Learning how to learn


One of the online courses I took recently was about learning how to learn, hosted by Dr. Barbara Oakley. Theoretically, if a person knows how they learn best, they will be able to maximize their learning. I was right to finish this course first before the tougher ones! My only regret is that I hadn’t come across it before high school, I would’ve done a lot better with my studies way into college. But I’m glad that I’ll be able to apply what I learned into my preparations for my SOA exams in the future.

Here are my main takeaways:
  • There are 2 modes of thinking. The focused mode is responsible for concentrated (as the name suggests) and sequential approach to thinking, while the diffuse mode is for holistic and creative thinking. When a person is focusing on something, the focused mode is activated. And during relaxation when one’s thoughts drift and the mind wander, the diffuse mode is at play. From my understanding of the Myers-Briggs type theory, people are predisposed to have one of these modes as their default approach to thinking and problem solving (Judging = focused, Perceiving = diffuse). To learn something effectively, the mind must switch back and forth between the two modes of thinking.
  • The working memory is limited, and it can only hold 3-4 items at a time. Chunking is tying up multiple ideas/information using a common use or meaning into a compact “chunk” that can be recalled more easily. A chunk is formed little by little, and can get bigger with practice (as the neural connections get stronger). To form a chunk, one must focus intensely on the information, understand the basic idea and gain context, then repeatedly practice using it. One can also compare chunks across different topics to find a common ground and use it to build analogies and metaphors.
  • To master a material, one must make it persist in memory. Testing and retrieval practice produces deeper learning. Re-reading from a material should be utilized during practice, not during the information absorption stage itself, as it might lead to an illusion of competence (thinking that one has a solid grasp of the material/solution just by looking at it).
  • Sleep and exercise is important. It is in sleep that the brain flushes out toxins, information are consolidated into the long term memory, and when ideas are rehearsed/played around with subconsciously to better prepare a person to respond to it in the conscious state. Exercise improves blood circulation of the body (and consequently, to the brain), promotes neurogenesis (birth of new neurons), and allows the diffuse mode to take over (which makes it a good brainstorming activity).
  • Einstellung (mindset in german) is the concept in which a perceived mastery over something becomes a roadblock to the formation of better ideas. One must avoid a confirmation bias and always be open to new ideas (under scrutiny, of course).
  • To learn better, it is recommended to practice interleaving (mixing up different ways of learning) to build flexibility and creativity. My mentor is a fan of this and makes it a point to apply it to the courses he teaches for the benefit of his students.
  • No matter how introverted you are (I’m talking to myself, haha), you’ll learn better with a study group. You’ll benefit from sharing academic resources with others, and more importantly, you have people to brainstorm with to overcome blindspots in your thinking. From experience, simply having a study buddy (hi Ron!) gave me the motivation to stick to a study plan and work on problem sets regularly.


Working smarter



On an ordinary day when I have to go through a personal to-do list, I tend to do the mindless work first in the belief that productivity with small things will snowball into productivity with bigger things. Taking a course on working smart presented me with the idea that this isn’t the optimal way to act. These mindless tasks are referred to as “unproductive work”. It seemed counterintuitive at first because how can work be unproductive? But it merely suggests a shift to a more efficient working system. Unproductive work is a category of tasks which aren’t essential or related to your main goals. I realized that I should tackle on the biggest and most important/urgent tasks first while these resources are at their maximum. Once they’re at their lowest and I would need to mentally slow down, that’s a better time to do the mindless tasks. By adopting a perspective that emphasizes priority, I have become more meticulous with how I manage my time, focus, willpower, and energy (especially mental energy. with the growing list of challenging items on my checklist, it’s the most precious attribute to me right now). The other main takeaway from this course is the importance of self-imposed discipline. This should be obvious: without it, it’s hard to see plans through to the end and the inner resources are wasted instead of invested into things that serve a greater purpose.

Let’s work more efficiently towards our goals this year! 🙂

Vacation goals

Since my last semester in college is finally over, I was able to go back to my hometown earlier today. I’m well aware that this is going to be my last time-flexible vacation before I enter the workforce, so my tendency to be an overachiever is at its peak. I plan to commit myself to a lot of personal projects (while waiting for college documents to be processed) and be productive, which gives me good vibes. 🙂

As soon as I got home, I enrolled myself in several online courses with the financial assistance of my mom. For every course I finish, I shall make a post of the noteworthy things I learned so that others may benefit from my experience as well (also as practice for summarizing things).

My passive goal during these few weeks of freedom is to read philosophy books (I might write about them if I find the time). Aside from these, I also plan to study deeper game theory and sin tax in the Philippine context (in case my mentor would request assistance for one of his upcoming papers), review lessons in statistics, learn how to code in Visual Basic and R, impart random useful knowledge to my favorite brother, and if I have spare mental energy, study basic Korean and continue my review for Exam FM (which I unfortunately had to put off due to my attention-hungry thesis project). Anyway, this is supposed to be a vacation so I think having fun (albeit by developing new skills and in-depth learning in fields unrelated to actuarial) is justified. 🙂 What I really look forward to is getting to (passively, introvertly) spend time with my family again, since I rarely get to go home to see them (and I expect my schedule to get even tighter once I start working).

TL;DR: Busy month ahead. Will post updates on my progress with my checklist soon!