books are website addresses, how does the bookkeeper (search engine, like Google) sort this? That’s SEO. You can compare learning programming to learning a new alien language; once you master it, you get to make a computer to do or create things.

This is the last part of the whole course, which is to teach someone else what I have learned. I hope it’s as helpful as possible in the reader’s quest to learn how to learn effectively.

The post was written using the Pomodoro and the recall technique.