Ultralearning By Scott H. Young

Overview

I have been following Young’s experiments and learning advice for more than 5 years, since my days in college. I have managed to incorporate some of his tips into my own learning projects so I was very happy when he published this book.

The book distills and condenses a lot of knowledge from his blog. It is very easy to read and most of the tips and tricks that he explains are backed up by research in Psychology and actual experiments that he or a few test subjects have carried out.

If you are embarking on a new learning project I encourage you to give this book a read and try to apply some of the principles. The key is to experiment and see what works for you. Don’t take things for granted!

To summarize, the book presents a set of principles for ultralearning.


Notes & Highlights

Meta learning

This is the first step in the process and should be carried out with care.

Here is where you plan what you want to learn and how.

Questions to ask are:

Why? Is this something instrumental for your career, a means to an end, curiosity?

What? Topics, concepts, etc. you want to learn.

How? Depends on “what”. Here you need to adapt the choose the topics you want to learn. You need to also decide on timing, how much you want/can spend learning?

Feedback. How are you going to get it? This is perhaps the most important bit in my experience. Good feedback can skyrocket your learning.

Focus

Learning something new is hard. Try to avoid distractions. The key idea here is to use the environment in your favor. For example study in a library.

Directness

Learn by doing.

Practice as much as you can. Get your hands dirty.

Drills

Determine your weakest points and drill on those. Repeat.

Practice mindfully and deliberately (see Deep Work by Cal Newport).

Retrieval

Actively review the material. This should be something you do before every session.

Use flashcards and spaced repetition.

Have some free recall sessions in which you try to recall as much of the material as possible.

Feedback

Don’t fear it.

Avoid negative/personal feedback. This will hurt you and not help you in your learning process.

Try to find corrective feedback. This type of feedback helps you amend your mistakes and move forward.

Retention

Forgetting is exponential.

We tend to forget the latest things we have learned. Make sure you practice them.

Keep in mind that memories erode over time, this is why habits like spaced repetition are key.

Vivid memories decay more slowly. For more about memory check “Moonwalking with Einstein”.

Intuition

Intuition is really a lot of experience packed together.

Try to think in first principles.

Try hard problems. Set yourself a “struggle timer” and attempt difficult problems before reading the solutions.

Use the Feynman technique: attempt to explain things in the simplest way possible. If you get stuck, go back to the material and repeat. You don’t really know something until you are able to explain it, or write it. Remember, “writing is thinking”. Use this to your advantage.

Experimentation

Always have a bias towards action. Trial and error is Nature’s most useful learning tactic.

Finally, as usual, below are my highlights from the book.