Learning How to Learn

Several months ago, I attempted to finish a class on Coursera called Learning How to Learn. (Buuuut…because of motherly duties and an unfinished thesis, there was just too much on my plate that I had to drop it. *sigh*) In the middle of Barbara Oakley’s fascinating lectures and quirky videos, there was one prevailing thought in my head, which I still think of until now – In all the years that we’ve spent in school, how come we’re not experts at being learners?

Now, I realize that that question is like opening a can of worms but I won’t get into the dirty details. Instead, I’ll share about how this question led me to cognitive psychology and evidence-based learning strategies.

How do I learn thee? Let me count the ways.


What I’ve learned from working with hundreds of students over the past decade is that majority of teachers and students aren’t aware or fully conscious about how they learn. Whenever I ask about personal learning strategies, some are dumbfounded – either they have never really thought about it at all or they give muddled answers about learning styles, highlighting, multiple intelligences, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s really nothing wrong with that. After all, how many times in our lives have we been asked to think about the learning process? We’ve been asked to study, memorize, analyze, and the list goes on – but I don’t think we’ve spent enough time thinking intentionally and deliberately about what kind of learning works for us.

The Learning Scientists

While driving to work and on the lookout for a distraction from the traffic – I decided to make use of my time better and listen to some podcasts. I chanced upon an episode from Jennifer Gonzales’ Cult of PedagogyIt just so happened that she interviewed two cognitive psychologists, Dr. Megan Sumeracki and Dr. Yana Weinstein. Their vision for starting The Learning Scientists is:

“to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators”

After listening to their interview, I was hooked. I subscribed to their blog and their own podcast as well. According to decades of research that they’ve summarized, there are 6 learning strategies that have been identified as the most effective.

Six. Six?!

Honestly, my first reaction was – how come no one ever told us this??? Well, to save you, your students, and your children some time, here’s a video that summarizes all of it:

Educator Clemente Diaz summarized it as well in his guest post in The Learning Scientist blog:

  • Ask, Explain & Connect (Elaboration – explaining and describing ideas with many details)
  • No Cramming (Spaced practice – the spacing out of information over time
  • Switch (Interleaving – switching between ideas)
  • Words & Visuals (Dual coding – the combing of words and visuals)
  • Examples (Concrete examples – the use of specific examples to understand abstract ideas)
  • Recall (Retrieval practice – practicing bringing information to mind)

You can also check out materials that you can download here.

I can’t emphasize it enough – PLEASE do your kids and students a favor and teach them about these six strategies. Not only will it help them through school but it will surely strengthen the connections and wirings in their brains as well!

Happy learning how to learn! 🙂