M. Can Otsay

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How Can You Learn Better?
  • 2 January 2020

From the moment we come into the world, we are inevitably and uninterruptedly exposed to content, that is, we learn. That’s why I like to define myself as a lifelong learner or student. Do we learn effectively enough? I don’t think so. But it is possible to pull the strings in our learning adventure. And if you can do better, why not? As some MasterClass instructors say, you can make your life better. Take control and manage your learning. Anyway, you can learn more effectively and efficiently by first understanding your learning and then taking a few simple steps.

In this article, I will try to put aside the classical nonsense of personal development and explain how we can learn better through best practices and personal experiences in the light of science.


Chunking is the basis for all you’ve ever learned. Chunking allows us to construct pieces of information together and use them in a modular way. So we owe it our entire learning adventure. Chunking takes place through understanding what is described and requires focused thinking. Small chunks form large chunks. At the same time, all chunks can be used for re-learning or understanding in completely unrelated areas. In other words, you can use the osmosis phenomenon (which learned in biology) to learn another subject of physics better.

I associated this process by making small dough balls to prepare baklava dough. You can also make a delicious börek (pastry) with the same dough balls 🙂

Focused and Diffuse mode of thinking

Now I will talk about two simple types of thinking to understand how things work in our brains.

Focused thinking mode works when forming chunks and is used when trying to grasp something. When trying to learn a method in mathematics, you can think of the mode you are in. I can imagine your head getting warm. Our challenge here is to create chunks and send them to long-term memory.

Diffuse mode of thinking is not as cool as focused thinking, but it is very useful for problem-solving and creative thinking. Have you ever noticed that great solutions to the problems you’ve been thinking about come from showering or training? This mode of thinking appears when you leave your brain alone and allow it to use its skills. Find your way through the diffuse mode and try to use them.

Prevention of procrastination

With the chunking process, we created small sets of information, now it’s time to use those little dough balls and make a tray of baklava. But by nature, human beings tend to move away from the things that cause pain to the brain and do activities that will please him for a short time. And it’s called procrastination. In this section, I will describe the best practices I have learned and applied to avoid procrastination.

Pomodoro technique

Pomodoro is a technique that allows us to focus on the process, not on what causes pain. You study with a 25-minute focus and spend 5 minutes of things that have the potential to distract you. In this way, you can compress your time and energy and study in the most ideal way.

Being in a status that requires the least willpower

Willpower is a resource that we should use very limited. So, identify things that distract you and cause procrastination while studying and provide the best condition for you.

For example, when I work in my room, my soft bed and my notifications on the phone are right next to me, which requires me to use a lot of willpower. Instead, I work in the office rather than at home and disconnect my phone from the Internet. Or if I have to be at home, I wear my clothes that I can’t feel comfortable in bed, which makes me use less willpower to not go to bed.

Benefit from your sleep

As we know, our brain works even when you’re asleep. In a much more effective way than we assumed. While you are asleep, the brain performs thinking in diffuse mode and tries to solve the things that bother your mind. By bringing together the dough balls that are related or not, it brings you closer to the solution and can offer you reasonable solutions during the day.

It would be silly not to take advantage of our sleep in an age where every resource we have is so valuable. Make a list of things you need to solve the next day just before going to sleep and leave the rest to your brain 🙂

Collaborate to learn

Yuval Noah Harari speaks that, our “collaboration” ability makes homo sapiens homo sapiens. The collaboration provided us this civilization. Imagine what happens when we use collaboration for learning?

Teach and ask to be taught for learning better. This avoids the illusion of competence. Seeing what you’re trying to learn from a different perspective makes you realize what you don’t know and allows you to double-check what you know.

For example, I study with my friend Neslihan while I prepare for the exam of the Urban Culture course I take at the university. She takes the same course in a different session from the same instructor and attaches her notes. I also attach my notes in my session. When we come together and study, we realize what we know and benefit from each other’s perspective (ie a much wider perspective). Even sometimes we instruct to each other as an instructor 🙂

All principles and theories applied here are cited from Learning How to Learn on Coursera.

Source of picture 1: https://icdn.tgrthaber.com.tr/images/ckfiles/images/hamur-nasil-acilir.jpg

Source of picture 2: https://icdn.tgrthaber.com.tr/images/ckfiles/images/2(340).jpg

Source of picture 3: https://www.imamcagdas.com/normal-baklava-tepsisi-tepsi-baklavalar-imam-cagdas-120-21-B.png

Source of picture 4: http://leventborekcilik.com/dimg/icerik/316323067226172305514_6019544051441730838.jpg