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Gagan Sharma
Gagan Sharma

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Notes on Learning

How to absorb information faster and retain for longer

The following is a compiled set of tools that I have gathered from various sources to help in the process of learning. You can
use it as a framework to tackle any learning assignment. There are a ton of material out there and I have included only the
ones that have helped me immensely.

Before Study

  • Design a near-optimal environment that you're comfortable with.

  • Design the study sessions along the lines of Deliberate practice.

    • Find material which is not too easy, nor too hard but at a level that pushes you to exercise your brain without requiring advanced skills.
    • Model your self-education around these principles. Diversify your resources.
    • Focus on applications first when starting out, then learn the theory as and when needed. Example: If you're trying to learn Deep Learning, try building some models first and then learn the theory behind it, as taught in the excellent course. Another example: If you're trying to learn a second language, try speaking useful phrases before learning grammar.
    • Learn by doing. Build things. Get actively involved in the process.

During Study

  • Divide your study sessions into chunks of 25 minutes of focused work followed by 5 minutes of break. See Pomodoro method, Forest app.
  • Take notes while you study. Type/write the words out in your note-taking app/notebook instead of copy-pasting or capturing images.
  • Simultaneously create flashcards to use spaced-repetition. This website on learning quantum computing incorporated spaced-repetition into the learning material. You can use Anki for your personal notes. The app would take care of your repetitions.
  • Try to incorporate visual mnemonics while learning. Nelson Dellis' excellent book and his youtube channel will get you covered.
  • Most importantly, Pause and Ponder (a phrase taken from videos by Grant Sanderson). Think in analogies and reflect on the intuitive meaning to deepen the conceptual understanding.

After Study

  • Review often. If you use Anki, this will be taken care of automatically. See this and this. If you don't use Anki or any spaced-repetition software, schedule your reviews in 1, 3, 7, 21, 45, ... days. This is what I used before moving to Anki. You can try your own schedules. See this and this.
  • Recall trumps re-reading. When you're reviewing, try to recall the material instead of just reading/watching/listening it again. Familiarity gives us a false sense of knowledge. Test yourself while reviewing to help in retention. Barbara Oakley's book and course are amazing resources which delve deep into this concept and other study techniques.
  • Use the Feynman technique for reinforcing what you learned:
    • Pretend you are teaching it to a student.
    • Identify gaps in your explanation; Go back to the source material, to better understand it. Also, see this.
  • Try to apply what you've learned to concrete problems to help cement your concepts.

Have fun learning!!

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