Tuesday 27 January 2015

Learning something new everyday

Learning something new can often be difficult but enthusiasm towards challenges can often assist you to overcome it. I  came across intriguing insights provided in a course I found in coursera.org about learning Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. I got inspired to change my life before it’s too late, I started the course learn how to learn offered by the University of California, San Diego via coursera. Through juggling my life with different activities which I will talk about in my blog post and  using techniques of learning and methods that are familiar to you or novel approaches, moreover, evidence of different methods working with scientific research performed.

Practice makes perfect or rather practice make you better ever right? According to recent research its been proven and  the more you practise will allow you to gain expertise (Keetch KM et al, 2005). So I went out and tried using this and a method called chunking to learn a new skateboarding trick. Chunking means pieces of information bound by use or meaning which involves these steps focused attention, understanding and practice. I looked for a quite place  at my friends backyard and began doing the trick—I choose here since there were minimal distractions this boosted my concentration on the task being learning a new trick. At the back of my mind I had watched a video on how to do the trick by breaking it down in small steps before attempting the whole trick. There is an instructional video for it how to heelflip. While I attempted doing the trick called the 'heelflip', it was so difficult before  watching the video severally since I didn’t know the right movements and foot positioning also, seeing another person do it doesn’t mean you can do it . But when I practiced the small steps (chunking) as demonstrated the video I realised when I was practicing that  it was my foot positioning and timing was wrong. Furthermore, as I practiced I found myself placing my feet another way a bit similar to the instructional video (understood). Once I figured it out well check out. In short, learning by bits is often very beneficial in everything that you do-math,science,business. Even in swimming it’s the same thing. On the other hand, physical activity is also important since Judy Cameron- a neuroscientist University of Pittsburgh put monkeys on a running regimen similar to middle aged adult human beings and those in it actually learned faster and she postulates that it could be as result of increased blood flow to the brain. This leads to faster oxygen delivery and other important nutrients can reach nerve cells as result exercising is important. You can read more here Physical exercise beefs up your brain.

What comes in mind when I say Mycobacterium tuberculosis?Someone having a questionable cough that lasts for a long period of time? A microorganism? I got a degree in medical microbiology. However, I think I would have done better if I stopped doing the  re-reading information and spending along time with one particular reading methodology leading to a blocking effect also known as ‘Einstellung’.  Thus, reduces creativity. Its similar a car being stuck in the mud; Where you are entrenched with a specific way of approaching a problem that new methods will be unavailable to you like as observed in expert chess players (Bilalic, M et al, 2008).

Using different methods of study has proven to be more effective via testing and recall what you’ve learned according to  (Karpicke, J. D, et al 2011),  I have tried a few and they are pretty powerful. A habit can be divided in four CURRB like a curb in a street meaning Cue, Routine, Reward and the belief. So whenever I recall i use elaborate retrieval systems for instance this can be a mnemonics. can mix up a bit like remember the periodic table in Chemistry.i got a simple way to remember all 20 elements, yes 20. Its a memory grouping technique as well as a memory palace;refers to creating images in familiar places, this activates the visual memory system. Here it goes, Hey-Hydrogen, Helem-Helium, Listen-Lithium, B-Beryllium to B-Boron,C-Carbon, News-Nitrogen, On-Oxygen Friday-Fluorine,Night-Nitrogen,Sudanese-Sodium Minister-Magnesium, Alfred-Aluminium, Saved-Silicon,People-Phosphorus,Suspected-Sulphur Chasing-Chlorine A-Argon Police-Potassium Car-Calcium. Did i get them right?
Periodic table of elements from sciencenotes.org
Awesome! Also, imagining the minister actually doing that in your neighborhood could augment your memory via use of your brain right hemisphere which has been corelated with visuospatial areas enhancing memory (
Thiebaut de Schotten et al, 2011). Nevertheless, spatial repetition will cement this to your long term memory (Logan, Jessica et al, 2012).

Nonetheless, if nothing is making sense anymore studying at night retiring to sleep time may assist you. The brain is working in the side lines to assist you to understand the big picture as well as what you were trying to study and dreaming about what you have learned will enhance memory consolidation (Warmsley E.J. et al. 2010). German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus studied that repeated presentation of material and tested the benefits of resting periods also known as spaced effect—now there is evidence that this process is involved in increased synthesis of cellular proteins which ultimately ramp up these proteins. More at best way students retain information.

Procrastination can also be an obstacle to study a particular subject for instance Immunology. Immunology requires a patient mind and often extra time to master the material for me that is. Unfortunately, I really procrastinate but I’ve found that the Pomodoro technique is quite effective. It involves placing a timer for 25 minutes, focusing on the task in this case reading a chapter of cells of the immune system, removing all distractions—they are inevitable letting it slide is often the best way to handle them—ignorance is bliss and a reward motivates to study some more since some rewiring will take place that will allow you to create new habits; according to the book a mind of numbers by Barbara Oakley.

Also, focusing on process (the way you spend your time) than product (what you want to accomplish) focusing on the product is what triggers the pain that causes you to procrastinate. The brain will register that that is what is causing you to feel uncomfortable as pain in the insular cortex. Thus, your attention will be turned to something more pleasurable like texting your friends—this can be done as a reward of the pomodoro. Another tip to avoid procrastination is to have a to-do list since it will keep your working memory (analogous to a chalkboard) open for problem solving than being overwhelmed by so many things to do then you just end-up putting them aside for example there are some comics my friend gave me last year and I have never got to read them.Now I’ve finished a couple due to this technique. Also, there are some cues that will often stimulate you to procrastinate like a friend just pops out of nowhere without telling you that they are coming in advance. What do you do? Have a backup plan in case of that situation. Breaks are also important to keep you motivated and focused (Ariga A.& LIeras A., 2011).

Refers to practicing by doing problems that require different strategies to solve; (Rohrer, D, et al. 2014), found out that students who were taught using the interleaving got higher mean scores in addition, the students knew when and how to use the problem solving methodologies. I propose that going beyond  what your given to find my own statistical problems as an example—currently my weakness along and juggling them from one topic to another will be crucial in my and your understanding. Furthermore, coming up with my own questions and working with a group of colleagues will further boost learning by confirming which areas i don't get well by explaining. Even in sports I usually interleave since they is a particular layout when it comes to learning for instance, skateboarding tricks. In Skateboarding made simple the instructor Aaron Kyro-a professional skateboarder emphasizes that you should follow his guide on learning skateboard tricks since it introduces the least amount of variation between the tricks. That’s no fun interleaving is what I’ve been doing though my main aim is learning all the basic skateboarding tricks.

Mind mapping
I’m a frequent blogger and I must confess that Daphne Gray’s advice in publicationcoach.com  about writing has proven to be very useful the method for brainstorming something you intend to write and recall. The mind mapping technique is where you place paper sideways and let your mind waver. Whenever a word or expression comes into mind you write it down and draw a circle around it. Then you link it to the main idea by drawing a line attached to it. It makes writing easier although I use to test myself if I have mastered a couple of things when I’ve studied and also when I am planning to write an article or to start laboratory report as well as preventing writer’s block when my mind goes blank and I can’t think of anything to write.


Making small changes in your life to deal with various problems i've discussed will yield good results. To add on this, a growth mindset must be incorporated as well. Carol Dweck has talked about this in believing you can improve as i mentioned in my introduction.

Here is a skate montage feel free to share and comment. Learning is fun.

  1.  Keetch KM, Schmidt RA, Lee TD, Young DE. Especial skills: their emergence with massive amounts of practice. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 31(5):970-978 (2005).
  2.              Barbara Oakley, PH.D (2014). A mind for numbers: how to excel at math and science(even if you flunked algebra). Penguin group. Hudson Street, New York United States of America.
  3.  Bilalic, M., McLeod, P., & Gobet, F. (2008). Inflexibility of experts--reality or myth? Quantifying the Einstellung effect in chess masters. Cognitive psychology, 56(2), 73-102. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2007.02.001.
  4. Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. pubmed, 331(6018):772-5. doi:10.1126/science.1199327.
  5. Thiebaut de Schotten, M., F. Dell'Acqua, S. J. Forkel, A. Simmons, F. Vergani, D. G. Murphy, and M. Catani. "A Lateralized Brain Network for Visuospatial Attention." Nat Neurosci 14, no. 10 (Oct 2011): 1245-6.
  6.  Logan, Jessica M., Alan D. Castel, Sara Haber, and Emily J. Viehman. "Metacognition and the Spacing Effect: The Role of Repetition, Feedback, and Instruction on Judgments of Learning for Massed and Spaced Rehearsal." Metacognition and Learning 7, no. 3 (2012): 175-95.
  7. Warmsley E.J. et al. (2010).Dreaming of a learning task is associated with enhanced sleep-dependent memory consolidation.pubmed, 20(9):850-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.03.027.
  8. Ariga A.,LIeras A.,(2011).Brief and rare mental  ''breaks'' keep you focused:deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements.Pubmed,118(3):439-43. The paper emphasizes that breaks are important in a task that involves long hours of sitting down working.
  9.  http://www.brainfacts.org/about-neuroscience/ask-an-expert/articles/2015/what-is-the-best-way-to-help-my-students-retain-information-longer/
  10. Lecture slides and videos from Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects on Coursera.
  11. www.publicationcoach.com
  12. http://www.brailleskateboarding.com/product/sms1/

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