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Ultralearning by Scott H. Young


Why ultralearning?

A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.

Your deepest moment of happiness doesn’t come from doing easy things, they come from realizing your potential and overcoming your own limiting beliefs about yourself.

Ways to apply Ultralearning:

  • New part-time projects
  • Learning sabbaticals
  • Reimagining existing learning efforts

As long as you stick with a process, you’re bound to learn something new.

9 Principles of Ultralearning:

  1. Meta-learning:

    1. First, draw a map
    2. Learning how to learn
    3. Determining- why, what, and how - Whether learning the skill or topic in question will actually help you achieve your goal
    4. Answering the what: Concepts(jot down anything to be understood), Facts(jot down anything to be memorized), Procedures(write down anything to be practiced)
    5. Answering how: Benchmarking(follow what other people have done) and Emphasize/Exclude(modify the existing curriculum) method
    6. Invest 10% of your learning time in research.
  2. Focus

    1. Sharpen your knife
    2. Problems: Procrastinate, inability to sustain focus, failing to create the right focus.
    3. Distraction sources: Environment, Task, Mind
    4. How to improve focus - Recognize where you are and start small
  3. Directness

    1. Go straight ahead
    2. Directness is the idea of learning being tied closely to the situation or context you want to use in
    3. How to learn directly:
      • Project-based learning
      • Immersive learning: Expose yourself to the target environment in which skill is practiced (like novice programmer joining open source projects to expose themselves to new coding challenges)
      • The flight simulator method
      • The overkill approach: Aim for an intense target shoot for the stars thingy
  4. Drill

    1. Attack your weakest point
    2. First step: Try to practice the skill directly. Figuring out where and how the skill will be used and then trying to match that situation as close as feasible.
    3. Second step: Isolate components that are either difficult or pulling you down.
    4. Final step: Go back to direct practice and integrate what you’ve learned.
    5. Keep attacking your weakest spot and perfecting it.
  5. Retrieval

    1. Test to learn
    2. If you need to recall something later, you’re best off practicing retrieving it.
    3. How to practice retrieval:
      • Flashcards
      • Free recall: After reading a section from a book, try to write down everything you can remember on a blank piece of paper
      • The Question-Book method: Take notes by recording them as questions to be answered later, this way you generate material to practice retrieval later
      • Self-Generated Challenges: (Programmer) - Go through passive material, you can create challenges for yourself to solve later. You may encounter a new technique - write a note to create a demo
  6. Feedback

    1. Don’t dodge the punches
    2. Feedback is one of the most consistent aspects of the strategy.
    3. In particular, I want to consider three types of feedback: outcome feedback, informational feedback, and corrective feedback
    4. Outcome feedback: Tells you how well are you doing it overall but offers no ideas as to what you’re doing better or worse
    5. Information feedback: Tells you what you’re doing wrong but not necessarily tell you how to fix it
    6. Corrective feedback: Shows you not only what you did wrong, but how to fix it - Coach, mentor, or teacher.
  7. Retention

    1. Don’t fill a leaky bucket
    2. Memory is the residue of thought - Daniel Willingham
    3. Spacing: Repeat to Remember: Spreading it over intervals of time and keep learning to stay in touch - integrate it as a daily habit
      1. Another strategy for applying spacing: which can work better for more elaborate skills that are harder to integrate into your daily habits is to semiregularly do refresher projects
    4. Overlearning: Practice beyond perfection
      1. Core practicing - continue practicing
    5. Mnemonics: Picture retains a thousand words
    6. Ultralearners have dominated memory-intensive subjects: active recall, spaced rehearsal, and an obsessive commitment to intense practice.
  8. Intuition

    1. Dig deep before building up
    2. How to build intuition
      1. Prove things to understand them - Challenge of thinking you understand something you don’t is unfortunately a common one.
    3. Don’t ignore hard problems
    4. Always start with a concrete example
    5. Feynman technique:
      1. Write down the concept or problem you want to understand on a piece of paper
      2. In the space below, explain the idea as if you had to teach it to someone else
        1. Concept - ask yourself how you would convey the idea to someone who has never heard of it before
        2. Problem - Explain how to solve it and crucially - why the solution procedure makes sense to you
      3. When you get stuck, meaning your understanding fails to provide a clear answer, go back to your book, notes, teacher or reference material to find the answer.
  9. Experimentation

    1. Explore outside your comfort zone
    2. Van Gogh's learning method - He would identify a learning resource, method or style and pursue it with incredible vigor - creating dozens.
    3. As creativity becomes valuable, experimentation becomes essential.
    4. Types of experimentation:
      1. Learning resource: Pick a resource and apply it rigorously for a predetermined period of time
      2. Technique
      3. Style
    5. Method
      1. Copy and then Create
      2. Compare methods Side-by-side
      3. Introduce new constraints

First Ultralearning Project:

  1. Do your research

    1. What topic you’re going to learn and what its scope
    2. Primary resources you want to use
    3. Benchmark for how others have successfully learned this skill or subject
    4. Direct practice activities
    5. Backup materials and skills
  2. Schedule your time

    1. Execute your plan
    2. Meta-learning: Have I done enough research? Have I spent about 10% of the total time preparing my project?
    3. Focus: Am I focused when I spend time learning or am I multitasking and distracted?
    4. Directness: How can I practice transferring the knowledge I learn from my book/class/video to real life?Drill: How can I split apart complex skills to work on smaller, more manageable components of it?
    5. Retrieval: Can I successfully explain what I learned yesterday, last week, or last year?
    6. Feedback: Am I using the feedback data correctly?
    7. Retention: Am I turning the factual knowledge into a procedure that’ll retain? Do I have a plan in place to remember it for a long time?
    8. Intuition: Do I deeply understand the thing I’m learning? Could I teach the ideas and procedures I’m studying to someone else?
    9. Experimentation: Am I getting stuck with my current resources? Do I need to branch out and try new resources?
  3. Review your results

  4. Choose to maintain or master what you’ve

    • learned
    • Maintenance
    • Relearning
    • Mastery

One thing I learned: Ultralearning is all about self-learning with intense hands-on. Stick to a strict schedule, quickly learn and quickly build. It’s jumping right inside the well and starting to learn swimming.

Book references:

The Unschooled Mind: How children think and how schools should teach

Raise a Genius - Lazzlo Polgar