Explain to Yourself

TLDR: After reading or watching a lecture, try to explain to yourself what you have read and watch to improve the learning process.

The biggest concern that I face in my learning process is I still haven’t learned effectively. In the past few years, I have tried to improve my learning process in several approaches. I read many recent books about metacognition. It is learning to learn. Some books that I have read are How We Learn by Benedict Carey, Make it Stick by Peter Brown and now I am reading Learn Better by Ulrich Boser. There is another famous book in this field, A Mind for Numbers that is written by Barbara Oakley. Even Barbara has a Coursera course in this learning topic which I have signed up but never completed. However, even with all those efforts, I still haven’t felt that I have been improved a lot.

Learning, either by reading or attending class comprises several steps. The learning process itself where you want to try to absorb new information. Then you need to make sense the new information with existing knowledge. Brain store information in a graph. There is no information that stands alone in your head. Even this internalisation process can be broken down again with regards of how brain process information. There are short and long term memory part in your brain that we need to understand better to learn effectively. Then the last part of is about how we can effectively recall what we have learnt when we need it. There is no use of learning and studying if we can’t internalise and recall the information when we need that.

The first fallacy in my learning process, most of the time I didn’t absorb most information in the first place. Either when you read or attend a class, you need a strong focus of what information that you try to absorb. You will never be able to stick information that never enter your brain in the first place. It is often when read the words just flow and my mind wander in the process. Because of that, regardless how many pages I have read, there is nothing I absorb. Same case when I watch an online course. It is often I lose focus and as the time goes by I didn’t know what I have watched and only can recall very minimum information or concept. So the first important step to improve the learning process is to focus, present and make sure to try to absorb information without doing mind wandering too much.

Thus after focus the next step is to get to know how we can maximise information that we can absorb and use it once we need it. Even with all focus that we have it is difficult to try to remember everything. In past people appreciate much rote memorisation. However, rote memorisation is often meaningless. We are building a knowledge structure in our head, try to relate new information we are storing with older information that is already in our head. Therefore, the best way to maximise information storing rate that we can do is by trying to explain to yourself what you are learning.

Why explain to yourself can improve learning? Trying to explain to yourself is not rote memorisation practice. We are not looking exact dictating something we have read. We are looking how we can paraphrase what we read or watch and explain it using our own language loudly or in writing. By doing so we can validate what we have learned and can know whether we really have understood. Other than that explain to yourself is a recall practice. It strengthen knowledge path access so that once we need to information we can recall it easier. Practice is the only way you can better in something.

Hence, by knowing all of those why I am still considering myself non effective learner? It is because I don't walk the talk. Most of the time I am lazy. I often hope there will be some magic that can help to flow information from book or video to my head effortlessly. I often do a lot of re-reading and re-watching with an expectation that I can strengthen the knowledge absorption. And re-reading and re-watching are not effective. So realising that flaw I want to commit myself to trying to explain to myself in most process of my learning. When I read a book I will try to explain to myself and will do the same after watching the lecture as well. This blog post is also an effort for me to start to walk my talk.