How The Free Learning How To Learn Course Boosted My Brain Power

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Powerful mental tools at your fingertips

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”  ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Taking the free online course 'Learning How To Learn' was one of the best decisions I ever made. As someone who has always struggled with the learning process, it was amazing to finally be able to understand concepts that once seemed impossible.

The course, taught by Barbara Oakley is divided into 4 modules about an hour long and covers topics like successful learning styles, brain anatomy, and memory techniques. It's not just a list of facts; each module has interactive exercises and practical techniques that help you apply what you're learning in your own life!

Here is a description of each section of the course and my impressions of the course.

What is learning?

"Although living brains are very complex, this module uses metaphor and analogy to help simplify matters.

You will discover several fundamentally different modes of thinking, and how you can use these modes to improve your learning. You will also be introduced to a tool for tackling procrastination, be given some practical information about memory, and discover surprisingly useful insights about learning and sleep."

How does your brain work?

This module introduces some key concepts in learning and memory, learning styles, uncommon sense teaching, and invaluable learning techniques. It also explores the important role of sleep in learning and memory.

You will discover how to improve your focus when learning new information and how to master tough subjects; you'll understand why we forget things that we once knew well; you'll find out about different types of long-term memory; and much more.


"In this module, we’re going to be talking about chunks. Chunks are compact packages of information that your mind can easily access.

We’ll talk about how you can form chunks, how you can use them to improve your understanding and creativity with the material, and how chunks can help you to do better on tests.

We’ll also explore illusions of competence in learning, the challenges of overlearning, and the advantages of interleaving."

In learning, chunking is a learning strategy that involves breaking information down into small sections.

Experts recommend learning with chunking if you have a learning disability, e.g., dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD).

This learning style helps the learner to break material into digestible pieces and to practice in short intervals.

For learners with a learning disability in their auditory processing, this learning style may allow the learner to use different senses when learning new information.

Certain types of chunks can be combined together in a "chunk chain," an idea mentioned in the Learning How To Learn Course.

This means that one way to master tough subjects is to get familiar with the information and then get used to learning the information. To have a better understanding of learning, consider making connections between concepts and content that are already familiar to you.

This module provides some basic principles that can be used immediately in your learning activities.

The course recommends specific ways for students to take notes while learning new material so as to improve learning and recall.

Procrastination and memory

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

"In this module, we talk about two intimately connected ideas—procrastination and memory.

Building solid chunks in long-term memory--chunks that are easily accessible by your short-term memory—takes time. This is why learning to handle procrastination is so important.

Finally, we talk about some of the best ways to access your brain’s most powerful long-term memory systems."

The Pomodoro technique’s approach to beating procrastination

The Pomodoro technique is a learning technique that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s.

The technique allows people to take more control over their learning time, and it helps people learn by focusing on one thing at a time.

When learning new material, it's important to commit to learning for 25 minutes and then rest after either learning or learning for 25 minutes.

This method is designed to provide people with a sense of accomplishment and motivation when learning new material. The learning technique helps people avoid distractions.

The Pomodoro Technique is named after the tomato-shaped timer that its creator used for this learning strategy, which was designed to break down learning into intervals of 25 minutes with five-minute breaks between each interval.

This method also suggests taking a longer break every 90 minutes to help improve focus and concentration.

For instance, if you have an assignment due in two weeks—200 hours from now—you’d start by learning for 25 minutes every day until that deadline arrives. When the course recommends learning one thing at a time to avoid distractions, learning for 25 minutes is the perfect amount of time to focus on learning.

The Memory Palace

Photo by Arun Prakash on Unsplash

The memory palace is what you use when learning verbal learning. The speaker has to remember an audio-visual story in order to recall the information. One of the most famous memory palaces by Tony Buzan is called Mind Palace learning.

Tony said in his book Mind Boost, "To make your learning more memorable, you need to create a location in your mind with all the details of what you want to remember.

I call this learning 'mind palace learning'. This means creating an imaginary location and placing everything about what you want to learn in it."

His learning is very useful for students with learning disabilities. This learning style focuses on visuals and not just words so it can be used as a great study guide if you have learning disabilities such as ADD/ADHD or Dyslexia.

There are many ways to create this memory palace but one of the most important things that you need to remember is that it has to be really vivid and very detailed.

This learning style will help students because they can use this learning as a guide when studying for tests or doing homework assignments. They won't have so much trouble focusing on the material if their mind palace learning involves lots of visuals such as charts, diagrams, and pictures.

Renaissance learning and unlocking your potential

"In this module, we’re going to talk more about important ideas and techniques that will enhance your ability to learn.

You’ll also discover how to more profitably interact with fellow learners, how to recognize your own strengths, and how to avoid the “imposter syndrome.” Fighter pilots and surgeons use checklists to help them with their critical duties—you can use a similar checklist to help you prepare for tests.

Ultimately, you will learn more about the joys of living a life filled with learning!"

There are many benefits to learning. The most important thing about learning is that learning expands your view of the world, learning increases your curiosity about different things, learning helps you become more creative, learning empowers you!!

Focused and diffuse learning modes

Focused learning is the ability to concentrate on one learning activity while ignoring distractions.

Diffused learning is the ability to concentrate on many learning activities at the same time while still being able to tune in to change.

An example of learning is a student learning how to play the guitar. They have to be able to read music notation and follow what it says on their sheet music while also being focused enough so they don't make mistakes when practicing the song.

If you can do this, then you're learning will become stronger because your brain improves cognitive function which means learning will become easier.

This learning can be applied to school because you have to focus on the material while also tuning in when your teacher is saying something important. Learning how to balance focused and diffuse modes helps students learn better but it also helps them improve cognitive function which makes learning even easier for them!

More about diffuse learning mode

An example of Diffuse learning mode is when you use focused mode to really concentrate on learning something and then take a break by going on a walk, exercising, or even meditating and then go back to the problem.

I like to let my subconscious mind solve problems for me because it's much faster than using the conscious parts of my brain. I also think that my subconscious learning can be better for learning new information.

It's easier to solve a difficult problem when you take a break from it.

When you get back to the problem, it's fresh in your mind and will normally have more solutions.

Using metaphor and analogy to prime neural circuits for difficult topics

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Research by J.D. Greene and others has found that learning is easier if learning targets are primed with a metaphor or analogy before being introduced to the learning material, even if the learning target is difficult.

For example, if learning to use medical equipment, learning can be facilitated by stating "Some people say it's like navigating through a maze" before learning the particulars about how to navigate through a maze.

This research suggests that learning can be made easier in two ways:

- describe the learning in terms of an analogy or metaphor familiar to students

- use an analogy or metaphor (along with related visual aids) when exposing students to daunting subjects

This learning study further suggests that learning can be made more efficient by using a combination of priming and visual aids.

For example, if learning about the structure of DNA, first explain it as "building blocks" or other familiar analogy before giving students the technical details. This may result in improved learning efficiency because less time will have to be spent learning the material.

This learning study suggests that learning is improved by using an analogy or metaphor plus visual aids, which act as a mental scaffold to help students learn difficult concepts more quickly and efficiently than if they were introduced without priming first.

Learning can be made easier in two ways:

- describe learning targets in terms of an analogy or metaphor familiar to students

- use an analogy or metaphor (along with related visual aids) when exposing learning targets that are daunting.

Using metaphor and analogy to prime neural connections for learning difficult topics can help learning materials be learned more quickly with less mental effort required by the student, giving them time to apply their learning towards other activities.

Spaced repetition

One of the best learning techniques in our time is learning with spaced repetition.

When learning a topic, you must study it in a certain way that's focused and then take a break from it. If you do that, then when you come back to the learning, it'll be fresh to your mind and easier to learn than before.

If you regularly reinforce what you've learned, it's more likely to retain that piece of information in the long-term storage areas of your brain.

For example, a student could use flashcards to apply this method. You may group your flashcards into three groups based on how easy it is for you to recall them.

If you can recall something clearly, test yourself with the same flashcard in ten minutes, but if you can't remember, try it again at a later time.

Mnemonic techniques

Mnemonic learning is a learning technique where the student uses a key phrase to remember a list of things or concepts.

This key phrase can be verbal or visual and can be learned quickly by the student.

If you have taken music lessons, you would remember EGBDF (the treble clef) with the acronym, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”

Another common expression mnemonic you might remember from your school days is HOMES – for the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).

Mnemonic learning techniques help to learn complicated topics because they provide a distinct learning pathway that helps students remember this information in long-term storage.

Using these mnemonic learning techniques also helps people learn new words faster than before because it's easier for them to associate them with something they already know.

Barbara Oakley's book, A Mind for Numbers and Mindshift

Barbara Oakley's terrific book, A Mind for Numbers, also has some great information on learning how to learn.

She also wrote the book Mindshift which is about effective learning how to learn in your teens.

One of the most important tips that she gives is learning how to work with different learning styles.

Barbara Oakley suggests learning how to recognize what learning style you are best at and learning strategies for other learning styles so you can work with all types of people.

Barbara Oakley also is a proponent of STEM Education

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What is STEM education?

STEM education is becoming more and more important as time goes on because as society progresses, people need to be learning things that are applicable to their future. It seems like every industry is technological so learning STEM skills will allow you to have a lot of different options in the future.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. So, in order to be technically correct, you must take a biology course while studying STEM in college. However, because of the flexibility of the acronym's meaning, STEM is much more than simply an academic term.

STEM is a teaching approach that combines all four disciplines into a single cross-disciplinary program that teaches students in real-world (as opposed to purely academic) applications and teaching techniques.

STEM learning benefits your brain because it allows you to be more creative and focused on learning about something that is important. This learning can be applied in school because we need students who are studying STEM subjects so they know the fundamentals of their industry.

We also need people working together, communicating with each other, and being able to solve problems as a team. STEM learning can help you do that by allowing students to see problems from different perspectives and thus learning how to collaborate together!!

STEM learning is important because it improves cognitive function, creativity, communication skills, and allows for learning new information. Learning about the subjects in school will allow us to be prepared for our future!!!

What does this mean?

This learning can be applied in school because we need students who are studying STEM subjects so they know the fundamentals of their industry. We also need people working together, communicating with each other, and being able to solve problems as a team.

STEM learning benefits your brain because it allows you to be more creative and focused on learning about something that is important.

STEM learning is a learning approach that focuses on learning through STEM disciplines. It also includes learning at a higher level of rigor and sophistication. This type of learning requires students to have many different skills in order to be successful.

In order to do this, they will need to have analytic skills, critical-thinking skills, creativity skills, and communication skills. They will also need additional learning opportunities such as learning labs and project work for math and science courses.

Takeaways I learned in this course

  • There are two modes of thinking:
  • With a narrow field of vision, your mind is free to focus on anything it likes-even subjects that are strange or new. This mode allows the player to focus their concentration on things that are typically familiar, concentrating on activities they know how to do well rather than being confined by the game's rules.
  • Diffused mode: "Your ideas are free to wander in a calm state of mind."
  • When you don't want to do or learn anything, go over it and just get started. The pain dissipates, and in the long term, this will result in pleasure.
  • When you encounter something new, take time to relax and reflect on what you've learned.
  • Don't cram so much material into one day that you overload your mind. This results in ineffective learning. It's like if you're going to build a wall but don't allow it to dry.
  • It's critical to revisit and practice what you've learned. According to research, spaced repetition (repeating things after a few days) is the most effective way to strengthen synaptic connections.
  • Sleep is crucial. It removes brain metabolites after a day of "brain activity." Following learning, it's best to sleep as soon as possible.
  • It was found that engaging in physical activity and/or living in a social setting boosts the formation of new brain cells. Don't shut yourself away. Maintain an active lifestyle (including basic physical activities) and make time for friends on a daily basis.

If you're learning how to learn, then this is a great popular massive open online course for you.

This free learning course will teach you about the benefits of learning and show you how it can be applied in school and in your life outside of class.

Learning is about more than just memorizing facts; instead, it involves understanding concepts and applying them in real-world situations.

When we understand things deeply enough, they become part of who we are as people.

So turbocharger successful learning and learn how the brain works with this popular massive open online course.

Learning How To Learn

Also available:

Mindshift (Learning How to Learn is more learning-focused, and Mindshift is more career-focused.)

A related course by the same instructors is Uncommon Sense Teaching. To join the fully translated Portuguese version of the course, visit: To join the fully translated Spanish version of the course, visit: To join the fully translated Chinese version of the course, visit: To join the fully translated French version of the course, visit :

Randy Salars

Randy Salars

Copywriter and marketing consultant. Author of ‘Stories And Recipes From The Soup Kitchen.’ Freedom lover, adventurer, and treasure hunter.
Silver City, NM, USA