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Summary

In the tradition of The Power of Habit and Thinking, Fast and Slow comes a practical, playful, and endlessly fascinating guide to what we really know about learning and memory today - and how we can apply it to our own lives.

From an early age, it is drilled into our heads: Restlessness, distraction, and ignorance are the enemies of success. We’re told that learning is all self-discipline, that we must confine ourselves to designated study areas, turn off the music, and maintain a strict ritual if we want to ace that test, memorize that presentation, or nail that piano recital.

But what if almost everything we were told about learning is wrong? And what if there was a way to achieve more with less effort?

In How We Learn, award-winning science reporter Benedict Carey sifts through decades of education research and landmark studies to uncover the truth about how our brains absorb and retain information. What he discovers is that, from the moment we are born, we are all learning quickly, efficiently, and automatically; but in our zeal to systematize the process we have ignored valuable, naturally enjoyable learning tools like forgetting, sleeping, and daydreaming. Is a dedicated desk in a quiet room really the best way to study? Can altering your routine improve your recall? Are there times when distraction is good? Is repetition necessary? Carey’s search for answers to these questions yields a wealth of strategies that make learning more a part of our everyday lives - and less of a chore.

By road testing many of the counterintuitive techniques described in this book, Carey shows how we can flex the neural muscles that make deep learning possible. Along the way he reveals why teachers should give final exams on the first day of class, why it’s wise to interleave subjects and concepts when learning any new skill, and when it’s smarter to stay up late prepping for that presentation than to rise early for one last cram session. And if this requires some suspension of disbelief, that’s because the research defies what we’ve been told, throughout our lives, about how best to learn.

The brain is not like a muscle, at least not in any straightforward sense. It is something else altogether, sensitive to mood, to timing, to circadian rhythms, as well as to location and environment. It doesn’t take orders well, to put it mildly. If the brain is a learning machine, then it is an eccentric one. In How We Learn, Benedict Carey shows us how to exploit its quirks to our advantage.

©2014 Benedict Carey (P)2014 Audible Studios

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A practical primer on the latest in learning

I use the lessons I learned here with my children, my own learning and with my clients in my training business because they work. Good book, snappy writing style so the content is never dry. If you've got children facing exams the sooner they learn these tactics the better. Half the work for 35% higher performance on the hardest questions is a good result in anyone's book

27 people found this helpful

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Very informative

Great book that challenges the assumptions we have about how we learn. I have lots of new strategies!

19 people found this helpful

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Some great content but too much detail

I am glad that I listened but it was hard work! Firstly, there is too much detail of the various studies and experiments for this form of presentation. In writing, one could skim the material and pick out key points but not with an Audible book.
Secondly, it might just be me and the fact that I am English, but the sound of a strong American monotone accent with so many similar studies, reviews and details was just plain boring. I persevered, as there were some hidden gems but I always thought that it was the author's task to sift the wheat from the chaff! Not so here.
Thirdly, everything was presented as being on a common level of importance when what I felt I wanted were key ideas to help me learn. OK, I also wanted to learn something about the background, but this was too much. This is more like a history of how we learn.
My advice? Skip to the appendix! Whilst you will miss the 'why' at least you will learn the 'how'! And if you want the detail, he refers to the appropriate chapters to find it.

14 people found this helpful

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I just wanted to do better at learning French...

I hoped for an insight into how to learn a language better. I got that and more. This is a proper grown up practical review of 'how we learn'.
It has immediately changed how I handle my self education across the board but it has improved how I educate people in my business and how I advise others on how they learn.
The best part is that it is super clear that all that work that I am prepared to put in is no more than I really need to in order to see the results I've been struggling for.

12 people found this helpful

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Excellent book. Wish I had read it before studying

This book should be essential reading for every person before they begin a period of study. It is also a book that would be valuable for trainers and teachers alike.
I now know why working hard for long hours did not pay off!
I love this book. It will make a big difference to how I learn in the future.

14 people found this helpful

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Tedious autobiography

Extremely tedious autobiography with very little explanation of how we learn. To be sure the relevant jargon is applied to his examples but they're not very well defined and don't elucidate the mechanisms of how we learn. There's so much faff in this book even on 3.5 speed. The author really should stfu about himself and discuss his topic: how we learn.

4 people found this helpful

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Don't study harder, study smarter

Key takeaways - for learning if you're spending a lot of time and it's not sticking there is probably a quicker or smarter way of learning. Always try to be flexible and varied in your approach to learning. Breaks and rest are beneficial to memory as are distractions ( as long as you don't need sustained period of focus like in lecture). sleep is also very helpful in retaining information after studying and naps in between periods of study can be beneficial. Self quizzing is a very effective method of learning and passive learning methods (reading highlighted notes, re-writing notes) are not very useful. Cramming is not a great method of learning but can be useful only for passing a test but you won't remember that information afterwards.

4 people found this helpful

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A very worthwhile listen

I would highly recommend that anyone interested in learning listen to this book. There are lots of non obvious aspects to how learning works.

8 people found this helpful

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You'd have to be daring to attempt the techniques

We all have had times during our college/university where in preparation for exams we would stay up all night revising the night before an exam cramming our brains full of information. Whilst this tried and tested technique works in the short term, we'll find that this way of learning doesn't lend itself to retaining the information long term.

How we learn takes a look at the key learning techniques that can be employed to learn a topic and retain the information in long term memory even after say an exam. However, be prepared to be challenged, some techniques and concepts actually encourage distractions as a means to help learn a topic!

I must admit I'd have to be brave to attempt some of the techniques, but it appears the techniques are backed by science and thorough research. I'll leave you to decide whether you would employ any of the techniques to do any active learning.

The brain is simply amazing, it appears to reinforce memories sub-consciencley, during sleep and when distracted or doing other tasks. Ignorance prior to learning also seems to reinforce learning. Sounds bonkers, I know.

Definitely recommend this work

9 people found this helpful

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Very detailed

I enjoyed the take away points from this book and do believe there are some valuable lessons about learning in it. But could have done without the numerous experiments described in minute detail. But that’s just me. Sometimes the reader’s “female voice”, used when quoting interviews, sounded a bit like he was making fun of the researchers.

2 people found this helpful