Learning Course #2: learning, procrastination, practice, memory, sleep’s role #LH2L1

Here are the points I want to remember or be able to find again from the videos of the first week of the Learning course* (with some commentary)

What is learning?

  • The brain is the most complex device in the known universe.
  • Computers are better at chess. but what we do so well and take for granted, like seeing, hearing, reaching, running, are all much more complex problems than we thought.
  • We’re only aware of a very small fraction of all the activity in the brain
  • Areas that are most active in the resting state are called the default mode network.
  • The default mode network is a leading candidate for what we call the focus mode.
  • There are a million, billion synapses in your brain.
  • one dendritic branch Brain connectivity is dynamic and remains so even after it matures.
  • He showed a picture of one dendritic branch on a neuron which receives inputs from other neurons. (That was cool, click to enlarge)
  • Synapses are less than a micron in diameter. A human hair is around 20 microns.
  • You are not the same person you were after an night sleep or even a nap.

A procrastination preview

  • When you look at something that you really rather not do, it seems that you activate the areas of your brain associated with pain. But not long after people might start actually working out what they didn’t like, that neurodiscomfort disappeared.
  • Pomodoro technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo, in the early 1980’s.
    • Set a timer to 25 minutes
    • Turn off all interruptions,
    • Focus.
    • Give yourself a little reward

Practice makes permanent

  • For mathematical ideas, there’s often no analogous thing that you can point to. (not tangible, like an object
  • No emotion either for them, like abstract concepts of love, zest, or hope
  • This means it’s important to practice with ideas and concepts your learning in math and science, just like anything else your learning.  to help enhance and strengthen the neural connection your making during the learning process. The more abstract something is, the more important it is to practice in order to bring those ideas into reality for you. 
  • When you first begin to understand something, how to solve a problem, the neural pattern from is there, but very weak.
  • if you learn by cramming, your knowledge base will look like all in a jumble with everything confused, a poor foundation.

Introduction to memory

  • Long term memory is like a warehouse, distributed over a big area of the brain; it’s where you store fundamental concepts and techniques
  • Working (short term) memory is like a not very good blackboard
  • Researchers used to think that our working memory could hold around seven items or chunks, but now it’s widely believed that the working memory is holds only about four chunks of information.
  • We tend to automatically group memory items in to chunks so it seems our working memory is bigger than it actually is.
  • Repetition’s needed so that you’re metabolic vampires, that is natural dissipating processes, don’t suck those memories away.
  • Spaced repetition technique: If you try to glue things into your memory by repeating something 20 times in one evening, for example, it won’t stick nearly as well as if you practice it the same number of times over several days. 

The importance of sleep in learning

  • Being awake creates toxic products in the brain.
  • When you sleep, brain cells shrink.  This causes an increase in the space between your brain cells. Fluid can flow past these cells and wash the toxins out.
  • During sleep your brain tidies up ideas and concepts your thinking about and learning.
  • It erases the less important parts of memories and simultaneously strengthens areas that you need or want to remember.
  • During sleep your brain also rehearses some of the tougher parts of whatever you’re trying to learn.
  • The complete deactivation of the conscious you in the pre-frontal cortex at the forefront of your brain helps other areas of your brain start talking more easily to one another.
  • If you’re going over what you’re learning right before you take a nap or going to sleep for the evening you have an increased chance of dreaming about it.

Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowski

  • How do you keep yourself paying attention, during something like a boring lecture
  • There isn’t, a simple way to keep yourself attending something that you’re not interested in. But by asking a question. from the speaker the interruption often, gives rise to a discussion that is a lot more interesting. … You learn more by active engagement rather than passive listening.
  • What do you do to get into and take advantage of diffuse mode thinking?
  • Getting exercise, that it’s a wonderful way to get the mind disengaged, from the normal train of thought.
  • Do you do two things at the same time ever?
  • Multitasking is being able to switch back and forth, context switching from one topic to another.
  • How do you apply your knowledge of neuroscience, to your own learning? 
  • Rusty Gage discovered that all the neurons that you have in your brain you had a birth. In the Hippocampus new neurons are being born, even in your adulthood. This is very important for learning and memory. You really want to be surrounded by other people who are stimulating you.  In the absence of the this kind of environment exercise will also increase the number of new neurons that are being born and survive. 
  • How about test taking? Any special advice there?
  • Don’t get hung up if you cannot answer a question. Go on to the next.
  • If you had any advice for a young high school or college student, about how to learn effectively, what would you say?
  • A lot of success in life is that passion and persistence, of really staying the course, staying working on it, and, not letting go.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

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