There are two major categories of relevant information.

One are techniques - particular techniques or behaviors that improve the quality and speed of learning.

The other is models - a sense for how and why a learning system works.

For example, long-term memory, episodic memory and working memory system are models. Spaced repetition is an object/technique. Reinforcement (reward / punish) learned behavior is a model. Creating a reward or a success scoreboard is a technique.

I’m going to start this by just listing out important models and techniques, as well as unimportant models and techniques (if there’s content I think isn’t worth focusing on - a continuous list with weights on importance would be perfect, but I’ll settle for a two-tiered system for now).

Major Techniques:

  1. Spaced Repetition

    1. Memorable items must be repeated over several days
  2. Alternate the level of abstraction you process information at, from high level context to low level details and back

  3. Material as important as method. Ensure that the content being processed is sufficiently incremental and has the best 80/20 cut of the important information.

  4. Modify environment

    1. Eliminate distractions in the environment
  5. After reading material, look away from the material and recall it. Repeat for great effect.

  6. Deliberate Practice

    1. Focus on the parts of content that are difficult

    2. Increase intensity of practice / focus

  7. Structure behavior, at least on a weekly and daily basis

  8. Tutoring

  9. Get into a space with experts in what you’re looking to learn

  10. Pomodoro - small step towards goal, process oriented

    1. Set timer to 25 minutes, cut interruptions, focus hard for 25m, give reward
  11. Create abstractions / chunks by combining sets of ideas or concepts for working memory

  12. Test yourself regularly on content you’re looking to learn

  13. Metaphor / Analogy, Transferring mental models between fields

  14. Teach someone else the content, forcing you to frame information from different perspective

  15. If procrastination, focus on process instead of outcome

  16. Get into a social environment that reinforces the right beliefs and values

  17. Zone Reading: Read the text of a book and listen to its audio at 2x, simultaneously.

Major Models:

  1. Levels of abstraction - high level / low level representation of information (context vs content, bottom up learning vs. top down learning, Holistic vs. Sequential reasoning, Conceptual vs. Concrete)

  2. Long-term memory and working memory systems

    1. Working memory limited in scope

    2. Long term memory requires revisits to get content established

  3. Habits as the source of most behavior

    1. Cue + routine + reward + belief
  4. Learning by doing as more effective than learning in abstract - learning as active or passive

    1. Able to Recreate vs. Recall ability vs. Illusion of Competence
  5. Outcome oriented vs. Process oriented

  6. System 1 / System 2

  7. Focused vs. Default Mode Thinking

Minor Techniques:

  1. Let yourself fall into the diffuse mode while thinking about a problem (falling asleep, for example). Then wake up with an alarm or falling object and apply focused to the diffuse content.

  2. Alternate the way you process information, going from focused thinking to diffuse and back to focused

  3. Establish the smallest step towards working on a problem (pomodoro in general)

  4. Intentionally look to dream about what you’re studying

  5. Exercise regularly

  6. Concept Mapping

  7. Learn in different environments to avoid overfitting learning to environment

  8. Promise a reward after a work session

  9. Create a library of chunks / latticework of mental models

  10. Overlearning (Putting in a ton of work in batch)

  11. Interleaving content together to increase flexibility of understanding

  12. Analyze the cue of damaging habits and avoid / change them.

  13. Have a trigger-action plan when you catch yourself in the routine of a habit

  14. Create an emotional reward for new habitual behavior

  15. Plan quitting time on daily goals.

    1. Strongly isolate work from leisure
  16. Work on hard / disliked tasks as soon as you wake up, when you have willpower

  17. Mnemonics

  18. Memory Palace Technique (Link visual / spatial thinking with concepts)

  19. Metaphor / analogize the concepts being learned

  20. Meditation / Deep Breathing

  21. Thoroughly understand the basics of content, the building blocks

  22. Breaks to avoid drop in attention span over time

  23. Visualization

  24. Focus Tracking

  25. Urge Propagation

  26. 80/20 / Triage

  27. Growth Mindset

  28. Nutrition

  29. Define study schedule

  30. Goal Factor learning

Minor Models:

  1. Understanding each step in a process vs. understanding the connection between steps

  2. Learning occurs during Sleep

  3. When you think of something you’d rather not do, your brain experiences pain that subsides once you actually start working on it. This leads to procrastination.

  4. Practice makes permanent

  5. While mind is relaxing in the background, progress is made on problems

  6. Attention Switching Costs / Impact of multitasking

  7. Hyperbolic Discounting, default focus on short term

  8. Memory has a visual / auditory component

  9. Memories are not fixed, but reconsolidated every time they’re recalled

  10. Memory techniques as skills in themselves requiring practice

  11. Energy level / Energy management

Metalearning Curriculum:

Metacognition - John Dunlosky

Relatively dry but appropriately extensive and clear overview of the findings of the Metacognition literature. By the same author, this well cited and concise overview paper is excellent.

Your Brain at Work - David Rock

Extremely concrete body of experiments for improving cognition. I’ve summarized the suggested experiments here.

Deep Work - Cal Newport

A run through execution & focus techniques from the detailed to the level of life structure. My document for applying its lessons is here.

Art of Learning - Josh Waitzskin

This book was personally incredibly inspiring to me, describing the author’s path to mastery (world champion level) in both chess and tai chi push-hands.

The principles described (Internalizing Fundamentals, Beginner’s Mind, Building Your Trigger, and more) are advanced and refreshing.

Carl Shan’s Notes on Tim Ferriss’ Metalearning Podcast

These notes describe a process for learning at a fairly high level.

The DISSS framework (Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, Stakes)

The CaFE framework (Compression (80/20), Frequency, Encoding)

Samford Video Series: