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  • Antonello Calamea

Autumn reading — Ultralearning

We all have to learn new things, for work or fun (great when eventually there’s a match) and everyone probably has developed an approach about this.


But what if we can “ultralearn”, learning how to learn better and not just in theory, but with direct experience from successful people that achieved incredible results in this context?


To me, this is like a superpower, allowing us to learn faster, better and giving to all the process stability and repeatability.


If this sounds appealing, Ultralearning by Scott Young is the book to read.


The author used not just his impressive direct experiences (finish a four years MIT Computer Science course in only one year, learn four different languages at a conversational level in three months each) but added the experience of other people who achieved equally amazing results and tried to understand the big picture behind their approach.


The result is nine principles, whose mix can help to start learning almost anything in a better way, obviously adapting to the subject — learn quantum physic foundation should have a different approach from how to cook a pulled pork — but the underlying principles are valid for both.


Let’s see them in more detail:


1) Metalearning: the whys, whats and hows of the subject to learn. Which are the concepts? The facts to memorize? The procedures to practice? Which primary and derived skills or starting knowledge should I need? How can I benchmark the progress?


2) Focus: the quality of the focus while learning. Maybe the environment is too distracting? Or the subject too difficult? Or maybe some external concerns are an obstacle. It’s important to deal with causes and find remediations to keep focus.


3) Directness: just reading something is not enough but you have to make your hands dirty, going straight to the point to learn directly and assessing what you really know, using different, context-based approaches to transfer theory in practice.


4) Drill: go vertical and find the weakest points. Do I know them? Am I spending enough time to improve? Can be split to make them more comfortable?


5) Retrieval: often, there are concepts needed to be memorized. How to improve the way to retrieve them? Can I remember something learn one week ago? And a year?


6) Feedback: external feedback is precious to have a fair assessment, but it can be different (outcome, informational, corrective) and is essential to maximize its usefulness knowing how to deal with it


7) Retention: why we forget? Mitigation and regaining lost knowledge are approaches that can be followed.


8) Intuition: knowing things is useless if you don’t have an understanding of what you’re learning, allowing to “connect the dots”. Feynman’s approach is the way and it’s described in great detail.


9) Experimentation: learning something is a personal journey, so you have to find your path. There are different kinds of experimentations (resources, techniques, styles) and only trying different approaches can help to find the right one working for you.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


Try to think to subjects you would like to learn and decompose them respect these principles. Can you see a common pattern?


Whatever the answer is, I strongly suggest reading this book. It could be really life changing.

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