Book Notes #112: How We Learn by Benedict Carey

How We Learn by Benedict Carey unveils the science of learning, offering evidence-based strategies and practical tips to enhance retention, adaptability, and long-term success. A must-read for lifelong learners and educators alike.

Title: How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens
Author: Benedict Carey
Year: 2014
Pages: 272

Benedict Carey, a science journalist, gives us insight into the fascinating arena of cognitive science, trying to investigate how our brains learn, retain, and apply knowledge.

Using an engaging narrative, the book gathers together useful research and practical insights to provide a new perspective on the learning process.

Throughout the book, Benedict Carey questions traditional ideas, exposing that learning is not a linear process but rather a complex interaction of elements such as sleep, stress, and even memory loss.

As a result, I gave this book a rating of 7.5/10.

For me, a book with a note 10 is one I consider reading again every year. Among the books I rank with 10, for example, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

3 Reasons to read How We Learn

Foster Lifelong Learning

Develop lifelong learning habits and cultivate a growth mindset for continuous personal and professional development.

Practical strategies

How We Learn offers a wealth of actionable tips and techniques that can be applied to various learning contexts, from academics to professional development.

Learning Pitfalls

How We Learn helps identify and overcome common misconceptions and pitfalls that hinder effective learning.

Book Overview

Anyone who wants to understand every aspect of the learning process should read the book How We Learn.

This book is an useful tool for professionals, students, and educators alike because of Carey’s engaging story and research-based ideas.

Practical tactics in the book, such interleaving and spaced repetition, are based on scientific research and are easily adaptable to different learning environments. Carey presents an interesting and revitalising challenge to common thinking, refuting myths like the one about cramming.

The book is very accessible, which is one of its best qualities. How We Learn is a priceless resource for a wide variety of audiences because of Carey’s ability to simplify and apply difficult scientific topics in an approachable manner.

Introduction: Broaden the Margins

Part One: Basic Theory
1. The Story Maker: The Biology of Memory
2. The Power of Forgetting: A New Theory of Learning

Part Two: Retention
3. Breaking Good Habits: The Effect of Context on Learning
4. Spacing Out: The Advantage of Breaking Up Study Time
5. The Hidden Value of Ignorance The Many Dimensions of Testing

Part Three: Problem-Solving
6. The Upside of Distraction: The Role of Incubation in Problem-Solving
7. Quitting Before You’re Ahead: The Accumulating Gifts of Percolation
8. Being Mixed Up: Interleaving as an Aid to Comprehension

Part Four: Tapping the Subconscious
9. Learning Without Thinking: Harnessing Perceptual Discrimination
10. You Snooze, You Win: The Consolidating Role of Sleep

Conclusion: The Foraging Brain

Appendix: Eleven Essential Questions

In the book, a significant theme explored is the idea of “desirable difficulty.” Carey suggests that facing challenges while learning can actually improve memory retention and comprehension.

Engaging in activities that require deep thinking, such as self-testing and reviewing material over time, can strengthen memory and enhance understanding.

Carey stresses the value of spacing out study sessions instead of cramming all at once. This method, known as spaced repetition, reinforces information through repeated exposure, leading to better long-term retention.

Moreover, How We Learn delves into the advantages of interleaved practice, where different types of material are mixed during study sessions. This technique prevents the brain from forming rigid connections and promotes deeper information processing.

By switching between subjects or problem types, learners can enhance their ability to apply knowledge in various contexts and solve complex problems more efficiently.

“How We Learn” also underscores the importance of testing as a learning strategy. Regular self-assessment not only helps identify weak areas but also aids in strengthening memory consolidation. Incorporating testing methods like practice quizzes or flashcards into study routines can significantly improve learning outcomes.

The book challenges the idea of multitasking and its negative impact on learning and focus. Instead of dividing attention among tasks, it suggests focused study sessions free from distractions. By fully immersing oneself in the learning process, individuals can optimize cognitive resources for better results.

Another notable aspect of “How We Learn” is its relevance to a wide range of audiences including students, teachers, professionals, and those interested in understanding how the brain functions. It provides valuable insights for everyone regardless of their background or interests.

The insights presented in this book are not limited by time or technology, making “How We Learn” a timeless resource for continuous learners seeking knowledge throughout their lives.

What are the Key Ideas

Spaced Repetition

How We Learn explains how spacing out study sessions over time can improve long-term retention.

Interleaved Practice

Mix different types of material during study sessions to encourage deeper processing of information and enhance transfer of knowledge.

Desirable Difficulty

Introduce challenges during learning to strengthen memory networks and solidify knowledge effectively.

The Value of Testing

How We Learn emphasizes the importance of testing as a learning tool, not just an assessment method.

What are the Main Lessons

Avoid Multitasking

Multitasking can hinder learning and concentration. Instead of dividing attention among multiple tasks, Carey recommends adopting focused study sessions free from distractions.

Vary Study Environments

Contrary to the belief in a “right” study environment, Carey suggests embracing diverse settings to enhance memory retrieval. Varying contexts can benefit information recall and prevent reliance on specific cues for memory retrieval.

Engage in Interleaved Practice

Interleaved practice involves mixing up different types of material during study sessions. This technique prevents the brain from forming rigid associations and encourages deeper processing of information, leading to improved transfer of knowledge across contexts.

Growth Mindset

Cultivate a mindset that embraces challenges and values effort, resilience, and perseverance in the pursuit of learning.

Embrace Mistakes and Failure

View mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning, and use them to identify areas for improvement.

Power of Metacognition

Reflect on learning processes, identify effective strategies, and adjust study habits accordingly to become a self-directed learner.

My Book Highlights & Quotes

The act of guessing engaged your mind in a different and more demanding waythan straight memorization did, deepening the imprint of the correct answers. In even plainer English, the pretest drove home the information in a way that studying as usual did not.

Once a goal becomes activated, it trumps all others and begins to drive our perceptions, ourthoughts, our attitudes.

In conclusion, How We Learn is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of the learning process.

By embracing the strategies and insights presented in the book, readers can understand more about their learning potential and become more effective and efficient learners.

Whether you’re a student, professional, or lifelong learner, this book provides the tools you need to maximize your learning potential and unleash your cognitive abilities.

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